“Les duels sous le drapeau de Venus: Marriage, Law and the State in the épreuve par congrès”
Friday, April 15, 2011 Smith Memorial Student Union, Room TBD 12-1:30pm
“The impudence and corruption of our century,” complained the sixteenth-century French jurist Anne Robert, “ordains that women be permitted to provoke their husbands to combat.” Known as the épreuve par congrès, this “combat”—which required attempted intercourse before matrons, surgeons, and other officials—was invoked by women seeking dissolution of their marriages for impotence.
The épreuve’s very existence (it was not abolished until 1677) appears paradoxical in light of current scholarly views stressing the roles of legal officials in reinforcing patriarchal authority, promoting new standards of proof rooted in reason and discretion, elites’ efforts to “discipline” public morality and sexual behavior, and even royal efforts to stamp out dueling. By examining the legal controversies surrounding the épreuve, this paper will examine current views about the social and political changes taking place during this period, as well as the broader implications of French legal culture for the early modern state, family, and society.
Michael Breen, a member of the Reed faculty since 2000, earned a B.A. from the University of Chicago and an A.M. and Ph.D. from Brown University. Breen is a past recipient of the American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship and the Fulbright Fellowship. He is the author of Law, City, and King: Legal Culture, Local Politics and State Formation in Early Modern Dijon (University of Rochester Press, 2007) and has contributed to journals and anthologies.