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2005 | 112 | 1 | 5-52

Article title

The Widow's Capital. The Situation of Pastors' Widows in the Pomeranian Church at the Turn of the Sixteenth Century


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The intention of the article is to determine the status of the woman in modern times upon the example of a group of pastors' widows in Pomerania at the turn of the sixteenth century. The author proposed a thesis claiming that the widows enjoyed considerable impact upon appointments to the posts left vacant by their late spouses, and themselves sought future candidates for husbands. The pastors' correspondence, consistorial and synodal documents, and Church agenda constitute the main source material. In consecutive parts of his work, the author analysed the changing legal situation of the pastors' wives and widows - groups which emerged together with the Reformation, and whose status underwent dynamic transformations in the course of the sixteenth century. He went on to examine the implementation of resolutions concerning widows' privileges in Pomerania prior to the establishment of the widows' fund: (1690) the 'Gnadenjahr', lifelong residence (freie Wohnung), pension, and 'Konservierung', i. e. remarriage to a new pastor. Owing to insufficient regulations and the clashing interests of members of the pastors' families, communities and new pastors, the fate of the widows was indissolubly linked with assorted conflicts. While inquiring into the range of the independence enjoyed by the widows, the author, by following the example of P. Bourdieu, formulated the thesis that it depended upon the women's social capital. The latter involved natural factors, such as age (the probability of remarriage radically diminished for women older than 60), beauty, and fertility. The social factors included the respect enjoyed by the widow and her husband within the parish, and the network of contacts established during the pastor's lifetime; cultural factors encompassed, e g. the ability to manage a household. An essential role was also played by the financial situation of the widow, whose money guaranteed independence and attracted new candidates. The high status of the pastors' widow argues in favour of a thesis about the improved situation of women in the wake of the Reformation. The sole reservation pertains to the fact that the privileged status was frequently limited to the 'Gnadenjahr', and that remarriage was an extremely attractive and highly desired alternative; nonetheless, it must be stressed that the social role performed by the the pastors' widow offered women a new field of activity, of which women in the Roman Catholic Church were deprived. The sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Pomeranian duchies constitute an excellent area for research, in which the rights and liberties of the widows remain conspicuous against the backdrop of other lands of the Reich.









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  • M. Ptaszynski, Uniwersytet Warszawski, Instytut Historyczny, ul. Krakowskie Przemiescie 26/28, 00-927 Warszawa, Poland


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