Couples (1558–1783)

1. Source Survey
2. Quantitative Results

1. Source Survey

As already explained in the menu item data collection, we researched the marital disputes for selected time segments between 1558 and 1783 in the minutes of two ecclesiastical courts: The Consistory of the Diocese of Vienna and the Consistory of the Lower Officialat of the Diocese of Passau. In addition to the systematically examined 120 years of the core investigation period, we followed the traces of specific married couples in the chronologically adjacent minutes. In this way, we discovered a total of 1,400 married couples who demanded either the recognition or continuation of their marriage under certain conditions, a temporary separation, an indefinite divorce or an annulment, in slightly more than 2,300 proceedings before the church courts.

The challenge in the search for early modern marriage proceedings was not only the different structure of the minutes which have been preserved in the Viennese Diocesan Archive, some of which document all matters with which the church courts had to deal with in one book, some of which summarized the matrimonial matters in separate books or sections. While the books from the 18th century usually contained indices that made it easier to find specific people, this was not the case with the books from the 16th and 17th century. The fact that plaintiff wives sometimes used their maiden name or widow’s name instead of their husbands’ last name also complicated the source survey.

Only very little personal data, such as the year of birth and death of the marital spouses, their place of birth and place of residence, age and marital status at the time of marriage, occupation and social position, names and dates of the children brought into the marriage and born during the marriage could be found in the protocol entries of the church courts, especially in the marriage proceedings from the 16th and 17th centuries. We were able to find some of this missing data with the help of systematic, combined research in the genealogical database and in the parish registers published online via Matricula online ( We developed our own database for evaluation, which we gradually expanded. From a methodological point of view, the search for personal data was particularly successful when we were able to draw on other clues such as a place of residence and/or an approximate wedding date and not only the names of the spouses, which often appeared with varying spellings.

To research and standardize the places and parishes from the middle of the 16th century to the present, we used not only the local directory that the Austrian Post uses today but also the parish table that the team from Matricula online developed for Vienna and Lower Austria. In order to be able to differentiate the marriages for the qualitative as well as the quantitative analysis, we looked primarily for entries on marriage. From the marriage registers, we were able to find out not only the marriage date but usually also the birth or widow’s name of the bride, and often also the groom’s civil status.

Flamitzer*in Couple

For example, we managed to find the marriage entry for the Flamitzer*in couple, whose 16-year-long disputes are documented in a total of nine minutes of the Lower Officialat in Passau. Starting from the place of residence St. Pölten, which is mentioned only in passing (en passant) in the entries, we searched through the marriage book of St. Pölten Cathedral from 1587-1679 with a name index and found what we were looking for. As the screenshot of the marriage book below shows, the law student Johannes Nicolaus Flamitzer and Catharina Hözingerin, widow of a leather belt and strap maker, married on 18 July 1666 in the presence of four witnesses from the St. Pölten craftsperson and council milieu. Since the groom was single, the marriage book also contains the names of his parents and place of birth, Kremsmünster. From the entry we learned that the bride was previously married to the St. Pölten councilor and leatherworker Johann Hözinger.

Screenshot 1: Marriage entry Johann Nicolaus Flamitzer and Catharina Hözingerin, 18.7.1666, in: Marriage register of St. Pölten Cathedral 1587-1679, pag. 439.

Her first marriage is also recorded in the St. Pölten Cathedral’s marriage register. We learn not only that Catharina and Johann Hözinger married on 6 February 1650, but also that Catharina was the legitimate daughter of Mathias and Maria Anna Dimblmayr*in:

Screenshot 2: Marriage entry Johann Hözinger and Catharina Dimblmayrin, 6.2.1650, in: Marriage register of St. Pölten Cathedral 1587-1679, pag. 309.

As shown in the wedding entries, until well into the 18th century, it was usual for no information for the bride and groom to be noted. In the Flamitzer*in case study, the search for the death data, which often includes the age of the deceased, was unsuccessful both via genteam and in the index of the death register from St. Pölten Cathedral; likewise the search for a baptismal entry for Catharina Dimblmayrin. We were able to determine the date of birth only for Johann Nicolaus Flamitzer: He was baptized on 17 August 1642 in Kremsmünster. Births and baptisms took place very close to one another in the early modern period. Due to the very high infant mortality rate, the newborns were baptized as quickly as possible to secure their soul’s salvation, which is why the date of birth and the date of baptism can generally be seen as simultaneous.

Screenshot 3: Baptism entry Johann Flamitzer, 17.8.1642, in: Baptism register VI Kremsmünster 1642-1653, pag. 4.

From the baptism date, we were able to calculate that Johann Nicolaus Flamitzer was almost 24 years old at the time of the wedding, while Catharina must have been 10 to 15 years older due to her previous marriage.
Since children were mentioned in several places in the consistorial records, the targeted search for baptisms of children with the surname Hözinger or Hetzinger also proved to be useful. From Catharina’s first marriage, which lasted until 1666, we were able to find the baptism dates of eight children in the genteam database, as the screenshot below shows:

Screenshot 4: genteam query Catholic indices, filter: Hetzinger + Niederösterreich + bis 1666 + Taufen (

We could not determine how many children survived the first weeks or years of life or how many children Catharina brought into the second marriage, as only the death books of St. Pölten Cathedral starting from 1680 have been passed down. However, the baptism of Hans Michel Flamitzer, the son of the new couple, could be found using the index of a baptism register. As the screenshot below shows, he was baptized on 22 September 1667.

Screenshot 5: Baptism entry Hans Michel Flamitzer, 22.9.1667, in: Baptism register St. Pölten Cathedral 1621-1670, pag. 660.

The citizen “Johann Flämützer” and his wife Catharina are named as parents. However, we did not find the baptism of another child of the Flamitzer*in couple who according to a recorded statement made by Catharina Flamitzerin, was born on 14 February 1672.

The example of the research on the Flamitzer*in couple makes it clear that informative biographical knowledge can be obtained with the help of the information that has been continuously expanded in recent years and is available online with the genteam database and the digitized parish registers. Even if the search for married couples who lived in Lower Austria in the 16th and 17th centuries generally yields fewer results than the search for couples who lived in Vienna in the 18th and 19th centuries, the key questions in regard to the Flamitzer*in couple could be answered:

  • Marital Status: Catharina was a widow at the time of the wedding, the groom Nicolaus Flamitzer was a bachelor
  • Date and Place of Marriage: 18 July 1666 in St. Pölten Cathedral
  • Duration of Marriage: At the time of the first lawsuit in January 1670, the Flamitzer*in couple were in their fourth year of marriage. On 1 October 1681, after 15 years of marriage, the consistorial councils passed a judgment in the divorce proceedings. Although this has not been handed down, it can be concluded from the later enforcement proceedings that the couple no longer lived together, i.e. that they had been granted either a temporary separation or a permanent divorce from bed and board.
  • Social Positions: Catharina, née Dimblmayrin, was married to Johann Hözinger, a St. Pölten council member, who worked as a belt and strap maker in the leather working craft. In addition to the business, the house and her assets, she brought at least 10 years of marriage experience and several children into the new marriage. Johann Nicolaus Flamitzer, the son of a couple of furriers residing in Kremsmünster, therefore came from a family which worked in a related craft, that of fur processing, but with the study of law he strived for a different career path and social advancement.
  • Couple’s Place of Residence: Catharina had already been married once in St. Pölten, so she had already lived in the Lower Austrian city for many years. We do not know if her first husband came from St. Pölten. What is certain, however, is that she lived with her first husband in St. Pölten and that the second husband, Johann Nicolaus Flamitzer from Kremsmünster or Vienna, where he studied, moved into the wife’s house in St. Pölten.

2. Quantitative results

Despite the often very brief entries on the consistorial records, we were able to determine the date of marriage for approximately a quarter (24.6%) of the 1,400 married couples who had at least one marriage proceeding before the consistory of the Lower Officialat of the diocese of Passau or the consistory of the (arch)diocese of Vienna in the time segments studied. Even if we were able to reconstruct the couple’s place of residence, the search for the marriage records often remained fruitless. The reason for this is the order that the wedding ceremony had to take place in the bride’s parish. The table below shows the number of married couples in the time segments examined and also shows for how many of these couples our search based on marriage date was successful.

Table 1: Examination Period | Date of Marriage

From the entries in the marriage registers, we were able to determine the marital status of 255 wives and 182 husbands at the time of their marriage.

Table 2: Marital status at time of marriage by gender

At first glance, we were surprised by the finding that it was not the first marriage for just over half of both men and women. The finding is less surprising when we consider not only that many women died in childbirth, but also that wars, natural disasters, epidemics, and poverty caused high mortality rates. For the interpretation of marriage proceedings, this finding is particularly important insofar as widowed men and women not only brought experience and possibly also children into the new marriage, but usually also assets from previous marriages.
In 153 of the 345 couples, we were able to clearly assign the marital status of both the bride and groom based on the entries in the marriage registers. As the table below shows, in only about one-third (32.7%) of the cases both the bride and groom were single. The second most frequent constellation was a couple where a widower married a single woman (28.6%). In third place (20.9%) came the constellation described above in the case of the Flamitzer*in couple, where a widow had decided to marry a usually considerably younger bachelor. At 17.6 %, the case that a widowed woman and a widowed man decided to spend the rest of their lives as a married couple was statistically the rarest in our sample.

Table 3: Marital status at the wedding per couple

As shown in the example of the married couple Catharina and Johann Nicolaus Flamitzer*in, neither the consistorial records nor the early modern marriage registers contain any references to the age of the spouses. Answering the question about the age at marriage was a challenge for the research team. In a few cases we were able to calculate the ages of the bride and groom either from the baptismal entry or from ages in the death registers. The ages should be interpreted with caution. The baptism registers are reliable sources because, as mentioned before, there were usually only a few days, if even that much, time between the birth and baptism.  The ages given in the death registers, however, are often rather a rough estimate. This is especially the case when the deceased persons had reached a high age.
As shown in the table below, with this additional research effort we were able to reconstruct the age at marriage for 46 women and 52 men. We were able to do this primarily for married couples who had conducted their marital conflict in the last period of ecclesiastical jurisdiction, that is, between 1772 and 1783. With nine women (19.5%) and eleven men (21.2%), respectively, the proportion of marriages where at least one spouse was over 50 at the time of the marriage is surprisingly high. Seven women, but only three men, were under 21 at the time of the marriage.
As the table below also shows, one bride was even under 15 at the wedding. During the first interpretation of this quantitative finding, we thought it was an input error in the personal database. Checking the record revealed that we had not made a mistake. On 9 November 1778, 14-year-old Anna Maria Fritz von Rustenfeld and 24-year-old Ägyd von Liechtenstern were married in the parish of St. Stephan in Vienna. The marriage record notes the consent of Carl Fritz von Rustenfeld, the father of the minor bride. A cross-check with the baptismal registers of St. Stephan’s proves the age of Anna Maria. She was baptised on 24 March 1763, so she was actually fourteen and a half years old at the time of the wedding.

Table 4: Age at time of marriage by gender

For 36 of the early modern married couples, we were able to determine the age for both the husband and the wife: As the table below shows, only one couple had no age difference. Slightly more than one quarter of the married couples (27.8%) were approximately the same age, with an age difference of up to 5 years. From a gender-historical perspective, it is very interesting to note that in 14 couples the wives, and in 21 couples the husbands, were considerably older. While in the constellation older wife and younger husband, the age difference was more than 20 years in only three cases, in the constellation of younger wife and older husband, there were as many as 7 couples where the age difference was more than 20 years.  Although these figures are not representative, they do draw our attention to the fact that a large age difference was structurally associated with an increased potential for conflict.

Table 5: Age difference of spouses

For 106 men and 79 women, we were able to use the occupational information entered in the marriage matrices make a rough social classification and to assign them to a socio-economic sector. This information should also be interpreted with caution. On the one hand, due to the long study period, it was difficult to define sectors which span so much space and time. On the other hand, the occupational information, which is often difficult to classify for today’s readers, made it difficult to allocate to the formed sectors.
Finally, the patriarchal logic of keeping the registers was also challenging. If the bride and groom had been single at the time of the wedding, there were usually no occupational details noted. They were simply positioned as daughters or sons of the XY couple. If a profession was registered for widowed brides and grooms, then usually only for the groom. Widowed women were positioned according to their deceased husband, but widowed men were not positioned according to the deceased wife’s position. From deceased husbands we could often learn the names and occupation from the marriage registers, but from deceased wives we could not find even the names.
As described in the menu item divorce consequences–norms, due to the prevailing marital property regime and inheritance law, it was not unlikely that the bride and groom would take over their parents’ craft or trade and bring it into the marriage. Methodologically, therefore, we decided to assign previously unmarried brides and grooms, from whom we had no other information, to the socio-economic sectors of their parents.

The prevailing marital property regime of community of property meant that widowed spouses inherited at least half of the marital property. If, as in the Flamitzer*in case study, we found out the deceased husband’s craft or trade, we assigned the widowed bride to that craft or trade. Methodologically, this is supported by the fact that married couples generally not only owned a licence to perform the craft or trade jointly, but also practiced it together, brought it into the new marriage, and continued it with the new spouse.

Table 6: Socio-economic status at time of marriage by gender

If we compare the marriage date to the date of the first lawsuit initiated by one of the spouses or the date of the first report made regarding the couple by the priest, we see that in almost half of the cases the marital conflicts were already so severe in the first five years of marriage that they left traces in the minutes of the two consistories studied. This largest group also included the Flamitzer*in couple described above, where the husband first filed for divorce in the fourth year of marriage.
A good fifth of the married couples (22 %) were married between six and ten years when they first filed a complaint or made a report to the consistory, while approximately one quarter (24%) had been married for 11 and 20 years. As many as 7.9% of the married couples had been married for more than 20 years at the time of the first marital dispute brought before the consistory, and three couples had even been married for more than 30 years.

Table 7: Duration of marriage before the first marriage proceeding

We were able to reconstruct the ages at the time of the first marriage proceedings for 58 women and 62 men. This slightly higher amount of data compared to the age results at the time of marriage results from the fact that for some married couples we were able to determine the year of birth based on baptism or death data, but the search for the marriage entry was fruitless. As the table below shows, three women, including the aforementioned Anna Maria von Liechtenstern, were under 20 years of age at the time of the first marriage proceedings before the consistory. With 16 women and 18 men, the proportion of married couples where at least one spouse was already older than 50 is remarkably high. Of course, these numbers must be put in relation to the age at marriage, where, as mentioned above, approximately a fifth of the men and women were over fifty years of age.

Table 8: Age at the time of first marriage proceeding by gender

The social positions listed in the table below give a rough idea of how a married couple earned their living. As we mentioned earlier, we considered ourselves lucky if we could draw conclusions about how the married couples earned their livelihood from the entries in the minutes. In the case of some married couples, we were able to infer the professional activity of the husband, and in some cases also that of the wife, through the proceedings for maintenance or through the applications for its execution. In the case of other married couples, the information again comes from baptism entries of children or from information found in the death registers. The allocations also represent approximate values because the marriage proceedings sometimes lasted for years and the areas of activity changed during this period, for example, because the jointly run workshop went bankrupt and had to be sold.
In order not to adopt the normative patriarchal logic, we did not reconstruct the social position of the wives through that of the husband, but only made an assignment if the wife either had an occupation independent of the husband, for example, as a midwife, or if we were certain, based on the context, that the couple jointly ran the commercial enterprise, craft, trade or farm. The price for this decision is that we have less information on the wives than on the husbands.

Table 9: Socio-economic position of spouses by gender

As the table above shows, we were able to roughly assign 95 of the 1,400 wives (6.8%) and almost half of the husbands (642 or 45.9%) to an economic sector. The fact that the sample includes only a few wives and husbands in the field of agriculture is probably mainly due to the fact that in the protocol entries of the consistories and also those in the parish registers, occupational data were generally entered only when the people were not exclusively active in agriculture. If we look more closely at the craft and trade sectors, we see that more than one-third of the husbands were employed in the clothing and textile producing and leather processing sectors and another quarter in the construction, wood and metal sectors. At 14.4%, husbands from the food and beverage sector were also relatively frequently involved in marriage proceedings at the church courts. At 8.3%, the proportion of innkeepers is surprisingly high.

Table 10: Craft and trade of spouses by gender

Although we found the marriage records of 345 couples, we could clarify where only 233 of the couples lived following the wedding. As mentioned, the wedding ceremony usually took place in the bride’s parish. If the couple did not live near the bride’s parish, we could draw conclusions about the husband’s place of residence only if it was recorded in the registers or mentioned in the marriage proceedings. We could determine the couple‘s place of residence with certainty if we found the baptism of children in the parish registers. As described above, we used a slightly adapted directory from the Austrian postal service to geographically assign the residential addresses or residential parishes to a current town, municipality, district, and federal state. As the following table of districts shows, the 233 married couples represented almost all of the current districts in Lower Austria as well as almost all of the current districts of the City of Vienna. The table still includes the Lower Austrian district of Wien-Umgebung (Vienna-Surroundings). This district was dissolved as of 1 January 2017, and the municipalities therein were assigned to the neighbouring Lower Austrian districts.

Table 11: Couple’s place of residence

If we consider only the 59 married couples, whom we know had their common place of residence in one of today’s Viennese districts, we notice right away that some Viennese districts were missing. This has nothing to do with the fact that married couples from these districts did not take their marital disputes to the Viennese consistory, but rather with the accessibility of the parish registers. At the time at which the research was being carried out, not all parish registers had been digitized and made available of Matricula. Not surprisingly, 17 of the married couples lived in what is now the Inner City, which was very densely populated in the early modern period.

Table 12: Couple’s Viennese place of residence

Susanne Hehenberger, Andrea Griesebner, November 2020, translation Jennifer Blaak

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Citation: Susanne Hehenberger and Andrea Griesebner, Couples (1558–1783) » Start » Couples, in: Webportal. Marriage at Court 3.0, 2022, <>. [Date of access: 2022-12-06]