a simple essay

Oct11

The letters of two sisters from bohemia

The letters of Perchta and Anezka Rozmberk, two noble women in the fifteenth century, demonstrate the different roles of which they were expected to play in medieval, Bohemian society. Even though women did not enjoy equal rights, they did have limited rights including rights to own property. For example, a family’s patrimony was divided between all children, but sisters received a smaller inheritance than their brothers (Klassen, 20). Because of this, there was a big difference between the way married women like Perchta and unmarried women like Anezka were able to handle their property. Marriage in medieval Europe was not simply a union of a man and a woman, and not always for love. Because these women were tied to property (which they were not fully able to control), marriage could be seen as a property bound contract.

The movement of property was an important aspect of marriage in medieval Europe. Dowries and marriage gifts were meant to help the husband’s family with the costs of adding a new member, as well as to ensure security for the wife should her husband die (Klassen, 20). However, this poses a problem to both families. As Klassen notes, property purchased by dowry money can be highly contested (22). The dowry money was often put into property for the husband and wife. If the husband died before the wife, his family had the right to buy the property from her and she could be forced to relocate. This was the reality of marriage in medieval bohemia, and it is certainly something of which Perchta knows. The movement of property was of great importance in a marriage contract since once married, it was the husband’s right to make choices regarding her wives dowry.

Perchta’s problem was this exactly. Her father’s decision on her husband was purely a political one; Ulrich hoped that Lichtenstejn’s backing would be very helpful. This did not mean that Perchta had no voice; however, having come from a powerful family, she expected certain things as Lichtenstjn’s wife, and these are the exact things that she writes about in her letters to her many kinsmen. Perchta’s dilemma was not that she was a bad wife, rather she was distressed because she expected to run her husband’s household. She states in a letter to her father that “[she is] a vertible beggar of that lady [her mother in law] and have to wait for everything from her hands” (Kalssen, 35). Perchta expected to have control, although it was something that was clearly kept from her. She was even kept from moving about freely and not allowed to go to her family’s castle for a celebration, “I over heard someone criticised him for not letting me go” (Klassen, 54).

The lack of respect, or at least care for Perchta in Lichtenstejn Manor was due in part because her family was late in paying her dowry. She sent numerous letters to her brothers, Henry and John, hoping that they could solve the problem with the dowry and perhaps her life might become easier. There were times when Perchta’s position in her husband’s castle was even questioned by the servants, she beseeched her brother to, “bring the letter which was prepared for me for the dowry […] to have the letter read their older servants and before one other good person” (Klassen, 53). She was also irked by the fact her dowry contract stated she was to receive an allowance, yet her husband refused to give it until the dowry was received. Her problems with her new family and an inability to get anything done left her restless and discontent in her new life, especially since she knew she was entitled to more.

On the other hand, her unmarried sister, Anezka, was well off and had no monetary problems. While her sister Perchta complains about her oppressed life, Anezka is free to live as she pleases and has no husband to whom she needs to answer. She even takes part in hunts for deer – in a letter to her brother John, she tells of her chance to catch deer on her way home (Klassen, 81). Also, Anezka exercised more power and control at her own castle in Trebon than Perchta could as an intruder in her husband’s home. In Anezka’s writings, she asked officials for a contingency of knights to ride with her on trips (Klassen, 72). In contrast, Perchta was saddled to her husbands debts and was forced to run through towns selling her jewels to help her husband with a bond. Anezka exercised her independence in her ability to make business contracts: buying fish from the local nobility (Klassen, 68,73). Indeed, there were fewer of Anezka’s letters then Perchta, but from those few letter many include mention of business contracts and her carefree life. She did not have to worry about a family that wanted nothing to do with her.

Anezka’s and Perchta’s roles in fifteenth century bohemia were not normal for their times. Anezka wielded a great amount of power while looking over her family’s property, more specifically the castle of Trebon. Unfortunately, Perchta’s marriage was not a normal one for her times; women and their property were thoroughly protected by law and custom (Klassen, 22,23). Their roles as women were closely tied to their property, their ability to control it, and their rights over it. Yet, because Anezka never married, she enjoyed a great amount of flexibility and control over her part of the patrimony. Perchta, on the other hand, never had a say in her new house due to her family’s delay of her dowry. Women were an important part of marriage in the fifteenth century, as this was an economic and political contract for the aristocrats. Also, even though there was a great amount of exchange between families that occurred in every marriage, it was expect that while the bride always answered to her husband, yet she still was able to control the property she brought into the marriage. It appears that Perchta and Anezka existed at opposite extremes of a woman’s sphere in medieval Bohemia: Perchta denied the little power married women were allowed, Anezka given more power than people believed a spinster should have. It is likely most other women fell somewhere in the middle.

Works Cited

Klassen, John M., ed. The Letters of the Rozmberk Sisters: Noblewomen in Fifteenth-Century Bohemia. Ed John M. Klassen. Cambridge, D.S. Brewer, 2001.

Klassen, John M. “Introduction: The Rozmberk Family in Fifteenth-Century Bohemia”. Klassen 1-26.

Rozmberk, Anezka et al. “The Correspondance of Perchta and Anezka of Rozmberk ca. 1448-1488”. Klassen 27-98.

History and Philosophy

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