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Gender in Military Life

Aidyn Osgood
traveled to Stuttgart and Karlsruhe in August 2019 to visit the Haupstaatsarchiv and Generallandesarchiv. This research would set him up to explore how armies responded to the Reformation’s push for gender and sexual disciplining, and how armies were a vehicle through which early modern writers made sense of sexuality.

His most useful takeaway was the paleography skill he acquired over the month, enabling him to read sixteenth-century German documents whose script is notoriously difficult due to lack of spelling standardization, foreign ways of writing letters, and the similarity between several letters in the alphabet. He had spent hours going over marginalia with a German librarian in July, but only after a month’s exposure was he able to, with modest toil, make sense of the documents he found.

While finding no satisfactory records about quartering, soldierly love, and sexual violence, he did locate documents that shed important light on his research questions. For example, documents from Duke Christoph of Württemberg to Charles V of Spain register complaints of Spanish soldiers beating wives, children and servants, usurping the role of the Hausvater in the moral disciplining of his charges. Formulaic in composition, the complaints still register Christoph’s expectation that documenting the harm done to the household unit would best convince Charles V to end his occupation.

Military law codes Aidyn found scattered among different collections filled in chronological gaps in the published codes he had already collected. The codes from between 1520 and 1550 will be critical for tracking the disciplinary push in army life during the Reformation; they also suggest that the prescriptive and didactic military theory he had studied so far mapped only very unevenly onto the actions of military commanders on the field. To date scholars have assumed that sample law codes differed little from their enforced counterparts.

Finally, Aidyn uncovered solid evidence of the presence of women camp followers in campaign life in materials that registered significant concern about their sexual relationships. Documents from the case of the Duchy of Württemberg convinced him that women did indeed follow armies in numbers comparable to those listed in the literature. Letters indicate that the ratio of soldiers to women and children was something like three to two. Muster registers also report the presence of women and children connected to soldiers, and concern with familial politics shows up in official military documents from the sixteenth and seventeenth century.