Focusing on separation and cohabitation proceedings, the aim of the project is to study the jurisdiction in marital affairs in the Archduchy of Austria below the Enns from the 16th to the 19th century. The project intends to fill the research gap for Catholic territories of the Holy Roman Empire in general, for those of the Habsburg Monarchy particularly. The regional focus is mostly due to the availability of sources and the possibility of comparing metropolitan, small-town and rural conditions.

Until 1783 the Catholic Church had the authority over marriage law at its disposal. In contrast to the churches of Protestant denominations, the Catholic Church considers marriage as a sacrament. The sacramental bond of matrimony therefore can only be undone by either an annulment of the marriage, or by the death of a spouse. Until the introduction of civil marriage – in Austria not until 1938 – Catholic marriages could not be divorced. The only option available was a separation from bed and board. Because the bond of marriage remained in force, remarriage was proscribed.

The archduchy belonged to the jurisdiction of three dioceses. The consistory of Wiener Neustadt did not preserve protocols from the period before 1768; the protocols of the consistory of Passau (Unteres Offizialat) and of Vienna have survived almost entirely from the end of the 16th century onward.

A first glance at the protocols of the 17th century confirmed our decision to pursue a comparative approach. The suits concerning the break of the marriage vow (Sponsalia) and requests for dispensation (Dispensgesuche) account for the bigger part in the protocols of Passau, whereas the Viennese consistory had to deal more often with requests for cohabitation or separation. The length of the entries in the protocols differs, but often the argumentation of the couple, respectively their advocates, is written down in detail. The arguments brought forward are diverse and do not only refer to the arguments qualifying for a separation within canon law.

The Marriage Patent (Josephinisches Ehepatent), enacted by Emperor Joseph II in 1783, conferred the jurisdiction in marital affairs from the diocesan courts (Konsistorialgerichte) on the civil courts. With the commencement of the Marriage Patent the municipal councils (Magistrate) as well as the nanorial courts (Herrschaftsgerichte) were entrusted with treating quarrels between husbands and wives.

In a methodological sense, we decided to use quantifying and qualifying methods and combine a praxeological approach with discourse analysis. We are focusing on the spouses‘ narrations: Which grounds for separation were accepted by the Catholic and after the Marriage Patent by the civil courts, which ones were refused? To what extend did the context – culturally and normative – change and how did this affect the argumentation within the proceedings of separation and divorce from the 16th to the 19th century?

Historical studies have most often placed their analytical focus on specific issues. In contrast, we do not want to confine the fields of research beforehand but to study the continuities and discontinuities in the following topics: physical violence; emotions; economy and housekeeping, sexuality; cohabitation; verbal violence and honor; and confession and religion.

Project titel
Matrimony before the Court. Arenas of Conflict and Courses of Action from the 16th to the 19th Century

Research institution
Department of History | University of Vienna

Project leader
Ao. Univ.-Prof. Mag. Dr. Andrea Griesebner

Project period
1st October, 2011 – 30th September, 2014


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