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Don’t lock up your daughters!

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As children grow and mature, questions of marriage start to arise, and terrible things can happen when parents don’t agree with their daughters about what makes a suitable marriage partner. Why did parents feel so strongly about the marriages of their daughters? Part of the answer, at least in Spain, lay in the honour code. Parents felt they needed to control their daughters not just to ensure good marriages, but because loss of honour in daughters – as in wives – would ruin family honour.

Parents often chose for their daughters men likely to make solid citizens, rather than exciting husbands. When officially-approved suitors were imposed in this way, however, disasters often ensued, including rebelliousness, elopements, dishonour, and all too frequently a descent into violence. Brothers often took the prime role in imposing confinement or punishment upon their sisters. It appears that girls are more troublesome than boys in these family tales; clashes of fathers and sons are remarkably absent from this literature.