Title (deu)

Das fehlende fleischliche Band: Sexuelles Unvermögen als Scheidungsargument vor dem Passauer und Wiener Konsistorium


Susanne Hehenberger


Many Catholic spouses filed for divorce or separation by bed and board in the early modern period. Only a few of them argued that their inability to execute the marital duty was the main cause. In this article, I focus on a small sample of 51 couples who used the argument of male or female impotence in the course of marriage litigations in the consistories in Vienna. After exploring the meaning of impotence and divortium in these sources, the article analyses the different interests of claimants (e.g. escape from an unhappy union or the desire for a new marriage) as well as the response of defendants to these allegations (denial, confession, counter-claim or negotiation). As canon law allowed the annulment of marriages only in cases of premarital, enduring and incurable impotence, consistories had to search for clear evidence before they rendered judgement. The appellate court - the nunciature in Vienna –then had to confirm the annulment before it would become effective. In theory, the evidence of one spouse confirmed by an oath cum septima manu (testimony of seven reliable men or women) would suffice as proof. In early modern practice, either the litigant or the consistory often demanded additional medical evidence, which was regularly provided by the medical faculty of the university in Vienna. In cases of female impotence, however, midwives were consulted. Even if evidence seemed clear and the carnal bond was missing, it became increasingly difficult to enforce a divortium quoad vinculum from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century. This situation was exacerbated after Pope Benedict XIV created the position of defensor matrimonii in November 1741, a figure who acted ex officio to protect marriage in the first instance.

Object languages








Ehesachen, Eherecht, Geschlecht, Scheidung, Trennung, Geschichte, Kirchengericht, Wien, Passau, Annullierung, Ehe, Unvermögen, Impotenz