Thursday, September 01, 2011

When pregnancy gets you out of a bad relationship – female slaves in medieval Spain

Recent research has uncovered that female slaves in the Spanish city of Valencia were using a novel way to escape their enslavement – they got pregnant with their master’s child. In the article “As if she were his wife”: Slavery and Sexual Ethics in Late Medieval Spain, Debra Blumenthal examines 33 cases found in the archives of the Spanish city between 1425 and 1520 where female slaves sued to get their freedom on the basis that they bore the children of their male masters.

One such case was a Russian woman named Rosa, who was purchased by Arnau Castello while he worked in the city of Naples. At the time, she was according to the archival records, “a pretty, young, white slave woman between eighteen and twenty years of age.” During their stay in Naples, and after they returned to Valencia, Rosa and Arnau were lovers, even after Arnau married. She bore him two children – Lucrecia and Julia, both of whom died in infancy. Later, in 1476, Rosa went to Valencia’s city courts to demand she be released from slavery, invoking local laws which stated, “Any Christian man who lies with his female slave and has a son or daughter by her, that son or daughter should immediately be baptized and both the mother and the son (or daughter) shall be free.”

Click here to read this article from