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Rebecca L Winer (2008)

Conscripting the breast: lactation, slavery and salvation in the realms of Aragon and kingdom of Majorca, c. 1250–1300

Journal of Medieval History, 34(2):164-184.

This essay examines the ideals and practices surrounding motherhood and wet nursing in the realms of Aragon and kingdom of Majorca c. 1250–1300. Despite powerful messages — from ecclesiastical pronouncements to lay devotional manuals to artwork in churches — that linked maternal breastfeeding to an educative and caring ideal of mothering, social and economic pressures on wealthy urban and knightly women to remain as sexually available and as fecund as possible caused a shift to increased use of wet nurses, many of whom were of Muslim origin. Although the latter would have been nominally baptized, in practice, if not normative legal ideal, they maintained their enslaved status no matter how many children they bore. Indeed, it is possible that such women's bodies were doubly exploited: first, as sexual chattel available to their masters and other men, and then, having been made pregnant, as nursing mothers whose own children could be put away in favour of their mistresses'. Only fragmentary examples of such women ‘conversing’ with one another have been found, but the observations offered here open up to the historian's view a social scenario in which we know many conversations among women must have taken place.

 

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Aragon; Majorca; Motherhood; Wet nurses
by Christoph Cluse last modified 2009-04-27 06:52

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