This volume inaugurates a major three-volume history of the family in Europe over the last five hundred years. Family history lies at the heart of the "new social history" which, since the 1960s, has shifted the historiographical focus from elites and political history to the changing life experience of ordinary people. With the benefit of research techniques drawn from the social sciences together with perspectives provided by developments in cultural and gender history and the history of sexuality, the contributors to this project provide a fresh reading of the social world of the past, of the nature of family life in Europe and the forces that have shaped it. As with the forthcoming volumes in the series (Family Life in Modern Times, 1789-1914 and Family Life in the Twentieth Century), this opening volume looks first at the material conditions of family life - housing, diet and domestic organisation - and at the economic and social factors that conditioned it. The book considers the nature of family law, the impact of religious change, demographic factors such as disease, childhood mortality and illegitimacy, relations between parents and children, and the effect on family life of changing trends in marriage, divorce and extended kin relationships. The contributors are drawn from among the finest social historians of Italy, France, the United States, Germany, Austria and Scandinavia. Charged with synthesizing the vast and vigorous international literature on the family as well as opening new vistas in the field, the authors present a clear, comprehensive and vivid account of the development of family life between the Renaissance and the French Revolution.