Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2000

Publication Title

Journal of Social History


This article examines the contentious and frequently litigious relationship between convents and the families of professed nuns in early-modern Spain. From the:mid-sixteenth century forward Spanish convents entered into oftentimes protracted lawsuits over disputes involving these nuns' dowry payments, yearly maintenance allowances, and inheritance rights subsequent to their profession. Because the parties to these disputes were willing to risk long-standing and mutually beneficial relationships to defend their social and financial interests in court, these clashes are significant for what: they reveal about the complex social matrix involving nuns, their families, and convents. Nuns demonstrated a profound sense of connection to family property. Despite the physical and spiritual barriers of the cloister, nuns used their dowries and other property interests to exercise fiscal influence and autonomy. Convents, on behalf of these nuns, asserted a temporal identity by filing lawsuits in the secular courts of the day. Finally, families worked vigorously to protect the integrity of their patrimonies even though this protection frequently conflicted with their support for female monasticism. As such these disputes illuminate a complicated social world in which the lives and interests of professed religious women continued to intersect with the calculations and preoccupations of their families.

Original Citation

Lehfeldt, Elizabeth A. 2000. "Convents As Litigants: Dowry and Inheritance Disputes in Early-Modern Spain". Journal of Social History. 33, no. 3: 645-664.








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