Paternal Authority in Western Europe



The authority accorded to fathers during the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth, is underpinned by the legal concept of patria potestas. This idea of the father’s authoritative position dates back to Roman law, but it continued to play a determining role over the last two centuries. The period from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries in general experienced a rise of the position of fathers, most clearly in the Protestant context. In many respects, the nineteenth century in particular witnessed further strengthening of the father’s position. This preeminent authority of the husband and father–as reflected by terms such as head of the family, chef de famille, jefe de familia, Familienoberhaupt–was only to come to and end in Western European countries with the family law reforms of the 1960s and 1970s.