Legislating the Dogaressa

Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


Examination of the office of dogaressa must begin with its juridical creation. This chapter will address the dogaressa as defined and shaped by the doge’s oath of office called the promissione ducale. Not only did the promissione constitutionally establish some of the dogaressa’s most important public roles and the limits to her influence, but also the very act of swearing to uphold an oath was the first crucial step in her initiation into the civic realm of the Venetian republic. Further, the act of pledging to uphold the oath lent the dogaressa a moment of political speech, something extraordinary for women of the time. Indeed, the oath itself and its associated ritual vow before family members and representatives of the government politicized the dogaressa in a manner hitherto unknown for women in medieval and early modern societies. This chapter will examine this exceptional politicizing process—how the promissione shaped the dogaressa as a public figure not only by defining some of her most crucial roles but also by simultaneously limiting her from social and familial activities common to elite women, and curbing powers generally enjoyed by medieval royal consorts. This combination of limitations and responsibilities established for ducal consorts in the promissione initiated a complex series of tensions between the idealized office of dogaressa and the actual women who held it, between republican and princely ideology, and between familial and state expectations.


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© Holly S. Hurlburt 2006

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