Sant’Elisabetta delle Convertite, a monastery for repentant prostitutes (the convertite) in Florence, was founded in 1332 and was both one of the oldest and largest female monastic houses in the city, yet it has received relatively little attention from historians.
My thesis will seek to improve our understanding of the intersections between civic and religious institutions in late medieval and early modern Italy. Although many religious institutions at this time sought to exercise influence on temporal powers, Sant’Elisabetta became a key part of the civic responses to prostitution in the city. This role evolved over the period of my study as government approaches to and legislation on prostitution changed. I will compare the exercise of temporal power by the nearby convent of the Annalena, which, for example, used familial connections to persuade the government to increase the buffer zone between taverns and the convent. Sant’Elisabetta, in contrast, did not have such familial connections to exploit, and instead sought to use its unique importance to the government to improve its own economic stability. By locating Sant’Elisabetta within the wider political context, I will establish how external developments influenced the supposedly enclosed world of the convent. This will show how the convent operated as part of the community and as a unique part of the governments’ prostitution strategy.
I will also argue that we must rethink our understanding of late medieval and early modern attitudes to prostitution. Using both judicial and literary sources, I will show that contemporaries were more pragmatic in their approach to friends and neighbours who, through necessity, resorted to prostitution to make ends meet. I will also argue that the Onestà, the magistracy established in 1403 to regulate prostitution in Florence, fulfilled some of the roles of a guild by conferring legal rights and obligations on the city’s registered prostitutes. By revising our understanding of both contemporary attitudes to prostitution, and the operation of the Onestà, I will show that Sant’Elisabetta was part of broader patterns of tolerance and control, and that evolving civic and legislative approaches to prostitution defined the monastery’s role in civic life.
‘Prostitution in Renaissance Florence: facilitation, control and exploitation’ at Dangerous Women and Women in Danger conference, Queen’s University Belfast, March 2013.
18 referred entries in A Biographical Encyclopedia of Early Modern Englishwomen, Exemplary Lives and Memorable Acts, 1500-1650, edited by Carole Levin, Michele Osherow, Anna Riehl. (Farnham, Ashgate, forthcoming). Accepted.
2014/15 & 2015/16: MO1007- The Early Modern Western World, c. 1450-1770
Funding & awards
University of St Andrews School of History Language Training Scholarship (2013)
University of St Andrews School of History Annual Discretionary Funding (2013/14 and 2014/15)
ERASMUS exchange at European University Institute, Fiesole, Italy (January-June 2015)
Society for Renaissance Studies Study Fellowship (2014)
Research Expenses Award from the Royal Historical Society (2014)
Berenike Walburg Memorial Travel Scholarship 2014/15
2015/2016 PGR Class Rep