Published online by Cambridge University Press: 12 September 2009
Situated geographically and chronologically between the two focal points of research on premodern family life – that of medieval England and northern France on the one hand, and that of Renaissance Italy on the other – twelfth-century southern France presents a privileged context within which to examine medieval marriage. As both a Mediterranean society and a medieval one, southern France (which, following Fredric Cheyette, I shall call Occitania) was located at the crossroads between these two regions and shared features of both.
Our chief evidence regarding the practice of getting married in twelfth-century Occitania consists of documents that were drawn up to record the transfer of marriage gifts. Of the thousands or perhaps hundreds of thousands of marriage agreements that must have been written during the twelfth century, only a tiny sample remains for us to examine. This chapter is based on a close reading of seven such agreements, selected from a database I have compiled of the nearly eighty extant documents describing marriage arrangements from the period 1095–1210.
Before I analyze these seven documents in detail, some remarks are necessary to situate the discussion. This general introduction is in five sections. The first provides a very brief overview of the historical setting of Occitania during this period. The second section introduces the documents used for the study of marriage. Summaries of the findings about the gifts exchanged at marriage and about the legal culture surrounding their transfer are presented in the third section.