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Journal > Volumes > 34 (2003) / 2 (Summer)
Seduction by Promise of Marriage: Law, Sex, and Culture in Seventeenth-Century Spain
Abigail Dyer
University of Colorado at Boulder

Historians agree that early modern Spaniards' sexual behavior deviated significantly from norms set forth in royal and canon law. The question of how Spaniards resolved the tensions between their sexual norms as encoded in law and their nonnormative sexual behaviors has yet to be addressed. This essay argues that seventeenth-century Spaniards mitigated such tension by using laws and legal systems to transform deviant behavior into acceptable behavior when it was culturally expedient. Specifically, early modern Spaniards used "seduction by promise of marriage" litigation to transform dishonorable women who had committed premarital sexual transgressions into honorable women, victims of a sexual transgression perpetrated against them. Seduction trials mitigated the bloodiest consequences of the honor code and tacitly allowed Spanish men and women more leeway in their sexual comportment. Seventeenth century Spaniards proved themselves aware of the law's possibilities for refashioning behavioral realities, and they exploited them to the hilt.

Pages: 439 - 455