Power often operates in strange and surprising ways. With A Convent Tale, Renee Baernstein uncovers some of the nuanced methods cloistered women devised to exert their agency. In the tradition of Simon Schama and Steven Ozment, Baernstein uses the compelling story of a single clan, the Sfondrati, to refashion our understanding of the early modern period. Showing the nuns as neither helpless victims nor valiant rebels, but reasonable beings maneuvering as best they could within limits set by class, gender and culture. Baernstein writes against the tendency to depict women as inactive pawns, and shows that even within the convent walls, nuns were empowered by ties with their (often earthly) families and actively involved in the politics of the period. Both a major contribution to scholarship on gender, family and religion in early modern Europe, and a colorful well-told tale of Renaissance intrigue, A Convent Tale is sure to attract a wide range of academic and general readers.
"A vivid and fascinating story of a tumultuous century, a Catholic society, a contentious religious order, and an ambitious family dynasty, A Convent Tale is an exemplary history of religion and society in early modern Europe." -- R Po-chia Hsia, Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of History, Pennsylvania State University
"Founded as an experimental community of active, missionary women, Milan's Angelic convent eventually became something strikingly different--a cloistered bastion of gendered reform. Full of strong characters, A Convent Tale is a beautifully written book about this complex transformation." -- Kathryn Burns, author of Colonial Habits
"Recounting the turbulent history of the Angelic convent of San Paolo, A Convent Tale is boldly revisionist and a major contribution to Counter-reformation history. Richly documented, and written with passion and verve, this important book is a must-read for students of the church, Italy, and women." -- Richard L. Kagan, author of Lucrecia's Dreams
"[A] wonderful new monograph…which charts the development of the Milanese convent San Paolo from its establishment in 1535 through the tumultuous decadesof the Counter-Reformation…A Convent Tale with its beautiful writing and thick descriptions, brings to life the world these nuns inhabited." -- Sixteenth Century Journal