Friends and Relations

Julia M. H. Smith

in Europe after Rome

Published in print June 2007 | ISBN: 9780192892638
Published online October 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191670626 | DOI:
Friends and Relations

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  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)


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To explore the significance of kinship in the early Middle Ages is to investigate one of the most important ways in which men and women structured human relationships, made choices about their social world, expressed emotions and ideals. This chapter revolves around three themes: the locally varied social forms and cultural expressions of kinship; their ubiquity as a matrix within which to assert — or contest — power and authority; and the balancing of affinities of blood with those of friendship. Different aspects are explored in each section. In using patterns of name giving, modes of religious commemoration, and genealogical records to demonstrate that familial traditions helped construct individuals' sense of social identity, the first section emphasizes the tendency for paternal traditions to take precedence over maternal ones. The second section turns to the situations in which men and women might, in principle, have expected support from their relatives, but argues that, in practice, ties of friendship were at least as important as those of family in the giving and getting of help. The final part explores the separate norms of honourable behaviour for men and women, arguing that the latter were far more grounded in familial relationships than the former. All three sections dismiss generalized assumptions about the functioning of kinship as a form of social process, stressing instead the importance of individual choices and contexts as well as wider power relationships.

Keywords: Middle Ages; kinship; social forms; friendship; social identity; family; honourable behaviour

Chapter.  13713 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)

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