• Dušan Kos


This paper is devoted to the inter-relation between church law, Christian morals and pastoral attitudes towards disturbances in (marital) sexual behaviour and their influence on the social micro-environment. A study is made of rarely known cases from the territory of the Ljubljana diocese (Carniola, Slovenia) up till 1783, when the regulation of marital union in the Habsburg Monarchy was still absolutely in the domain of the Church. Among all the extant documents, the most extensive are those relating to the dissolution of the marriage of count and countess Ursini–Blagay in the years 1769–1771. Their difficulties reflect all the legal, medical and social characteristics of pre-modern society, and therefore the case is analyzed in close detail. The successful divorce of the Ursini–Blagays was a special instance, and was possible only because of the wife’s more-than-average involvement in the legal-medical »proving« of her husband’s incurable impotence. It was this which, in an otherwise indissoluble marriage, essentially prevented consummation, the regular fulfilment of marital duty, procreation and – as emerged in the legal proceedings – the enjoyment of love. A new moral in the 18th century (after shameless Baroque-period) was, indeed, inter twined with the more intimate feelings and with »a new shame« in sexual practice. With the new views on man as part of nature, and with the appearance of numerous sexological, medical and legal works, sexuality was nevertheless still not accorded any greater importance. Impotence by the 18th century had become a taboo. In the majority of cases of sexual incapacity, formal divorce was almost impossible on account of the difficulty of proving and diagnosing the condition, and because of the material dependence of the healthy spouse upon the impotent one. The small number of court proceedings also means that people devoted considerable care to premarital sexual control. Particularly the nobility, who were well aware of the significance of blood ties as a warranty for the inheritability of personal privilege. Most married couples preferred to reconcile themselves to unfulfilment in marriage, particularly if it had emerged after the wedding. Impotence and sterility, however, especially for the nobility, became even more decisive in the 19th century, when, on account of demographic changes, the number of births in the family was declining. Hence it is not surprising that it was then that mostly the ancient noble lineages in Slovenia were dying out.

Keywords: the nobility, sexuality, impotence, sterility, dissolving of marriages, law, medicine, everyday life.