The twenty-six essays which make up this volume result from the proceedings of a 2012 conference held in Nájera, Spain, "La mujer en las ciudades europeas de la Edad Media. (IX Encuentros Internacionales del Medievo)." As such, they are of varying quality and relevance. Two essays are in English, two in French, and two in Portuguese; the remainder are in Spanish. Correspondingly, the majority of essays focus on Spanish urban history, although there are essays discussing women's experience in the cities and towns of the Low Countries, France, Italy, and in one case, England. The time frame for the essays ranges from the twelfth century through the end of the middle ages, and the volume is divided into five sections according to the categories of "Society," "Work," "Power," "Religion," and "Culture."
In her introduction, "La historia de las mujeres medievales en España," Ma. Isabel del Val Valdivieso reviews the general historiography on medieval women, focusing on the history of women in Spain, citing almost exclusively Castilian and Catalan scholarship, and emphasizing the collaborative approach of Spanish scholars. She turns to a brief and fascinating discussion of "pescadoras" and "sardineras" in late medieval Bilbao, offering them as examples of how women's history could enrich more general history. Overall, this introduction sets the tone for the rest of the volume in two ways--demonstrating the rich and varied material available for the study of urban women in Iberia especially, and demonstrating through her critique the ways in which Spanish historiography has not particularly integrated women's history, and at the same time remains somewhat isolated from the work in medieval women's history being done elsewhere. Overall, the introduction and the volume lack a strong theoretical or methodological articulation of what it means to do urban women's history, of the context of the medieval city (or town) itself, and the particulars of women's lives in that context.
The first section, "Women in Society," includes seven essays which between them address women's relations within their families, marriage, law and economy. Didier Lett examines how women's identities and honor were shaped variously in relation to their fathers or husbands, in the context of Italian city life. Isabelle Chabot studies the distribution of wealth in particular through legal structures and social practices of marriage, dowry, inheritance, credit and charitable practices in Northern Italy. Iñeki Bazán's study of women's experience of sexual aggression, especially in legal contexts, ranges into a discussion of rural lordship, but does analyze several specific rape cases. Miriam Castellano Albors contributes a historiographic discussion of marriage negotiations and practices in Iberia. David Carvajal de la Vega explores the role of late medieval Iberian women as defenders of patrimony, particularly as widows and mothers in courts, suing for their personal rights, and as invested participants in the urban economy. Sandra Cáceres Millán's excellent study explains the mechanisms of social reproduction in regard to the municipal debt in fifteenth century Valencia, examining women's roles as creditors and debtors, especially as widows and elite donas poderosas. Finally, Joan Mahiques Climent introduces the reader to the inquisitorial record of Esperança Alegre, a self-proclaimed Catalan visionary (including transcription of the process), and makes a case for using the process to understand family relationships as well as relations between the living and the dead.
The second group of five essays focuses on "Women and Work." The first, by Cristina Segura Graiño (a "foremother" of medieval women's history in Spain), reflects on the historiography and current scholarship of medieval women in Spain, especially through the lens of labor; urban women however figure only incidentally in this discussion. Segura Graiño suggests scholars think especially about women's relationship to time, and the relationship of gendered time to work. The second essay in this section is also only tangentially related to urban women; Jeremy Goldberg focuses on the city of York, but this is also a historiographic, slightly polemical essay on medieval women's history--in the long run making an argument for the value of qualitative history over quantitative study, looking for women's experience within their cultural context. The three essays which follow meet that challenge, while not eschewing quantitative analysis insofar as it is possible with limited sources. Maria Amélia Álvaro de Campos analyzes the women of the socially marginal parish of Santa Justa in Coimbra (home to a leper hospital, the Jewish quarter, and prostitution, among other things), examining occupations, family structure, and women's affective relationships (determined primarily through bequests.) Juan Antonio Ruiz Domínguez examines women's work as depicted in the canonical literature of thirteenth and fourteenth century Castile, in the countryside as well as the city. Finally, María Jesús Cruchaga Calvin focuses on women in the city of Santander, concluding primarily and unsurprisingly that women were active in the local labor market, far beyond what might be suggested by prescriptive literature.
The third group of essays examines "Women in Power"--primarily queens, of Portugal, Castile, and in the Crown of Aragon. Manuela Santos Silva discusses the urban lordship of queen-consorts in Portugal from the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries, looking especially at the queens' traditional tenancies of Óbidos and Torres Vedras, and the institution of the Casa das Rainhas, the role of the queen's dower (her arras), and its elaboration over time. Diana Pelaz Flores' essay on the queens María of Aragon and Isabel of Portugal's progress through Castilian cities emphasizes the role of the queen in symbolically communicating royal power, dignity, legitimacy and justice. That urban context for the "dialogue" between ruler and ruled was particularly important. Lucía Beraldi's essay on Isabel I examines the role of the cities, such as Segovia, in legitimizing Isabel's reign from the beginning, and Isabel's special fondness for Segovia and Madrid. Germán Gamero Igea writes about the office of the queen-lieutenant embodied by Juana Enriquez, the mother of Fernando the Catholic, and Juana of Aragon, his sister. The lieutenancy of Juana of Aragon (or Juana de Trastámara) in Naples served to transfer the model of queens-lieutenant to another part of the Aragonese empire, and despite its "sporadic" and "anecdotal" character helped set the stage for the role of the vice-reina in the early modern period. Finally, Beatriz Majo Tomé studies female participation in the Revolt of the Comuneros in 1520-21, including the example of María Pacheco in historiography and popular culture, but also other women, "Las Leones de Castilla," through quantitative and geographic analysis.
The fourth section, on women and religion, consists of five rich essays, primarily on women and conventual life. The first two, by Blanca Garí and María del Mar Graña Cid focused on spiritual networks amongst urban women in the cities of the Crown of Aragon (Barcelona, Mallorca, Valencia, Zaragoza), and Córdoba respectively. Both scholars are participating in the current scholarly investigation into "sacred topographies" in Iberian scholarship. Garí surveys a variety of religious orders, including apparent Beguines (mulieres religiosae) which grew over the course of the middle ages in response to mendicant spirituality. She examines as well devotional practices as generators of culture, notably the patronage of altarpieces in urban churches. Graña Cid's study of late medieval Córdoba examines the relationship between nuns and beatas--religious women who did not live in convents, as well as the larger networks between Cordoban convents and those of other cities such as Burgos and Toledo. Turning away from orthodox opportunities for Christian women, Delfi-Isabel Nieto-Isabel examines women's responses to Inquisition in urban Languedoc, particularly as Beguines (especially devoted to Peter John Olivi) subject to "persecution." Nieto-Isabel discusses flight, secrecy and martyrdom as options for women and men, gives specific female examples of each response, and argues that strategies ultimately were gendered--that women suspected of heresy were more likely than men, for example, to choose clandestine behavior over flight. The fourth essay in the group turns to Clarissan convents in fourteen Portuguese cities, and includes helpful urban plans in each case. Maria Filomena Andrade explains the location of convents vis-à-vis the urban center, their social roles, and their composition. She discusses the nature of patronage of these institutions (noble, or emerging urban classes), and the diversity as well of the women who entered the convents. Finally, Paz Iver Medina examines in a more focused way similar questions regarding the Benedictine convent of San Pelayo in Oviedo (Castile), looking again at the social composition of the convent itself, as well as its relationship with the Cathedral Chapter of San Salvador, and the City Council of Oviedo.
The fifth and final group of four essays is dedicated to "Women in Culture"--reading and exchange of religious books (Sabrina Corbellini); the archetype of the Amazon and civilizing processes in (mainly Spanish) literature (Yolanda Betete Martín); Latin rhetoric and epistolary traditions (Nuria González Sánchez); and women's artistic patronage in late medieval Aragón (Christina Pérez Galéon). Although each essay has merit, only two of these approach discussion of women in an urban context; Corbellini examines women in Italy and Tuscany, Florence, Pisa and Northern Europe (Tournai and Nuremburg). The examples here are urban, and the conclusions about lay women's networks interesting, but beg the question as to whether these kinds of networks were by nature specific to urban women's lives--both in terms of the class privileges of book ownership and literacy, and in terms of the practical features of network building and communications associated with the urban environment. Christina Pérez Galéon's smart essay traces six Aragonese women in the cities of Barbastro, Zaragoza, Teruel and Huesca, who left wills or contracts arranging for the painting of retables in urban churches, most of which are known from notarial evidence only. Intriguingly, one female painter herself (Violant de Algarví) is named. These predominantly middle-class widows give witness to a type of female patronage often overlooked because the physical evidence (the art they patronized) is gone. Although this patronage took place in an urban context, it is unclear what is specifically urban about these women's experiences or ambitions as patrons.
Reviewing a volume of this nature is notoriously difficult. In this case, it is made more so perhaps by the range of topics and sometimes loose affiliation with the study of women in the urban context. Scholars should seek out specific individual essays depending on their own interest; unfortunately, there is no index to aid that quest. Much of the work included here suggests future scholarship on medieval women in the urban (and especially Iberian) world will be forthcoming and most welcome.