Elise Nehasil

Date Approved


Degree Type

Open Access Senior Honors Thesis

Department or School

History and Philosophy

First Advisor

Ronald Delph, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Peter Higgins, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Ann R. Eisenberg, Ph.D.


The society, economy, and political institutions of Renaissance Florence between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries were dominated by powerful merchant, patrician families. These families continually worked to maintain their positions at the apex of Florentine society. The women in these patrician families, as daughters, wives, mothers, nuns, played an integral role in their struggle to remain atop the social, economic, and political spheres. In examining the lives of these females we need to ask, to what extent were the lives, roles, and power of patrician women in Renaissance Florence shaped by the needs and desires of their families and the patrician dominated culture? And was there actually any room for these women to negotiate agency or exercise influence in this male dominated culture?

In this study, I will argue that women of the patrician class in Renaissance Florence occupied a nuanced domestic and social sphere. The social status, wealth, and power of these families depended on alliances created by strategic marriages of patrician daughters. To make their daughters attractive in the marriage market, young patrician girls were educated in the socially dictated virtues of chastity, modesty, and obedience. Once married, young patrician women were expected to take on the roles assigned to them by the patriarchy: becoming good wives and mothers. Throughout a woman’s life, she operated within a constrictive and regimented social structure, but a closer examination of the lives of several patrician women will reveal that within these roles, a number of them—wives, widows, and nuns—were able to exercise a great deal of power and influence in Renaissance Florentine society.