Faculty Scholarly Dissemination Grants


Complicated Families: The Remarriage of Noble Widows in Early Modern Spain




College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Date Range



In early modern Spain, noble widows had both power and influence within their families. Widows who were guardians of their children exerted formal power over the lives, marriages, and property of their wards, and thus had direct control of many family decisions. Remarriage could complicate this power since Spanish law prohibited mothers from remarrying while they had guardianship of their children and most formal guardianship agreements specified that aristocratic women relinquish guardianship if they remarried. In spite of these prohibitions, aristocratic widows were valuable commodities on the marriage market and often faced family pressure to remarry. This conflict between guardianship and remarriage could create crises for women with loyalties to multiple families. Many female guardians resolved these conflicts with a mixture of formal power and informal influence. Some aristocratic widows filed petitions with the Camara de Castilla to retain their guardianships after their second marriages. Other widows lost their guardianships but retained custody of their children and continued to sign marriage agreements, arrange dowries, and answer subpoenas. Often remarried female guardians became part of a web of female influence that stretched to include grandmothers and aunts who could become guardians with or instead of the remarried mother. The formal petitions filed by female guardians in the Camara de Castilla and property records, genealogies, marriage contracts, and guardianship agreements from the Osuna collection in the Seccin Nobleza of Archivo Historico Nacional Madrid and Toledo provide new insights into noble widows power and influence within the complex families created by their remarriages.

Conference Name

Sixteenth Century Studies Conference

Conference Location

Fort Worth, Texas

This document is currently not available here.