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domestic cruelty, marriage separation, fourteenth-century Paris


This article examines the role cruelty played in marriage separation cases in fourteenth-century Paris. Cruelty was an effective and relatively successful means for women to initiate separation litigation. The archdeacon’s court regularly cited saevitia as a reason for its decision to legally separate marriages. Marital cruelty, however was a complicated issue and what constituted cruelty was not defined within the text. Through an examination of the use of saevitia in the legal cases,in conjunction with contemporary exempla of abusive marriages, such as the vita of Godelieve of Gistel, the author finds that it was a complicated term representing a variety of marital abuses: physical, mental and emotional. Ultimately, this discussion of marital cruelty indicates a general expectation of good behavior within marriages.