In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Widowhood

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Bibliographies
  • Primary Sources
  • English Widows
  • French Widows
  • German Widows
  • Italian Widows
  • Widows in the Netherlands
  • Spanish Widows
  • Jewish Widows
  • Attitudes to Widows and Widowhood
  • Mourning Practices
  • Remarriage
  • Widows and Power
  • The Working World
  • Poverty and Charity
  • Religion
  • Art and Architecture

Renaissance and Reformation Widowhood
Ann Crabb
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 November 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 June 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0195


The history of widows is part of the history of women. It was also a distinctive phase of female experience in the Renaissance and Reformation periods, and the related late medieval and early modern periods. Widowhood was both the time of the greatest potential autonomy for women and a time of limits on this autonomy, of public suspicion, and often of poverty. Relevant themes include widows’ experience in particular countries, attitudes to widows and widowhood, mourning practices, remarriage, the experience of widows at different social levels, widows and religion, and widows and the arts. Suspicion of widows was universal, not needing to be divided by country, but the methods widows used to negotiate around restrictive attitudes will be dealt with by country. Some of the authors mentioned in this bibliography try to present data on widows in a neutral fashion, but most come down on one side or another: the positive side, that is, that widowhood presented opportunities for action, in spite of limitations, or the negative side, emphasizing the problems it brought,

General Overviews

Hufton 1996 provides the fullest overview of widowhood available in one book, discussing widowhood from an international European perspective, and including different social classes. The essay collections taken together provide an overview from a multinational perspective, dealing with widows’ experiences in various countries, and presenting various points of view. Cavallo and Warner 1999 includes essays on English widows by Todd and Foyster, emphasizing positive and negative attitudes toward widows; essays on Italian widows by Chabot and Calvi, emphasizing the detrimental effect on widows of lineage considerations in the 15th century and a softening of the impact of lineage in the 16th century in relation to guardianship; and essays by Warner on second marriages in France, Freist on a widow’s religious problems in Germany, and Bilikoff on widows who established convents in Spain. The essays in Levy 2003 include her own on attitudes to widows’ mourning, one by de Vries on Caterina Sforza as a widow, and one by Lawless on widows who were models of sanctity. Of interest in Mirrer 1992 is Hanawalt’s chapter on widows’ going to court over property claims, Crabb’s consideration of how typical her subject Alessandra Strozzi was of other Florentine widows, and Estow on the depiction of widows in the chronicles of Castille. All these collections have useful bibliographies, with Levy’s being the fullest.

  • Cavallo, Sandra, and Lyndan Warner, eds. Widowhood in Medieval and Early Modern Europe. New York: Longman, 1999.

    This collection deals with the subject of widowers as well as widows. After an introduction discussing the main issues, it presents excellent essays on widows in England, France, Italy, Germany and Spain, covering attitudes about widowhood, remarriage, property, religion, law courts, guardianship, and poor widows.

  • Hufton, Olwen. The Prospect before Her: A History of Women in Western Europe, 1500–1800. New York: Knopf, 1996.

    Contains a chapter on widows, surveying the possibilities and limitations of widowhood, as revealed in studies about a range of European countries and a range of occupational groups. It is a good introduction for the researcher approaching the subject for the first time.

  • Levy, Alison M. Widowhood and Visual Culture in Early Modern Europe. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2003.

    This collection of essays is often as informative about the status of widow as about art. The introduction includes a useful bibliography. The studies deal with widows in various countries, and with religious patronage, royal patronage, and familial aggrandizement. It is illustrated with photographs of relevant works of art.

  • Mirrer, Louise, ed. Upon My Husband’s Death: Widows in the Literature and Histories of Medieval Europe. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1992.

    Includes an introduction and essays dealing with England, Italy, Jews, Spain, France, law, advice, and attitudes.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.