Sex, Gender, and Illegitimacy in the Castilian Noble Family, 1400–1600


Sex, Gender, and Illegitimacy in the Castilian Noble Family, 1400–1600

Grace E. Coolidge

Women and Gender in the Early Modern World Series

328 pages
4 genealogies, index


December 2022


$65.00 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

December 2022


$65.00 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

December 2022


$65.00 Add to Cart

About the Book

Honorable Mention for the 2022 SSEMWG Book Award

Sex, Gender, and Illegitimacy in the Castilian Noble Family, 1400–1600 looks at illegitimacy across the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and analyzes its implications for gender and family structure in the Spanish nobility, a class whose actions, structure, and power had immense implications for the future of the country and empire. Grace E. Coolidge demonstrates that women and men were able to challenge traditional honor codes, repair damaged reputations, and manipulate ideals of marriage and sexuality to encompass extramarital sexuality and the nearly constant presence of illegitimate children.

This flexibility and creativity in their sexual lives enabled members of the nobility to repair, strengthen, and maintain their otherwise fragile concept of dynasty and lineage, using illegitimate children and their mothers to successfully project the noble dynasty into the future—even in an age of rampant infant mortality that contributed to the frequent absence of male heirs. While benefiting the nobility as a whole, the presence of illegitimate children could also be disruptive to the inheritance process, and the entire system privileged noblemen and their aims and goals over the lives of women and children.

This book enriches our understanding of the complex households and families of the Spanish nobility, challenging traditional images of a strict patriarchal system by uncovering the hidden lives that made that system function.

Author Bio

​Grace E. Coolidge is a professor of history at Grand Valley State University. She is the author of Guardianship, Gender, and the Nobility in Early Modern Spain and editor of The Formation of the Child in Early Modern Spain.


"This book fills significant gaps in the prior treatment of early modern European families and suggests new paths for further research and interpretation."—W. D. Phillips, Choice

“Coolidge has done remarkable research and clearly laid out a really useful and important issue in early modern studies. This book reframes the way we understand noble families, noble women, gender expectations, lineage, and the often contradictory demands of the early Spanish nobility.”—Allyson M. Poska, author of Gendered Crossings: Women and Migration in the Spanish Empire

“Coolidge proves how common extra matrimonial relationships were among the Castilian nobility and how illegitimate children played crucial dynastic, political, and social roles. She makes an important contribution to several fields: medieval and early modern Spanish history and literature, European history, and the study of gender, sexuality, and family.”—Núria Silleras-Fernández, author of Chariots of Ladies: Francesc Eiximenis and the Court Culture of Medieval and Early Modern Iberia

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
A Note on the Text
1. Complex Masculinity: Noblemen, Illegitimate Children, and Fatherhood
2. Beyond Chastity: Women, Illegitimate Children, and Reputation
3. “Send the Baby to Me”: The Care and Custody of Illegitimate Children
4. A Person Not Born of Lawful Marriage: The Uncertainties Facing Illegitimate Adults
5. “It Is Such a Burden to Me”: The Emotional Implications of Illegitimacy


Honorable Mention for the 2022 SSEMWG Book Award

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