Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Eberly College of Arts and Sciences



Committee Chair

Matthew Vester

Committee Co-Chair

Caroline Castiglione

Committee Member

Caroline Castiglione

Committee Member

Kate Staples

Committee Member

Kelly Watson

Committee Member

Jessica Wilkerson


This dissertation considers early modern law courts as political venues in which noble families not only asserted claims to wealth, property, and inheritance but also sought to enhance their reputation and influence. By studying the archives of elite families in Piedmont from the mid-sixteenth to the mid-seventeenth centuries, I argue that noblewomen used the law to gain a political voice, defending their legal claims against other family members in highly visible conflicts in which not only their property but their standing at the court of the duke of Savoy was at stake. These women exploited legal procedures and drew on family and patronage networks to assert their legal claims while also advancing their political positions at a princely court. This project enhances our understanding of early modern political culture by exploring the complex ways that elite men and women combined a use of law with political strategies, with varying degrees of success. It encourages historians to view lawsuits as dynamic, showing that, as the years passed, the objectives that led an individual or a family to pursue a legal claim could change over time as the family’s political situation and goals shifted. This dissertation tracks the ebb and flow of these lawsuits over decades, making it possible to trace the shift of political/legal dynamics as the litigants adjusted them to suit their needs. Elite women had extensive access to the law, but their success in obtaining a favorable ruling depended on their capacity to draw on kinship ties as well as their own political standing. Indeed, strong claims and legal acumen were often not enough to enable them to achieve their legal goals. Women were most successful in their legal endeavors when they bolstered them with political strategies pursued outside the courtroom. By focusing on the central but often overlooked role of elite female litigants in a culture of widespread intra-family legal disputes, this project reveals the complexity of early modern politics in Piedmont, an understudied part of Italy.