Visions of the Social Order: Women's Last Wills, Notaries, and the State in Baroque Tuscany


ACLS Fellowship Program




Throughout early modern Europe people distributed possessions, selected heirs, and preserved their earthly memory in last wills and testaments. Focusing on the last wills of women—propertyless servants, peasants, shopkeepers, and the elites—who lived in late Renaissance Tuscany, this project departs from recent literature on last wills and testaments and reinterprets the conventional assumption that their use by social and legal dependents was exceptional. Through legal practices women of all classes used their wealth to negotiate the conventional social norms that defined their relationships with their male kin and their masters, challenging restrictions and contesting gendered and class-based assumptions about themselves and those around them. In this way they incorporated their domestic and working experiences into the legal process, altering or at least confusing the rules of inclusion into the social body, often reversing social hierarchies, and ultimately creating a public order that defined pre-national European states.