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From the Restoration to the Pisanelli Code (1815-1865): A Cultural and Historical Assessment of the Legal Status of Women in the North of the Italian Peninsula



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Delmedico, Sara 



From the Restoration to the Pisanelli Code (1815-1865): A Cultural and Historical Assessment of the Legal Status of Women in the North of the Italian Peninsula

In the context of a changing political landscape, where shifts in state boundaries and socio-economic structures deeply affected the Italian peninsula and its people, this thesis analyses women and the law in action in the years from the Restoration up to the enactment of the Pisanelli code (1815-1865). It does so with particular reference to the Kingdom of Sardinia and the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia. These years also saw a number of changes in the legal system with various new laws instituted. The quick succession of these legal acts testified to the new ideas, behaviours and perceptions that began to take form in the period in question, but which the patriarchal and hierarchical nineteenth century society – so reliant on strict class stratification to perpetuate its status quo - resisted fully accepting. Within this context, women began to redefine their sense of self and to think of themselves as having an identity which went beyond their traditional domestic roles of mother, wife or daughter. This work aims to describe this process by focusing on women’s attitudes towards the law and their interactions with the legal system.
The thesis is structured in the following way: the first part focuses on the Ottocento context, the ideals promulgated about women in public discourse and the legal framework of the Italian peninsula. In the second part attention turns to relevant case studies from the Kingdom of Sardinia and the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia, brought to light by first-hand examination of archival documents and court proceedings preserved in legal journals of the time. Each part is subdivided into three chapters. After an examination of the social, political and economic context of the nineteenth-century Italian peninsula (Chapter one), the discussion presents a picture of contemporary views about women according to scientists, theorists, moralists and jurists (Chapter two). Chapter three is devoted to the law in force in the pre-unification states with regard to women, paying close attention to the institution of dowry. Chapter four deals with a selection of case studies concerning marriage promises, seduction, and extramarital relations. What emerges from the investigation is the intrusiveness of authorities and the reach they extended into people’s private lives in an effort to maintain social order and exercise power within a society founded on hierarchy, immobility, and obedience. Chapter five examines lawsuits questioning dowries and wills. These acts show the families’ choices to preserve their wealth, often inevitably paving the way to future discord, with women initiating lawsuits to obtain more money from their relatives. Finally, Chapter six analyses widowhood and separation, two possible moments in a woman’s existence that had important implications in terms of both their intimate sphere and the devolution of wealth. In particular, the chapter traces widows’ actual access to inheritance, and women’s requests for separation, focusing on the reasons that drove them before a court to relate issues pertaining to their very intimate lives, such as contracting diseases. Through the analysis of the law in action and women’s use of the law itself, this thesis will recover the forgotten voices and lives of those ordinary women, who, in their everyday life, reacted against the limitations and constraints imposed upon them by society and decided not to passively accept their status.





Sanson, Helena


Women, women's history, gender history, legal history, nineteenth century, Lombardy-Venetia, Kingdom of Sardinia, dowry, adultery, wills, marriage, widowhood, Pisanelli code, inheritance, Restoration, separation, courts


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge