The Malta Independent 21 October 2018, Sunday

Real life stories of 18 century Maltese women

Tuesday, 5 December 2017, 09:43 Last update: about 12 months ago

A thoroughly researched book on women in 18th century Malta has been officially launched at the Megalithic Temples of Ġgantija Gozo which 300 years ago were surrounded by large cotton fields with the active participation of Gozitan women in one of the most thriving industries on the Maltese islands. Maltese and Gozitan women contributed in a variety of occupations namely as farmers, cotton spinners, dressmakers, washerwomen, bakers, shop owners and actresses. Textile production was particularly demanding of female labour as well as the corsairing industry which also flourished at that time.


"Maltese women in the 18th century were not personally involved in any great movements or major political events. They suffered many restrictions and limitations in legal and social rights but still they were neither invisible, nor inaudible or unimportant. However, their contribution in various sectors to the growth and development of their society should not be overlooked or undervalued," remarked Yosanne Vella, author of Women in 18th Century Malta.

The publication unveils authentic stories of Maltese women appearing before the Courts of Justice accused of criminal activity, including thefts, physical assaults and prostitution. Court records unveiled by the author include aaccusations against women both from Valletta and the villages of abusive and blasphemous conduct, drunkenness, theft offences, molesting, fighting and beating up of people.

The author has also researched the Inquisitor's archives which shed new light on life in monasteries. One Carmelite nun became pregnant in 1730 and tried to make an abortion.  Nuns at the Monastery of Santa Scholastica were accused of scandalous and pagan behaviour, with one nun being accused of having sexual intercourse with the Devil.

Three hundred years ago the majority of Maltese women as well as men were illiterate. However some nuns could probably read the breviary, which was in Latin and taught catechism to girls.

The author reveals encounters between Maltese women and Knights from various Languages and the presence of Muslim female slaves. Some female slaves seem to have been equally high spirited and far from being intimidated, often quarrelled openly and insulted Maltese women, even their own mistresses.

Maltese women were victims of unwanted attention by the Knights who were loathed for the way they took advantage of them. Maltese women, who could be very sensual in their appearance, also sought to lure innocent Knights. In many cases women were the victims of injustices and criminal acts. However, at other times it was the women themselves who were personally involved and committed the crimes. Violence against women occurred quite frequently. Most frequently much of the suffering was inflicted on the women by their own husbands. It seems that for a large number of Maltese wives beatings were part and parcel of married life.

The book,  illustrated with paintings from public and private collections in Malta, Paris and St Petersburg, will sell at €25 from local booksellers.

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