Kathryn L. Reyerson takes an intersectional approach to women in medieval Montpellier, addressing class and status alongside gender to demonstrate how women such as Martha operated in business and domestic life. The book has three main goals. First, to show the ‘realized potential’ of Martha de Cabanis ‘as representative of elite urban women’. Second, to illustrate to the reader ‘the world of the urban merchant family of the 1330s and 1340s’. Third, ‘to help the reader imagine the life of an urban mercantile woman in a large medieval city’. In this task, the sources are not always in Reyerson’s favour. As she states ‘the documentary record for Martha disappoints’. No dowry contracts, wills, letters or diaries survive, nor does any record exist to show whether or not Martha had any experience in her husband’s business before his seemingly sudden death in 1326. In these circumstances, Martha’s likely actions are informed by the comparative focus on the widows and wives of her in-laws, and the wider circle of elite women such as Bernarda de Cabanis and Agnes de Bossones. As the author states ‘this book is the story of what Martha did and what she may have done’. Reyerson deftly employs her material to evoke the experiences of the urban nobility family and of the consular elite to which Martha belonged. Urban life in Montpellier is explored in Chapters 1–4, encompassing a focus on rank, marriage, domestic space and the landscape of the city; Martha’s guardianship and later collaboration with her sons is explored in Chapters 5–9. These later chapters draw on Reyerson’s expertise with mercantile contracts to show Martha’s agency in managing the business; for example, the 1338 societas partnership between herself, her son Jacobus, and long-standing business associate Petrus del Euze which Reyerson argues was the largest partnership of its kind before 1350. Her work should appeal to both academic and more general audiences with its clear narrative structure, and sharp thematical and chronological focus on the lives of not only Martha and her sons, but also the network of family and associates that the widow cultivated to sustain and enrich her business. In concentrating on Martha’s agency in her command of both the business and her impressive land portfolio and lease income, alongside the wives of grain merchants and goldsmiths specializing in spun gold, her book succeeds in its aim ‘to explore what women could do in fourteenth-century medieval southern Europe’. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for the Study of French History. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
French History – Oxford University Press
Published: May 3, 2018
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