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Mireia Comas-Via

The social status of married women clearly changed when their husbands died. If we focus on the difficulties that widowhood entailed for women in Barcelona in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, we must include an analysis of their economic situation. The threat of poverty was constant, and in most cases, widows found it difficult to survive. It must be said that this direct link between poverty and widowhood existed only in the case of women: widowers were not similarly embattled. In other words, this was a sort of gendered poverty, because it was their status as “women without a man” that relegated widows to the social condition of the poor. Depending on their economic and social realities, the ways in which widows faced the inherent problems of widowhood and their ability to solve them were completely different.

*Article translated by Delfi I. Nieto-Isabel, Universitat de Barcelona, delfi.nieto@pangurbansl.com

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Andrée Aeilon Brooks

One wintry day early in 1535, merchant banker Francisco Mendes Benveniste – the George Soros of his day – lay dying in his whitewashed, tile-roofed home near the Royal Palace in Lisbon. It was a pivotal moment for his elegant wife Beatrice, later known as Doña Gracia Nasi, and for their infant daughter, Anna. Not only were they losing a husband and father. The death of Francisco had larger implications that Doña Gracia, still in her twenties, feared almost more than widowhood.

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Stanley Chojnacki

Venetian patrician wives of the late Middle Ages brought to their marriages material goods and family loyalty, both vitally important to the prosperity of conjugal families. The crucial resource was the dowry. During the marriage it sustained the family economy under the husband’s administration. Afterward, as the wife’s inherited property, it returned to her, supporting her widowhood and benefiting her children and kin. The economic connection established by the dowry, which included a corredo, a gift to the groom, encouraged collaboration between families, demonstrated in spouses’ appointment of both agnates and affines as testamentary executors. Moreover, accompanying the financial contents of the dowry were trousseaux consisting of clothing and furnishings for the bride, bestowed by her family and supplemented by the groom. These items further enhanced the relationships forged in marriage by giving visual testimony of a married woman’s position as the bridge between her natal and marital families.