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Title: Chastity, bachelorhood and masculinity in early modern Europe : the case of the Hospitaller Knights of St. John (c. 1520- c. 1650)
Authors: Buttigieg, Emanuel
Keywords: Knights of Malta -- History -- 16th century
Chastity -- History
Celibacy -- Catholic Church -- History
Knights of Malta -- History -- 17th century
Order of St John -- History -- 17th century
Order of St John -- History -- 16th century
Issue Date: 2009
Publisher: Plus-Pisa University Press
Citation: Buttigieg, E. (2009). Chastity, Bachelorhood and Masculinity in early modern Europe: The case of the Hospitaller Knights of St John (c.1520-c.1650). In C. Salvaterra & B. Waaldijk (Eds.), Paths to Gender: European Historical Perspectives on Women and Men (pp. 209-224). Pisa: Plus-Pisa University Press.
Abstract: This chapter engages with gender through an analysis of the historiography of chastity, bachelorhood and masculinity in early modern Europe. We begin with an overview of the ideas and practices related to chastity during the Middle Ages and how these were challenged and upheld as a result of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. From there the discussion moves on to consider a range of bachelorhood models that challenge the assumption – generally premised on the study of Protestant communities – that all men across Europe aspired to be patriarchal heads of households. In those parts of Europe where the Catholic Church retained its presence, men had a range of options to choose from in deciding what sort of life they wanted to lead. One such option – particularly for noblemen – was membership in the military-religious Order of St John the Baptist (of Malta). The focus of studies dealing with chastity has been primarily on women, but this was a practice that influenced men as much as women. By looking at the Knights of St John, this study provides comparative material against which the experiences of women that have been analysed in many pioneering studies can now be more broadly understood. As part of the discussion of chastity, bachelorhood and masculinity within the Order of St John, this study draws a comparison between Baldassare Castiglione’s Il libro del corteggiano (1528) and Frà Sabba Castiglione’s Ricordi ovvero ammaestramenti (1546). Frà Sabba, a Knight of St John, is the lesser-known cousin of the famous Baldassare. Comparing the ideas of these two 16th-century men throws a revealing light on the varieties of manhood in early modern Europe. The overall aim of this chapter is to show how gender was at the heart of diverse male religious identities. It responds to a historiographical need to study gender in military-religious institutions in order to understand how religious and aristocratic/military ideals of masculinity interacted. In this way, the chapter contributes one further piece to the knowledge of social/religious identities and experiences that characterised early modern Europe.
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