Heiresses and Family Transmission Patterns in Early Modern Catalonia

Heiresses and Family Transmission Patterns in Early Modern Catalonia


By Dr. Isabel Pérez-Molina

Custom and Law

During the early modern ages, marriage continued to be a contract between men to facilitate the spread of women among the various families. The object of such spread was the agnatic distribution and allocation of descendants, which required the control of women’s sexuality to ensure patrilineal fatherhood and succession [ii]. Marriage had an important economic function as the basic production, reproduction and consumption unit, and because of being an instrument for hereditary transmission. Catalan marriage contracts, the so-called marriage articles or matrimonial pacts, included important patrimonial agreements between both families. In the Catalan principality, marriage articles or pacts settled inheritances and instituted heirs. What mattered was to maintain the exploitation unit, whereby the family economic unit became a production community.

From the ninth century onwards, the regime of separation of estates appears in Catalonia.This economic family system was to be observed as default, if no other pacts were agreed, as marriage articles could establish different economic arrangements. In this case, the pact had priority over the separation of estates, which became a supplementary system to be applied only if no other system of settlement was available, which was unusual. The system of separation of estates established that each spouse had ownership and the right to enjoy his/her own assets, both those owned before, and gained during marriage. Each spouse could bequeath his/her assets inter vivos or post mortem, that is, during life or after death, in a will.

At the same time, a system of donations and counter-donations within the marriage is present. The separation of estates system was offset by the existence of dowries and dowry-related institutions, particularly the escreix, as a donation from the...

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