Skip to main content Accessibility help

Before the Law: Women's Petitions in the Eighteenth-Century Spanish Empire

  • Bianca Premo (a1)


At first glance, there is nothing unusual about the fact that, in 1790, a woman went to a magistrate in Mexico City to request money from her husband while their divorce case was pending. Everything about the lawsuit seems ordinary, even down to the litigant's name, Doña María García. Decades of historical scholarship on gender have familiarized us with women just like her, women who tactically employed the courts of the Spanish empire in the larger “contest” that made up gender relations in the era. Histories of women veritably brim with female litigants who used the justice system to win small victories in their battles for autonomy from marital obligations or to rein in philandering, shiftless, or abusive lovers.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Before the Law: Women's Petitions in the Eighteenth-Century Spanish Empire
      Available formats

      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Before the Law: Women's Petitions in the Eighteenth-Century Spanish Empire
      Available formats

      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Before the Law: Women's Petitions in the Eighteenth-Century Spanish Empire
      Available formats


Corresponding author


Hide All

1 Archivo General de la Nación-México, Bienes Nacionales, volúmen (vol.) 292, expediente (“file”; henceforth “exp.”) 1, 1790.

2 The author here draws from Scott's, James notion of hegemony in Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Resistance (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987). See Peña, Ana Lidia García, El fracaso del amor: Género e individualidad en México del siglo XIX (México City: Colegio de México/Universidad Autónoma, 2006), 53.

3 For example, William Roseberry's much-cited definition of hegemony marries materiality and meaningfulness: it is the creation of “a common material and meaningful framework for living through, talking about, acting on social orders characterized by domination.” From “Hegemony and the Language of Contention,” in Joseph, Gilbert and Nugent, Daniel, eds., Everyday Forms of State Formation (Durham: Duke University Press, 1994), 355–66. To be sure, there are a few scholars who question the centrality of questions of “agency” in our approaches to court cases, such as Lewis, Laura, Hall of Mirrors: Power, Witchcraft, and Caste in Colonial Mexico (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003), 910.

4 Caulfield, Sueann, “The History of Gender in the Historiography of Latin America”, Hispanic American Historical Review, 81, 3–4 (2001): 84. Caulfield connects the predominance of hegemony models in U.S. works on Latin American gender to an earlier interest, influenced in turn by the French annales school and post-structural theorist Michel Foucault, in “everyday life” or “popular culture.”

5 In Europe, the foundational new cultural history of the law was Davis', Natalie ZemonFiction in the Archives: Pardon Tales and Their Tellers in Sixteenth-Century France (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1987). Also see the introductory comments to Desan, Suzanne et al. eds., Family, Gender and Law in Early Modern France (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2009).

6 Mallon, Florencia, “The Promise and Dilemma of Subaltern Studies”, American Historical Review 99, 5 (Dec. 1994): 1491–515. For the ongoing relevance of such discussions to theorizing outside Latin American History, see the essays in Butler, Judith, Laclau, Ernesto, and Zizjek, Slovoj, eds., Contingency, Hegemony, Universality: Contemporary Dialogues on the Left (New York: Verso, 2000), esp. Judith Butler, “Restaging the Universal,” 29; and Ermarth, Elisabeth Deeds, “Agency after Postmodernism”, History and Theory 40, 4 (2001): 3854, 42.

7 A good example of a Latin Americanist directly engaging the question of “experience” is Caulfield, Sueann, “Getting into Trouble: Dishonest Women, Modern Girls, and Women-Men in the Conceptual Language of Vida Policial, 1925–27”, Signs 19, 1 (1993): 146–76. To some extent, the question has been further clouded by the view from beyond the so-called “non-Western” world, especially through the influential work of Chandra Mohanty, “Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonialist Discourses,” in Tapade, Chandra Mohanty, Russo, Ann, and Torres, Lourdes, eds., Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism (Indianapolis: University of Indiana Press, 1991 [1988]), 5180. For additional considerations, see Stone-Mediatore, Shari, “Chandra Mohanty and the Revaluing of ‘Experience,’Hypatia 12, 2 (1998): 116–33.

8 Whitehead, Neil, “The Historical Anthropology of Text: The Interpretation of Ralegh's Discoverie of Guiana”, Recent Anthropology 36, 19 (1995): 5354.

9 Also see Stoler, Ann Laura, Along the Archival Grain: Epistemic Anxieties and Colonial Common Sense (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009); Riles, Annelise, ed., Documents: Artifacts of Modern Knowledge (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2006).

10 For more tempered views of power, agency, and “voice” in the legal sphere, see Owensby, Brian, “How Juan and Leonor Won Their Freedom”, Hispanic American Historical Review 85, 1 (Feb. 2005): 3979; Bailey, Joanne, “Voices in Court: Lawyers' or Litigants'?Historical Research 74, 186 (Nov. 2001): 392408.

11 On the patriarchal constraints of Spanish law, see Socolow, Susan M., “Women and Crime: Buenos Aires, 1757–97”, Journal of Latin American Studies 12 (1980): 3954; Kellogg, Susan, Law and the Transformation of Aztec Culture, 1500–1700 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995), esp. xix; López, Margarita Ortega, “Protestas de las mujeres castellanas contra el órden patriarcal privado durante el siglo XVIII”, Cuadernos de Historia Moderna 19 (1997): 6589. Steve Stern offers a complex reading of patriarchy, but without significant attention to the law, in The Secret History of Gender: Women, Men and Power in Colonial Mexico (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996). Also note works that study change over time in legal practice, with the emphasis on laws becoming more or less “patriarchal,” including Seed, Patricia, To Love, Honor and Obey in Colonial Mexico (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1988); Hünefeldt, Christine, Liberalism in the Bedroom (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999); and Sonya Lipsett-Rivera, “Marriage and Family Relations in Mexico during the Transition from Colony to Republic,” in Uribe-Urán, Victor, ed., State and Society in Spanish America during the Age of Revolution (Wilmington: Scholarly Resources, 2001), 121–48.

12 Those emphasizing women's relative independence within Spanish law include Gauderman, Kimberly, Women's Lives in Colonial Quito: Gender, Law and Economy in Spanish America (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2003), 132. Also see Lisa Sousa, “Women and Crime in Colonial Oaxaca: Evidence of Complementary Gender Roles in Mixtec and Zapotec Societies,” in Susan Schroeder et al., eds., 199–21, Indian Women of Early Mexico (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1997); Black, Chad T., “Between Prescription and Practice: Licenture and Women's Legal Identity in Bourbon Quito, 1765–1810, Colonial Latin American Review, 16, 2, (2007): 273–98. Opposing views or alternate perspectives can be found in Uribe-Urán, Victor, “Innocent Infants or Abusive Patriarchs? Spousal Homicides, the Punishment of Indians, and the Law in Colonial Mexico, 1740s–1820”, Journal of Latin American Studies 38 (2006): 793828; Lewis, Hall of Mirrors, 9–10.

13 While the distinction between cases brought de oficio (by the state) and de parte (by individuals), can be nebulous, it is deserving of closer historical analysis. See Chambers, Sarah, From Subjects to Citizens: Honor, Gender and Politics in Arequipa, Peru, 1780–1854 (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999), 143–44.

14 These are statistics derived from Díaz, Arlene, Female Citizens, Patriarchs, and the Law in Venezuela, 1786–1904 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2004), 132, 136 (women constituted 42 percent of civil litigants); Taylor, William, Drinking, Homicide and Rebellion in Colonial Mexican Villages (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1979) (women were involved in between 26 and 30 percent of Mexican criminal cases); Mendoza, Dora Dávila, Hasta que la muerte nos separe: El divorcio eclesiástico en el arzobispado de México, 1702–1800 (Mexico City: Colegio de México, 2005). (Women made up 65 percent of divorce claimants.) Even scholarship on women and the law qua law can fail to reveal how frequently women sued husbands or lovers as opposed to engaging in other kinds of civil or criminal litigation. See Chad Black, “Between Prescription and Practice: Legal Culture, and Gender in late-Colonial Quito, 1765–1830,” PhD diss., University of New Mexico, 2006, 31; Kellogg, Law and the Transformation of Aztec Culture, 73; Gauderman, Women's Lives, 49–70. Dávila Mendoza, Hasta que la muerte, presents a revealing statistical analysis of three hundred divorce cases from eighteenth-century central Mexico, but she does not explain her sampling methods.

15 Austin Sarat and Thomas R. Kearns, “Introduction,” in A. Sarat and T. R. Kearns, eds., Law in Everyday Life (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press), 3.

16 The authorial mechanics of the petitions, addressed only in passing here, is a fascinating topic that I will address in future publications. Scholars working to cast light on the shadowy figure of the notary or scribe include: Burns, Kathryn, “Notaries, Truth, and Consequences”, American Historical Review 110, 2 (Apr. 2005): 350–79; and Into the Archive: Writing and Power in Colonial Peru (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010); Herzog, Tamar, Mediación, archivo y ejercicio: Los escribanos de Quito (siglo XVI–XVIII) (Frankfurt: Vittorio Klostermann, 1996).

17 Stern, Secret History of Gender, 37–38; Díaz, Female Citizens, 16.

18 Sousa, Lisa, “The Devil and Deviance in Native Criminal Narratives from Early Mexico”, The Americas 59, 3 (Oct. 2002): 161–79, 163. Also see Deusen, Nancy van, Between the Sacred and the Worldly: The Institutional and Cultural Practice of Recogimiento (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000), 82. Even the rare text actually penned by women does not, of course, lead us out of the labyrinth of narrative and away from the “legal” and “everyday” divide. See Lisa Vollendorf's fascinating case of a literate woman in seventeenth-century Madrid who penned her own Inquisition statement, The Lives of Women: A New History of Inquisitional Spain (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2005), 53.

19 All statistical observations in this paper derive from a wide-ranging analysis of eighteenth-century litigation held in multiple archives. For Trujillo, Peru, I examined the civil and criminal series of all jurisdictional levels in the Archivo Regional de La Libertad (ARL), and the divorce series of the Archivo Arzobispal de Trujillo. For Toledo, Spain, I studied all cases in the civil and criminal sections of five pueblos of the Montes de Toledo in the Archivo Municipal de Toledo, Fiel del Juzgado series, and undertook a broad sampling of uncataloged cases heard by the Church in the Archivo Diocesano de Toledo. For Oaxaca, Mexico, I examined all civil cases from the district of Teposcolula in the Archivo del Poder Judicial del Estado de Oaxaca, using an older, hand-written catalog, a physical count of files, and a newer database. In that archive I also undertook a non-random sample of cases from ten-year periods of civil cases from the district of Villa Alta, as well as searches of criminal cases for both regions. I also reviewed all cases in the Alcaldía Mayor Oaxaca section and Real Intendencia, Teposcolula, and Villa Alta series of the Archivo General del Poder del Estado de Oaxaca. For Mexico City, I conducted broad, but not statistically random samples of multiple series, including ecclesiastical, and civil and criminal cases of various jurisdictions (Audienica, Corregidor, Tribunal Superior de Justicia, Sala de lo Civil) in the Archivo General de la Nación-México (AGN-M). In Lima, Peru, I looked at all civil cases in the Archivo General de la Nación-Perú, and conducted a non-random sample of criminal disputes. For Valladolid, Spain (New Castile), I examined all civil cases from the Real Chancelleía de Valladolid using a computer search database. Other archives were also consulted, and appear in the corresponding notes.

20 Archivo General del Poder del Estado de Oaxaca, Alcaldía Mayor, legajo 2, cuaderno (c.) 17, 1731.

21 For the generally elite and female nature of divorce litigation, see van Deusen, Between the Sacred and the Worldly, 88; Lavallé, Bernard, Amor y opresión en los Andes coloniales (Lima: Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, 1999); Arrom, Silvia Marina, The Women of Mexico City, 1700–1820 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1985); León, Natalia, La primera alianza: El matrimonio criollo: Honor y violencia conyugal (Quito: Nueva Editorial, 1997).

22 Archivo General de Indias, Sevilla, Gobierno, Lima, 914, no. 74, 1786. Similarly, see ARL, Intendencia Civil, legajo 447, c. 316, 1796.

23 Court costs are derived from an examination of various types of suits, not only women's suits against men. See, for example, Archivo General del Poder del Estado de Oaxaca, Alcaldías Mayores, legajo 23, exp. 9, 1743. By the late eighteenth century, when litis expensas, or court costs, became contentious grounds for secular civil suits between spouses, 200 pesos was judged the standard fee that would cover a divorce or other civil domestic issue. See, ARL Intendencia, Civil, legajo 447, c. 316, 1796. In late-eighteenth-century Spain, an appeal to the Chancellería of Valladolid over the matter of alimony cost 259 pesos, Real Chancellería de Valladolid, Pleitos Civiles, Pérez Alonso, 803.0001, 1797. Translation costs for petitions or witness testimonies could cost around 20 pesos, AGN-M, Criminal, vol. 41, exp. 3, 46–91, 1776. Even taking a violent crime to an official could leave a woman in hock. Notice that a teniente, or lieutenant, in a rural region of Mexico charged 6 reales to pursue a domestic violence case, and the female plaintiff owed this on top of the 12 reales (1½ pesos) she had to pay to the barber who tended to her wounds, AGN-M, Criminal, vol. 122, exp. 11, fojas 293–305, 1778. For general prices, see the official “price list” (or arancel) for civil cases at mid-century in Mexico in AGN-M, Audiencias: Aranceles, Julio 12 de 1741, AGN-M, Bandos, vol. 3, exps. 23–27, 1741. Slave prices are derived from Biblioteca Nacional del Perú, Z388, 1752 [sic 1792]. Salary and commodity prices come from Pablo Macera, ed., Los precios del Perú, siglos XVI–XIX, tomo I (Lima: Banco Central, 1992), xxiv.

24 For example, even Mexico's minor court officials, such as receptionists (porteros), demanded “tips” (propinas) for their services until a 1713 ruling by Mexico's viceroy attempted to put an end to that illegal practice; Archivo del Poder Judicial del Estado de Oaxaca, Villa Alta, Civil, legajo 11, exp. 8, 1714.

25 On women's rights in Spanish law, Arrom, Women of Mexico City remains an indispensable guide. Also see Gauderman, Women's Lives, 144–45.

26 Colóm, Josef Juan y, Instrucción de escribanos en orden a lo judicial, tomo II, 1761–1773 (Madrid: Hijo de Marín, 1763), 72.

27 See Pérez-Perdomo, Rogelio, Latin American Lawyers: A Historical Introduction (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006), 3841. See also Uribe-Urán, Victor, Honorable Lives: Lawyers, Family and Politics in Colombia (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2000); Haslip-Viera, Gabriel, Crime and Punishment in Late Colonial Mexico (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1999), 8284.

28 Licenciado Don Mateo González Arias, Discurso pronunciado en la Real Academia de San Carlos sobre los vicios en el uso de la Abogacia en el foro, Biblioteca Nacional de España, Manuscritos, 12953, 1801, 11v, 12.

29 See Milton, Cynthia, The Many Meanings of Poverty: Colonialism, Social Compacts, and Assistance in Eighteenth-Century Ecuador (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007), 99123; Premo, Bianca, Children of the Father King: Youth, Authority and Legal Minority in Colonial Lima (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005), 3031.

30 Archivo General de la Nación-Perú, Cabildo Civil, legajo 78, c. 1479, 1795. Among many examples, see Archivo Arzobispal de Trujillo, Divorcios, 1747, where the local alcalde resisted a husband's demand to formalize his action against his wife, preferring to ruling “en lo extrajudicial,” or verbally; and ARL, Intendencia, Criminal, legajo 35, c. 1347, 1788, where a woman tenaciously takes her case several times before the Intendant of Trujillo for formalization.

31 A comprehensive analysis of the percentages and statistical methods employed in arriving at some of these observations goes beyond the limits of this essay, but in Trujillo, as an example, female litigants tended to be elite in both urban and rural settings. In the first-instance court of the city of Trujillo, doñas comprised 119 of the 140 female litigants in civil cases brought in the 1700s; in the primarily rural district of the Corregimiento, they comprised 95 out of 132 women litigants. However, that predominance waned in the last decades of the century. In Teposcolula (Oaxaca), where the Spanish population never topped 5 percent, one of the two extant eighteenth-century civil cases brought by women against husbands was brought by an ethnically Spanish woman (española), Archivo del Poder Judicial del Estado de Oaxaca, legajo 31, exp. 31, 1781. For population, see Terraciano, Kevin, The Mixtecas of Colonial Oaxaca: Ñudzahui History, Sixteenth through Eighteenth Centuries (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001), 45.

32 Scardaville, Michael, “Justice by Paperwork: A Day in the Life of a Court Scribe in Bourbon Mexico City”, Journal of Social History 36, 4 (Summer 2003): 9791007.

33 Jouve-Martín, José Ramón, Esclavos de la ciudad letrada: Esclavitud, estrictura y colonialismo en Lima (1650–1700) (Lima: IEP, 2005). Also see Burns, “Notaries, Truth”; Kalman, Judy, Writing on the Plaza: Mediated Literacy Practices among Scribes and Clients in Mexico City (Creskill, N.J.: Hampton Press, 1999).

34 See Cutter, Charles, The Legal Culture of Northern New Spain, 1700–1810 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1995). Also note that provincial cities like Trujillo sometimes lacked necessary court personnel like scribes and procurators, ARL, Cabildo Civil, legajo 52, c. 913, 1771; ARL, Corregimiento, Civil, Legajo 234, c. 2109, 1780.

35 Fermín Sánchez versus de la Cruz, Archivo Arzobispal de Trujillo, Divorcios, 1789.

36 Archivo Arzobispal de Trujillo, Divorcios, 1759.

37 A priest actually loaned money to one woman to pay her legal fees, ARL Intendencia, Civil, legajo 447, c. 316, 1796. Also see AGN-M, Criminal, vol. 221, exp. 6, fols. 179–208, 1768; AGN-M Bienes Nacionales, vol. 523, exp. 14, 1773; AGN-M, Inquisición, vol. 1336, exp. 2, fols. 21–31, 1791. For priests as first resorts among Spanish female litigants, see Ortega López, “Protestas de las mujeres,” 78.

38 See, for example, the judicial, but unwritten actions of the town elders and officials in AGN-M, Criminal, vol. 122, exp. 18, fols. 395–402, 1783.

39 Owensby, Brian, Empire of Law and Indian Justice in Colonial Mexico (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008), 296.

40 The classic work on Indian jurisdiction is Borah, Woodrow, Justice by Insurance: The General Indian Court of Colonial Mexico and the Legal Aides of the Half-Real (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983). Also see Cutter, Charles, The Protector de Indios in Colonial New Mexico, 1651–1821 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1986); Jeremy Mumford, “Native Litigants in the Courts of the Conquerors: Indigenous Lawsuits of Spanish America in Comparative Perspective,” paper presented at the Atlantic World Seminar “Atlantic Legalities,” Apr. 2005, Harvard University.

41 Poor urban non-whites also appealed directly to the viceroy in cases against husbands, perhaps activating, but frequently not expressly invoking, their status as “the solemn poor.” For example, see AGN-M, Civil, vol. 1496, exp. 19, 1794.

42 AGN-M, Civil, vol. 1760, exp. 7, 1795.

43 AGN-M, Criminal, vol. 41, exp. 17, fols. 299–304, 1775. In 1785 a reform was instituted in the Mexican Juzgado de Indios to ensure adequate pay for court-appointed attorneys who worked cases pro-bono (Taylor, Drinking, Homicide, 76). For other Enlightenment-era challenges and changes to Indian jurisdiction, see Borah, Justice by Insurance, 382–85.

44 Such an observation runs contrary to our historiographical fascination with indigenous women and crime: ever since William Taylor observed over thirty years ago that native women appeared in about a third of all late-colonial violent assault cases brought in the rural Oaxacan district of Teposcolula, where Indians made up 95 percent of the population, we have puzzled over what these numbers mean for indigenous gender culture (Drinking, Homicide, 84). Also note that women comprised about 30 percent of all assault victims in other regions of Mexico during the same period including Morelos and Mexico City, according to Stern (Secret History of Gender, 371). It cannot be overemphasized that in the criminal disputes Taylor and other scholars of colonial Mexico examine, rural indigenous women frequently appear most as victims rather than formal accusers, and that many of the cases in which they were involved were brought forward by community elders or de oficio, or by officials of the criminal branch of royal jurisdiction.

45 For example, I identified no civil cases brought by women against husbands or lovers in my review of the Villa Alta and Tepsocolula Real Intendencia series in the Archivo General del Poder del Estado de Oaxaca. I found two civil suits from Teposcolula and none from Villa Alta in a physical review of the civil “legajos” held in the Archivo del Poder Judicial del Estado de Oaxaca—facilitated by the accommodating and patient staff of the archive—and in key-term searches in the archive's computer database for Teposcolula (all years from 1704–1786), and Villa Alta (sampling suits for 1700, 1750, and 1799). Women in rural Oaxaca, especially in Teposcolula, did occasionally act as criminal accusers against husbands for mistreatment (maltratos) or adultery, in criminal suits, and a cluster of five cases appears in the 1790s, but several of these cases were actually brought forward by community elders or the women's male relatives. See, for example, Archivo del Poder Judicial del Estado de Oaxaca, Alcaldía Mayor, Criminal, Teposcolula, legajo 42, exp. 38, 1796.

46 According to an episcopal visit of 1782–1785, indigenous peoples comprised 56 percent of the bishopric of Trujillo in the late 1700s, 9 percent was Spanish, 21 percent of African descent, and 14 percent casta, or free mixed-race. “Estado que demuestra el número de abitantes del Obpdo de Truxillo del Perú con distinción de castas formado pr su actual Obpdo,” in Trujillo del Perú, vol. 2 (Madrid: Biblioteca de Palacio de Madrid, 1985–1991).

47 In my analysis of all civil cases held in the ARL, women appeared as litigants in 32 percent of all eighteenth-century cases brought before “ordinary justice” of the first-instance of the city's Cabildo, 41 percent of litigants in Corregimiento cases, and 34.5 percent of the litigants who brought cases to the new Bourbon jurisdiction of the Intendant in the years 1785–1810.

48 AGN-M, Bienes Nacionales, vol. 526, exp. 3, 1774.

49 Taylor, Scott, “Credit, Debt and Honor in Castile, 1600–1650,” Journal of Early Modern History 7, 1–2 (2003): 727. Also see Weisser, Michael R., The Peasants of the Montes: The Roots of Rural Rebellion in Spain (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1972).

50 This is based on my analysis of all formal civil cases in the Archivo Municipal de Toledo for the 1700s, and criminal cases from five of twelve Montes pueblos. For the rarity of marital abuse cases in Spain, see Sánchez, Ramon, Sexo y violencia en los Montes de Toledo (Toledo: Proder Montes de Toledo, 2006), 82; Ortega López, “Protestas de las mujeres.” This observation seems to correspond to what Scott Taylor found in his study of honor cases for Yébenes in the seventeenth century, though he prefers to focus on the rare case of a married woman who sued with her husband's permission, in 1634. Honor and Violence in Golden Age Spain (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008), 76.

51 In this respect, these cases had changed little from a century before. See Taylor, Honor and Violence, 76–77.

52 Marjaliza, Archivo Municipal de Toledo, Criminal, 219, 1781.

53 Ibid.

54 Tomás Antonio Mantecón Movellán, Conflictividad y disciplinamiento social en la Cantabria rural del antiguo régimen (Santander: Universidad de Cantabria, Fundación Marcelino Botín, 1997); and El peso de la infrajusticialidad en el control del crimen durante la Edad Moderna”, Estudis 28 (2002): 4375. The term, with origins in criminal history of early modern France, has been employed in various ways. See Garnot, Benoît, “Justice, infrajustice, parajustice, et extra justice dans la France d'Ancien Régime”, Crime, Histoire, et Sociétés 4, 1 (2000): 103–40.

55 Herzog, Tamar, Upholding Justice: Society, State and the Penal System in Quito (1650–1750) (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2004), 9.

56 Montejo versus Paredes, Archivo Arzobispal de Trujillo, Divorcios, 1789.

57 “Pleito,” in Real Academia Española, Diccionario de la lengua castellana, en que se explica el verdadero sentido de las voces… (Madrid: Impenta de Francisco del Hierro, 1737).

58 For the ambiguous or fluid usage of the term, see AGN-M, Tribunal Superior de Justicia, Corregidor, Criminal, vol. 17, exp. 59, 1801; AGN-M, Inquisición, vol. 1292, exp. 12, fols. 87–92, 1788; AGN-M, Criminal, vol. 131, exp. 37, fols. 421–23, 1769.

59 Stern, Secret History of Gender, 200–13, 268, 302.

60 Dávila Mendoza, Hasta que la muerte, 222–35. Also see Arrom, Women of Mexico City; van Deusen, Between the Sacred and the Worldly, 85.

61 Díaz, Female Citizens, 132, 136; Beatriz Nizza da Silva, “Divorce in Colonial Brazil,” in Asunción Lavrin, ed., Sexuality and Marriage in Colonial Latin America (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press), 313–40; Lavallé, Amor y opresión.

62 De los Angeles versus Medina, Archivo Arzobispal de Trujillo, Divorcios, 1747.

63 See Chambers, Sarah, “‘To the Company of a Man Like My Husband, No Law Can Compel Me’: The Limits of Sanctions against Wife Beating in Arequipa, Peru, 1780–1850”, Journal of Women's History, 11, 1 (1999): 3152. While priests often called on secular authorities to throw parishioners in jail, thereby exercising power, their jurisdictional authority was more contested. See Brading, David, The Church and State in Bourbon Mexico: Michoacán 1749–1810 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 123; Seed, To Love, Honor and Obey 162–63.

64 Archivo del Poder Judicial del Estado de Oaxaca, Alcaldía Mayor, Criminal, Villa Alta, legajo 9, exp. 2, 1707–1709; Crosco versus Daza, Archivo Arzobispal de Trujillo, Divorcios, 1761; AGN-M, Tribunal Superior de Justicia, Corregidor, Criminal, vol. 17, exp. 14, 1796; AGN-M, Tribunal Superior de Justicia, Corregidor, Criminal, vol. 17, exp. 14, 1796; Archivo del Poder Judicial del Estado de Oaxaca, Alcaldía Mayor, Criminal, Teposcolula, legajo 42, exp. 38, 1796; and legajo 43, exp. 4; and legajo 44, exp. 29, 1800. Some women exhibited marked reticence during reunions initiated by men, including those overseen by secular authorities in late colonial Mexico City. AGN-M, Tribunal Superior de Justicia, Corregidor, Criminal, vol. 17, exp. 59, 1801; AGN-M, Tribunal Superior de Justicia, Corregidor, Criminal, vol. 17, exp. 77, 1802.

65 AGN-M, Civil, vol. 1760, exp. 7, 1795: “…siguir la causa y pide que no divurcie pues hay lei pa eyo o se criva [os escribe a?] VE de mandar que lo echen aun precidio y que declare a quienes les vendio mis vacas para que me las paguen los compradores.”

66 Ibid.

67 AGN-M, Civil, vol. 2045, s/n, 19b, 1794.

68 Ibid.

69 “Sanción Prágmatica para evitar el abuso de contraer matrimonios desiguales,” in Konetzke, Richard, Colleción de Documentos para la historia de la formación social de Hispanoamérica, 1493–1810, vol. 3, t. 1, no. 235 (Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, 1964), 404; Real Cédula de 10 de agosto de 1788, por la qual se ha servido S. M. declarar a quién toca y pertenece el conocimiento de el delito de Poligamía… (Lima: Imprenta Real de los Niños Huérfanos, 1789); “Real Cédula declarando que los juices eclesiásticos sólo deben entender en las causas de divorcios…,” 22 Mar., 1787, Cedulario de la Real Audiencia de Buenos Aires, vol. 1 (La Plata: Publicaciones del Archivo Histórico de la Provincia de Buenos Aires, 1929).

70 Archivo de la Real Chancellería de Valladolid, Pleitos Civiles, Pérez Alonso (olvidados), 1215.3, 1781; Archivo General de la Nación-Perú, Real Audiencia, Civiles, legajo 338, c. 3080, 1795.

71 ARL, Corregimiento, Civiles, legajo 234, c. 2109, 1780.

72 From 1700–1784 in Trujillo, for example, doñas comprised 119 of 140 female litigants (85 percent) in first-instance civil courts (justicia ordinaria). Yet during the period 1785–1810, in the new jurisdiction of the Intendencia, only 144 out of 274 of female litigants (52.4 percent) were doñas, and the rest were non-white women (with caste designations such as “mulatas,” “mestizas,” or “negras”) who did not preface their name with “doña” (Intendencia Civil, 1785–1810). For the elite nature of divorce cases, see the works cited in note 21.

73 Archivo Histórico de la Nación (Madrid), Consejos, 29245, exp. 15, 1773.

74 Note that summary criminal cases in late colonial Mexico also were recorded in an extensive “libro de reos,” while no such recordings have been found for the Audiencia of Lima. See Scardaville, Michael, “(Hapsburg) Law and (Bourbon) Order: State Authority, Popular Unrest, and the Criminal Justice System in Bourbon Mexico City”, The Americas 50, 4 (Apr. 1994): 501–26; Haslip-Viera, Crime and Punishment, 82–84.

75 AGN-M, Tribunal Superior de Justicia, Corregidor., Criminal, vol. 17, exp. 58, 1801. Also see some of the cases in note 54.

76 Archivo General de Indias, Sevilla, Gobierno, Lima, 967, 1798.

Acknowledgments: María Carolina Zumaglini and Paula de la Cruz Fernández provided expert research assistance with the Trujillo cases analyzed here. This article benefited from close readings provided by Tamar Herzog, Kathryn Burns, Tracy Devine Guzmán, Kate Ramsey, and those involved in the CSSH review process. It was also strengthened by audiences at the Women in the Iberian Atlantic Conference at the College of Charleston and the Atlantic Narratives Symposium in Miami, and the delightfully unforgiving graduate student participants in the “Legal History Workshop,” taught by Professors Tamar Herzog and Amalia Kessler at Stanford University in the spring of 2010. Research was funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the National Science Foundation Law and Social Sciences Grant (SES-0921681).

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Comparative Studies in Society and History
  • ISSN: 0010-4175
  • EISSN: 1475-2999
  • URL: /core/journals/comparative-studies-in-society-and-history
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed