Historie – Otázky – Problémy

Last Testaments of Noblewomen between the Baroque and the Enlightenment


Abstract: The author deals in her article with the last testaments of aristocratic women in Bohemia during the long time period between 1650 and 1846. Based on analysis of these testaments, she attempts to cover the changes that such testaments underwent during the course of that time, as well as to investigate the testaments of the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century, which are very often missed out by other researchers. These testaments are often supposed to be fully secularized and thus fully civil and uninteresting, mainly due to the findings of some older research by French historians. One of the main goals is also to point out the relatively frequent praxis of generalizing the findings, obtained through the research of bourgeois and aristocratic testaments, although there existed clear differences between these two documents (and their writers).
Already a first glance at the source-book reveals that the testaments in the aristocratic milieu of the Kingdom of Bohemia were not fully secularized until the time period before March 1848. At the same time, we can assume that in this social group the testament had kept it’s religious character at least until the time of the two world wars, as such religiosity represented one of the pillars of the “other reality” of the old aristocracy.
After a deeper investigation of the testamentary praxis, it became clear that it was inevitable to devaite from the course of strictly serially-conceived research and to begin combining the testimonies of the last wills with other sources. Serially-conceived research of last testaments is able to show only a certain pattern, or custom, how the testaments were written in certain times but not which real value and importance the documents had and what place they occupied in the process of preparation for death, dying and settlement of inheritance.
The research of testaments over the course of a longer period of almost two centuries further showed the transformation of these documents, not only as for the content, i.e. the shift from brief, rigorous formality towards more intense emotional manifestation and relations to close persons, but also for their formal aspects. In several cases, the testators strayed from the traditional form of the last will and testament and left to each individual heir together with the heritage also a personal letter, or otherwise completed their will with a list of gifts that should fall to persons outside the family circle. And it was the non-related persons, who were rarely mentioned in the testaments, that the testators focused mainly on matters of family character.

Key words: Testaments, aristocratic women, 1650-1846, secularization