Pass on. Generational Transfers of Wealth from the 16th to the 20th Century

Pass on. Generational Transfers of Wealth from the 16th to the 20th Century

Competence Centre for Regional History, Free University of Bozen-Bolzano; Department of Economic and Social History, University of Vienna
Fand statt
Vom - Bis
26.10.2023 - 28.10.2023
Matthias Donabaum, Department of Economic and Social History, University of Vienna / International Research Center for Cultural Studies, University of Art and Design Linz

Due to the invigorated debate about social inequality in recent years, the question of property transmission has gained new relevance. Questions of inheritance are being discussed in such diverse areas of historical research as kinship and family history, gender history, social history, and the history of material culture. As SIGLINDE CLEMENTI (Bozen-Bolzano) elaborated in her introductory statement, access to wealth was crucial for economic and social positioning. Therefore, its intergenerational transfer was not a merely private matter but had political as well as legal implications and shaped power dynamics, not least in connection to gender. Thus, the conveners wanted to focus the conference on legal and practical implications of property transfers. The conference was the 12th meeting of the research network “Gender Differences in the History of European Legal Cultures”. At the same time, it was part of a cooperation between the Competence Centre for Regional History at the Free University of Bozen-Bolzano and the research project “Noble Siblings” carried out at the University of Vienna and funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF).

The first set of papers focussed on gendered perspectives on urban elites. ANNA BELLAVITIS (Rouen) focussed specifically on recent French studies at the intersection of anthropology, legal and social history. She proposed to overcome the distinction between structure or contexts and agency of historical subjects by focussing on how their actions could shape the legal contexts in which they were operating. ISABELLE CHABOT (Padova) explored the case of what she calls one of the most patrilineal systems of succession in Italy, that of Renaissance Florence. Here, women were excluded from dealing with property in numerous ways. For example, they could not inherit and had no control over their dowry. Dowries were a credit from the father to the husband, which meant that it never passed to the wives. Due to strong marital control, only few married women left a will. However, Chabot found that those few wills of women which were issued, were more descriptive than men’s in that they mentioned dowries, values and notaries among others. Florence was also the setting of HEINRICH LANG’s (Leipzig) paper. He discussed the case of the patrician Costanza Serristori. Due to her father’s last will, she passed on his wealth to her son Jacopo Salviati, who did not belong to the patriline, which contradicted the wishes of her grandfather. Lang argued that the point of this conflictual situation is why a whole archive was established and therefore why we know of the case in such great detail.

Another woman who had married into the Salviati family was the main protagonist of ADINA ECKHART’s (Leipzig) presentation: Lucrezia de’ Medici Salviati, daughter of Lorenzo the Magnificent. Eckhart aimed to abandon narrative traditions that focussed on men in Salviati’s social environment due to the nature of the archival sources and foregrounded her extensive economic activities instead. She inherited from her brother Pope Leo X., strategically passed on her properties to her son, and acted as a guardian for her granddaughter. By contrast, women in Renaissance Venice left wills more frequently than men which therefore lends itself to comparisons between genders. FEDERICA MASÈ (Paris) argued that from their wills, we can reconstruct women’s networks of kinship and affection if we look at legatees and the material goods they received, but also assess their social and economic role, their management skills, or their actions as testamentary executors. The corpus of testaments she worked with was deposited in monasteries as places of trust which can give us clues about strategies regarding testamentary executors.

Shifting focus to knightly families of the Holy Roman Empire during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, SVEN DITTMAR (Mainz) showed how they were able to protect their diverse set of possession in the face of a general trend towards decline of the lower nobility. Moving to the higher nobility of Upper Austria, FLORIAN ANDRETSCH (Vienna) took a closer look at practices of dividing property in a partible inheritance system. He found that noble families tried to avoid prolonged periods of co-ownership between heirs and refrained from splitting cohesive manors in their possession if possible. Staying within the nobility of the Habsburg empire, CLAUDIA RAPBERGER (Vienna) focussed on the letters of Maria Anna von Waldburg-Zeil(-Wurzach, née Lamberg) to her brother Leopold Joseph von Lamberg in the aftermath of his wife’s death. They reveal strategies employed to safeguard her nephew’s inheritance and protect it from potential competition. Maria Anna played an active role in the procedures and was able to represent her family within the logic of aristocratic lineage.

Discourses about inheritance and filiation during the French Revolution were the topic of STEFANIA FERRANDO’s (Nice) paper. Looking at the writings of women, especially Olympe de Gouges, she examined the debates that followed the drastic changes in inheritance rules and specifically the recognition of paternity for children born out of wedlock. By using corpus analysis, Ferrando argued that these women were not merely considering the topic as a private matter, but as an issue of the political organisation of the state itself. MARINA GARBELLOTTI (Verona) spoke about inheritance strategies with the objective to preserve the family name in Italy. She argued that while relatedness by blood was still important, there were numerous situations when it moved to the background in favour of the preservation of the name. Such strategies could include asking the husband to add the wife’s surname to his own, adoption, and the transmission of property to religious or welfare institutions under the condition they preserve the family’s memory.

Shifting focus outside of Europe, MARION RÖWEKAMP (Mexico City) spoke about legal changes in Latin America during the nineteenth century. After independence, some countries adopted inheritance laws that were much more favourable to the spouse than the European and colonial ones. She argued that the shift in family loyalties from a paternal logic to the conjugal family happened here half a century earlier than in Europe. Rather than decolonisation, it was colonisation that provided the backdrop for the paper of JULIA BÜHNER (Münster). She looked at the claims of descendants of conquistadors in the Canary Islands in the early sixteenth century. People of both Iberian and indigenous Canarian descent used the role of their ancestors in the conquests as an argument to demand recompense.

SUSANN ANETT PEDERSEN (Trondheim) examined the use of early modern Norwegian Odal-land. Disposition of this type of property was strongly restricted as it was reserved for inheriting sons and daughters and therefore traditionally thought of as inflexible. Pedersen found that mortgaging provided a way around these limitations as it allowed the owners to dispose of it temporarily and rights to redeem the land could even be inherited and traded, allowing for greater flexibility. Access to land through inheritance was also the topic of JANINE MAEGRAITH’s (Vienna/Cambridge) paper which looked at ceding heirs, both male and female, in southern Tyrol. Here, inheritance shares of ceding heirs were mostly settled financially in the form of mortgage credit. She argued that even if settlements were balanced, inequalities remained due to the different qualities of assets such as land, financial claims, and movables. Siglinde Clementi and MARGARETH LANZINGER (Vienna) approached the topic of female heiresses in the same area by looking at different social milieus. Female inheritance rights were circumscribed by practices such as the renunciation of inheritance in exchange for a marriage portion or a preference for males as successors. Still, women could become heiresses if no male candidates were present. They argue that by looking at different social milieus it becomes clear how an intersectional perspective on the issue is worthwhile as such aspects as gender, kinship, and social status are intertwined in specific ways in inheritance practices which could lead to great variation even within the same legal space.

Rather than just a tool for historical research, the archive itself became the subject of the paper given by LAURA CASELLA (Udine) and SERENA GALASSO (Glasgow). They examined the intergenerational transmission of northern Italian elite families’ private archives and libraries in the early modern period. They observed that these collections had a dual character as they were both material values in themselves and thus subject to inheritance rules, but also containers of intangible assets as they carried knowledge that increased the family’s cultural and symbolic capital. Thus, they argued, the transmission of papers and the form of the archives were two sides of the same coin as they served both their self-representation and their social reproduction. LYDIA VON DER WETH (Erfurt) reflected on the origins of the testament in Roman law and its lasting influence in European legal traditions from the perspective of a legal scholar. ELLINOR FORSTER (Innsbruck) presented the final paper of the conference on the topic of property transfers within the noble Tyrolean Preu family. Set in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, numerous social, legal and political changes made it necessary to respond to these changing circumstances by employing a variety of strategies. However, the transitional phase after legal shifts in the early nineteenth century also gave rise to new possibilities to protect the property of one’s family and enlarged particularly wives’ ability to administer their own property during marriage.

Margareth Lanzinger concluded the conference with her final comment. She identified several common aspects and themes that played a role throughout many of the presentations. In general, there was a strong focus on the nobility and the patriciate, but other social groups did feature as well. Various types of wealth were covered as well as different legal qualities of land which determined rooms for manoeuvre, bargaining positions, inheritance rights, etc. However, material wealth was not the only thing that was passed on: blood, names, cultures, knowledge, and skills could also be transferred from one generation to the next and thus preserved for the future. Transfers did not only run from father to son, but between many types of relatives, leading to different forms of inequality between siblings of different birth rank or different gender. What became clear is that women often constituted important agents in processes of wealth transfer in their roles as mothers, wives, sisters, or heiresses. However, their position depended strongly on inheritance rights and marital property law. Lanzinger argued that the fact that they often displayed considerable bargaining power and agency makes it clear that we need to look at these norms not as fixed rules, but instead focus on the “social practice of the law”.

Conference overview:

Gendered Perspectives on Urban Elites
Chair: Margareth Lanzinger (Vienna)

Anna Bellavitis (Rouen): Gender and Transmission at the Intersection of Anthropology, Legal History, Social History

Isabelle Chabot (Padova): “À rivoluto la sua dota e datone gran parte per Dio”. Extra-familial Devolution and Female Agency in 14th-15th Century Florence

Heinrich Lang (Leipzig): ‘Figlia unica e herede universale’. The Transfer of Family Property in the Case of the Florentine Patrician Costanza Serristori (16th Century)

Adina Eckart (Leipzig): Renaissance Noblewomen and Creating Legacy. How Lucrezia de’ Medici Salviati Passed on Wealth through her Family Ties

Federica Masè (Paris): Between Law and Individual Choices. Practices and Strategies for the Transmission of Earthly Goods in the Wills of Men and Women in Renaissance Venice

Nobel Heirs and Heiresses
Chair: Siglinde Clementi

Sven Dittmar (Mainz): More Sons than Property? Strategies of Wealth Transfer by Imperial Knights

Florian Andretsch (Vienna): The Oldest Brother Divides, the Youngest Gets to Choose. Practising Noble Customs of Partible Inheritance in Upper Austria, ca. 1600

Claudia Rapberger (Vienna): A Change of Perspective. Transfers of Assets and Property from the Perspective of a Supposedly Uninvolved

Succession in Discourses and as Strategies

Stefania Ferrando (Nice): Women’s Voices on Inheritance and Filiation. Olympe de Gouges and the Contestation of Inheritance Practices during the French Revolution

Marina Garbellotti (Verona): To Eternalize the Family Name. Succession Strategies in the Italian Peninsula of the Modern Age

Inheritance in Colonial Contexts
Chair: Matthias Donabaum

Marion Röwekamp (Mexico City): From Patrilineality to the Marital Family. The Change in Married Women's Inheritance Law in Latin America in the 19th Century

Julia Bühner (Münster): The Legacy of the Conquerors. Memories and Claims of the Descendants of Castilian and Canarian Conquistadors in the 16th Century

Modes of Transfer in Rural Contexts

Susann Anett Pedersen (Trondheim): Mortgage Credit and Generational Transfer of Landed Property in Sixteenth Century Norway

Janine Maegraith (Vienna/Cambridge): “Als weichend Geschwistrigten”. Financial Assets and Material Endowments for Ceding Heirs in Early Modern Tyrol

Siglinde Clementi (Bozen-Bolzano) / Margareth Lanzinger (Vienna): Women and Succession – Women as Heiresses

Family Logics of Securing Wealth and Well-Being
Chair: Claudia Rapberger

Laura Casella (Udine) / Serena Galasso (Glasgow): Bequeathing Papers to Pass on Goods and Knowledge. Tuscany and Friuli Compared from a Gender Perspective

Lydia von der Weth (Erfurt): Faded Gold. Inheritances within Families in Erfurt between 1700-1750

Chair: Florian Andretsch

Ellinor Forster (Innsbruck): „To Have and to Hold“. The Tyrolean Preu Family (1750–1830) and the Generational Management and Preservation of Wealth