Conway Lecture 1: "The Power to Choose? Piccarda Donati in the Paradiso and Girls in Bologna's Criminal Court"


Location: Monogram Room, Joyce Center and via Zoom webinar (View on map )

Female sexual consent was a preoccupation in late medieval Italy. Piccarda Donati was a cloistered nun whom her brother abducted and forced to marry a brutal man. Dante relegated her to the lowest heaven of Paradise, using her story to discuss the will. Hers was imperfect because she had yielded to force. Boccaccio by contrast saw the humor in female consent: Bartolomea di Lotto Gualandi married a feeble old judge, was kidnapped by a pirate and then was delighted with the sex. Writers could be influenced by stories told in the courts. The very numerous rape cases in Bologna's criminal court hinged on consent. Judges could and did conduct ex officio inquisitions into rape charges regardless of the wishes of the alleged victim or her family. The witnesses the judges questioned often disagreed about whether she had consented: even family members might tell conflicting stories.

Carol Lansing is a historian at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who does research in the rich archives which survive from late medieval Italy. She has published books on Florentine nobles, Cathar heretics, laments for the dead and changes in male decorum. Recently, she has been researching the castle lords of southern Lazio. The study is centered on two comital families, the da Ceccano and the Aquino, documented in ecclesiastical and family archives. In her current book project she draws on medieval Bologna's extraordinary criminal court records to uncover the social experiences of people too poor to show up in other sources: religious frauds, part-time sex workers, concubines, servant girls, even a person termed a "female sodomite."

This event will also be presented via Zoom webinar, so please join us even if you can't be here in person. Joining details will be provided the week of the lecture. 

Originally published at