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Prelates and Princes: Aristocratic Marriages, Canon Law Prohibitions, and Shifts in Norms and Patterns of Domination in the Central Middle Ages

Ivan Ermakoff
American Sociological Review
Vol. 62, No. 3 (Jun., 1997), pp. 405-422
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2657313
Page Count: 18
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
Prelates and Princes: Aristocratic Marriages, Canon Law Prohibitions, and Shifts in Norms and Patterns of Domination in the Central Middle Ages
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Abstract

In this article, I explore the processes whereby, at the turn of the twelfth century, European aristocrats acknowledged clerics' prohibitions of divorce and close-kin marriages. I argue that this normative shift cannot be adequately accounted for by the rise of feudalism, the Gregorian reformers' moralist offensive or the development of canon law: These events do not explain (1) why the Roman hierarchy thought it possible, at a certain moment in time, to impose their normative preferences on reluctant elites; or (2) why aristocrats eventually yielded to demands that undermined their autonomy of choice regarding marriage. I address both problems by considering two analytically distinct transformative processes. One concerns the symbolic and institutional conditions that allowed Roman prelates to substantiate their normative claims: The Church hierarchy emphasized the sacramental and spiritual significance of the marital tie and implemented reforms intended to preclude collusive practices between lords and bishops. The second process highlights how canonical rules of marriage were converted into effective normative constraints: In a context marked by the patrimonialization of feudal relations and an increase in competition, aristocrats relied on ecclesiastical standards for their own regulatory and strategic interests.

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