Female Patronage of Vernacular Religious Works in Fifteenth-Century Castile: Aristocratic Women and Their Confessors

  • Ronald E. Surtz
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


As Walter J. Ong has argued, the study of Latin was gendered masculine in the Renaissance, for its study by young males signaled their separation from the vernacular-speaking, maternal space of the home and their entry into the Latin-speaking and Latin-writing public sphere.1 Although some medieval Spanish women did study Latin—Queen Isabella of Castile among them—one has the impression that even for that minority, only a few felt truly “at home” in the language. Tarsicio de Azcona observes, for example, that the queen was probably capable of understanding simple Latin prose, but not longer, more complicated texts.2 The dichotomy between the vernacular and Latin extended beyond women as consumers of texts to involve female patronage as well. Queen Isabella herself seems to have recognized the Latin vs. vernacular, male vs. female division when she asked the humanist Antonio de Nebrija to publish his Introductiones latinae in a bilingual edition (ca. 1488). The Introductiones, a textbook for learning Latin, which had been previously published in two Latin-only editions (1481 and 1485, each with several reprints), was now to be directed also to nuns so that they could learn Latin on their own without needing to have contact with men.3 In other cases, it was the author himself—or his translator—who saw the question of Latin vs. romance as involving two different audiences.


Biblical Text Masculine Form Religious Work Ruling Sexuality Secular Ruler 
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  1. 1.
    For the concept of Latin as a sex-linked male language, see Walter J. Ong, S.J., “Latin Language Study as a Renaissance Puberty Rite,” in Rhetoric, Romance, and Technology: Studies in the Interaction of Expression and Culture (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1977), pp. 119–120.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Tarsicio de Azcona, Isabel la Catolica: Estudio critico de su vida y su reinado, third edition (Madrid: Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos, 1993), p. 373.Google Scholar
  3. Maria Dolores Gomez Molleda, “La cultura femenina en la época de Isabel la Catôlica,” Revista de Archivos, Bibliotecas y Museos 61 (1955): 176–184.Google Scholar
  4. 22.
    See Américo Castro, Aspectos del vivir hispanico (1949; Madrid: Alianza, 1970), pp. 13–45Google Scholar
  5. José Cepeda Adân, “El providencialismo en los cro-nistas de los Reyes Catôlicos,” Mrfcor 17 (1950): 177–190.Google Scholar
  6. 25.
    Stephen L. Wailes, Medieval Allegories of Jesus’ Parables (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1987), p. 98.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski, Duncan Robertson, and Nancy Bradley Warren 2002

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  • Ronald E. Surtz

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