Love, Marriage, Romance & Women...

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 Getting Married

Family and friends played a major role in arranging marriages, especially if land and other wealth accompanied the union. The parents and siblings in the families had a concern in the marriage, and the lord also wished to keep some accounting of village marrieages. In cases where the marriage was part of the family's economic and social strategy, careful planning by the whole unit was needed, for a good marriage could bring considerable economic benefits. The prospective bride and groom also had an economic stake in a marriage contract, because it would determine not only who their life partner would be, but also how well they could expect to live. To marry for love without land or chattels could assure nothing but a life of penury.

Marriage contracts involved detailed planning. Not all young people, however, had marriages arranged for them. Some were from poor families who had nothing to negotiate and hence would either not marry or marry whom they pleased. It was even possible that in times of land shortage, family interference in marriage was less common because they had nothing to bargain with.

Marriage was easy to contract, but yet, even some people remained celibate and unmarried their entire lives.

Amt, Emilie. Women's Lives In Medieval Europe. Routledge, Chapman, and Hall Inc.: New York, 1993.

Marriage in Medieval Times

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 Marriage in Medieval Times

By Rachelle Carter

When someone says the word marriage today we think about two people who are in love and who want to spend the rest of their lives with each other. Marriage is a serious commitment, one that isn't taken lightly for most people. One wouldn't likely marry a stranger they just met for instance. In the Medieval Times, however, marriage was quite different. Women didn't have a choice as to who they would marry. Most of the time they didn't even know the man before they were married. Marriage was different in other ways back then too. There were many reasons a marriage could not take place, and strict rules for whether or not a divorce was allowed. Despite the differences in various aspects of marriage, the marriage ceremony has stayed rather similar over the years. We also carry on some of the same traditions in today's society.

In the middle ages marriages were done by arrangement. Women were not allowed to choose who they wanted to marry. However, sometimes men were able to choose their bride. Marriage was not based on love. Husbands and wives were generally strangers until they first met. If love was involved at all it came after the couple had been married. Even if love did not develop through marriage, the couple generally developed a friendship of some sort. The arrangement of marriage was done by the children's parents. In the Middle Ages children were married at a young age. Girls were as young as 12 when they married, and boys as young as 17. The arrangement of the marriage was based on monetary worth. The family of the girl who was to be married gives a dowry,or donation, to the boy she is to marry. The dowry goes with her at the time of the marriage and stays with the boy forever (Renolds).

After the marriage was arranged a wedding notice was posted on the door of the church. The notice was put up to ensure that there were no grounds for prohibiting the marriage. The notice stated who was to be married, and if anyone knew any reasons the two could not marry they were to come forward with the reason. If the reason were a valid one the wedding would be prohibited (Rice).

There were many reasons for prohibiting a marriage. One reason was consanguinity, if the two were too closely related. If the boy or the girl had taken a monastic or religious vow the marriage was also prohibited. Sometimes widows or widowers took vows of celibacy on the death of their spouse, and later regretted doing so when they could not remarry. Other reasons which also prohibited marriage, but were not grounds for a divorce, were rape, adultery, and incest. A couple could also not be married during a time of fasting, such as lent or advent. Nor could a couple be married by someone who had killed someone (Rice).

The church ceremony in the middle ages took place outside the church door before entering the church for a nuptial mass. During the ceremony in front of the church doors the man stood on the right side and the woman stood on the left side, facing the door of the church. "The reason being that she was formed out of a rib in the left side of Adam (Amt, p.84)." The priest begins by asking if anyone knows of any reason the couple should not be married. He also asks this of the man and woman so they may confess any reasons for prohibiting their marriage (Amt, p.84).

The ceremony proceeds with the priest saying, "N[ame] wilt though have this woman to thy wedded wife, wilt the love her, and honor her, keep her and guard her, in health and in sickness, as a husband should a wife, and forsaking all others on account of her, keep thee only unto her, so long as ye both shall live? (Amt, p.84)" Then the priest, changing the wording of "as a husband should a wife", asks the same of the woman. Both the man and the woman should answer by saying "I will (Amt, p.84-5)." At this time the woman is given by her father. The wedding continues with the saying of vows. Both the man and the woman, with the exception of the words wife and husband, say, "I N. take thee N. to my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness, and in health, till death do us part, if the holy church will ordain it: And thereto I plight thee my troth (Amt, p. 85)." At this time the are given to the priest to bless them. He gives them back and the ring exchange occurs. They bow their heads and the priest gives them a blessing. As husband and wife they enter the church, where they kneel before the altar. At the altar the priest gives a prayer and a blessing, thus ending the marriage ceremony (Amt, p.85).

Many of the things that took place during the time of a wedding have become traditions, and are currently practiced today. The marriage ceremony, for example, contains much of the same wording as was used in the middle ages. Today, the man and the woman stand on the same sides of the altar as they did in the middle ages. The wedding ceremony of today also includes a ring exchange, and the ring is put on the fourth finger, the same finger it was placed on during the middle ages. Even nuns marrying the church wore a ring on their fourth finger. In the middle ages a couple and their families would have a large feast after the wedding, this is still carried on in today's society (Rice).

One advantage we have today is the acceptance of divorce. People today can get divorced for practically any reason. In the middle ages there were few reasons the wedding could be dissolved. One reason was if either the man or woman were not of legal age, 12 for girls and 14 for boys. If the husband or wife had previously made a religious or monastic vow or were not Christian, the marriage would be dissolved. The last reason a marriage could end was if the woman, not the man, was incapable of sexual relations (Rice).

Marriages in the middle ages were done by arrangement. Most of the time the man and women did not know each other prior to their wedding. The marriage involved a dowry, and a ceremony beginning at the chute door and proceeding into the church. After the couple were married there were few reasons for divorce which were strictly adhered to. Over time marriages have carried on similar traditions and have also changed to involve the man and woman in deciding who they want to marry, and most importantly: LOVE.


Amt, Emilie. Women's Lives in Medieval Europe.New York, Routledge:1993

 (Click here to go to huge section on Medieval, Celtic & Norse marriage ceremonies, handfasting, law of marriage etc...)

Law, Sex, and Christian Society in Medieval Europe

 "Jesus said remarkably little about sexual conduct, and sex was not a central issue in his moral teaching. But Jesus' followers during the first four or five generations after his death were far more concerned about sexual morality than Jesus himself had been."

  "Despite claims to the contrary, Christian sexual ethics have been neither uniform nor static."

  "Three major patterns of sexual doctrine underlie the diverse beliefs about sexual morality that have been current in Western Christendom since the patristic period. One pattern centered on the reproductive function of sex and established nature and the natural as the criterion of what was licit; the second focused on the notion that sex was impure, a source of shame and defilement; the third emphasized sexual relations as a source of intimacy, as a symbol and expression of conjugal love. Medieval writers placed greater emphasis upon the first two patters, but at various times prior to the Reformation, and in many segments of Christian society since then, all three approaches and the consequences deduced from them have been held and taught in various combinations."

  "Married couples among the Roman elite lived in a social system in which the family, as modern societies think of it, did not exist. The Roman familia meant a household, not a family in the modern sense, and households came in a great variety of sizes and shapes. Among the wealthy and powerful, the household often numbered hundreds of persons and things: children, servants, slaves, livestock, and other property were all part of the familia, although his wife and children were members of it and, like the servants, and slaves, oxen and geese, and the rest of the familia, they belonged to the paterfamilia. Among the poor, however, households were apparently small, since they included no slaves or servants and little property. The familia of the humble often consisted simply of a woman and her children. Again, the male head of household was not part of his own familia."

  "Paul's treatment both of illicit sex outside of marriage (porneia) and of marital sex itself was influenced by his conviction that the end of the world was imminent."

  "The great Biblical exegete, Origen (ca. A.D. 185-253/55), and the anonymous author of the Gnostic Gospels according to the Egyptians, for example, believed that Adam and Eve had been innocent of sexual temptation or even sexual feelings in Paradise."

  "Few early patristic writers bothered to account for the dislike and revulsion that characterized their treatment of sex. They plainly felt that no explanation was required, that sex was so filthy and degrading that the reason for condemnation of it was self-evident."

  "Marriages of the clergy posed special problems for Christian authorities. Although a few early writers expressed a preference that clerics not marry at all, nearly every third-century Christian clergyman whose marital status is known seems to have been married. The first effort to prohibit clerical marriage appeared in the canons of Elvira in the early fourth century."

  "Augustine and his contemporaries among the Fathers considered sex a grave moral danger in part because they believed that sexual feelings and urges, particularly the reactions of the genital organs, were not fully under the control of the human will."

  According to Augustine, "Prior to the Fall sexual organs had been under conscious control; but just as our first parents rebelled against God, so after the Fall our genitals rebelled against our will. Humans then became incapable of controlling either their sexual desires or the physical reactions of their gonads."

  "He ["St." Jerome] also furnished generations of misogynist writers with a battery of elegant vituperation and ferocious mockery directed against the foibles and follies of women.

 Patristic discussions of the place of sex in the Christian life are shot through with a fundamental ambivalence about the place of women in the scheme of salvation. Augustine agreed clearly and emphatically with other patristic writers in requiring that men observe the same norms of sexual conduct as women. At the same time, however, Augustine, like other patristic authors, considered women frankly inferior to men, both physically and morally.

 . . . "I fail to see what use woman can be to man," Augustine said, "if one excludes the function of bearing children." "

  "Cassian and others elaborated schemes of discipline to ward off dangerous sexual impulses. These plans regulated diet, clothing, social contacts, sleeping habits, posture, and other aspects of daily living with the aim of eliminating physical, mental, or emotional stimuli that might trigger responses and sexual desires. . . .

 The one means of fighting off sexual temptations at which practically all authorities drew the line was castration. Although one or tow extremists - Origen was the best known - had advocated and even practiced this radical method of combating sexual temptation, orthodox opinion held that this solution carried a good thing too far. Both the so-called Canons of the Apostles and the genuine canons of the Council of Nicaea (325) prohibited the practice."

  "Patristic writers assumed, as Roman law did, that consent made marriage. They rejected the notion that consummation was an essential part of marriage. It made no difference whether a couple ever went to bed together; so long as they consented to marry one another, that was what counted. If consummation was not essential, it might follow that sexual impotence constituted no reason for holding a marriage invalid, and Augustine at any rate seems to have subscribed to this view.

 Christian authorities warned married couples that they should have sex only for proper reasons. Augustine pointed to the Old Testament prophets as examples for married persons of his own generation. The prophets, he claimed, made love to their wives rationally and solely for procreative purposes. Since marital sex is a favor, not a right, couples should avoid making love merely for enjoyment or because they felt like it. Only propagation of the species, Augustine warned, entitled them to make use of the marital privileges blamelessly.

 But while Augustine and his contemporaries cautioned against intercourse for pleasure, they also reminded their married hearers that they were obliged to give their spouses sex on demand. The marital debt was a right that either party could claim. the partner from whom it was demanded must accede to the spouse's request, and doing so was no sin. The other partner might sin in asking payment of the sexual debt for wrongful reasons or at inappropriate times, but the spouse who complied did not share the guilt. If a couple agreed by mutual consent to cease having sexual relations and one of them later had a change of mind, however, the other party had no obligation to honor a demand for the resumption of marital intercourse. A mutual decision to forego sexual relations canceled the marital debt, and neither party could thenceforth rescind that decision.

 The marital debt created a parity of rights and obligations between spouses. Each had an equal right to demand that it be paid; each had an equal obligation to comply with the other's demands. Equality of the sexes in marriage meant equality in the marriage bed, but not outside of it. Just as each spouse was entitled to sexual service from the other on demand, so each was entitled to require sexual fidelity from the other. Neither had a right to seek sexual fulfillment outside of marriage, even if the other party was, for example, absent or ill and thus sexually unavailable.

 Cessation of marital relations did not break the bond of marriage, just as the beginning of sexual relations was irrelevant to the contracting of marriage. The evident aim of patristic matrimonial theory was to separate marriage as far as possible from its sexual component, defining it as a contractual union, separate and distinct from the sexual union of the married persons."

  "Classical Roman law, as we have seen, based the existence of marriage on affectio maritalis. Where marital affection existed between a couple, they were married; when marital affection ceased, the marriage ended. In the post-classical period this concept of marriage underwent a slight but important change. Marriage in postclassical law continued to be contracted by consent, which implied martial affection; but once created, the marriage continued until the relationship ended by death or divorce. Classical Roman marriage, accordingly, required continuing consent of the parties, while postclassical marriage needed only initial consent."

 "Ordinary people who chose not to devote their lives to ascetic observances were often advised that their best defense against the ever present urge to copulate was to marry early. For this reason St. John Chrysostom warned parents to see to it that their children married soon after they reached the age of puberty.

 All sexual relations outside of marriage amounted to fornication."

 When intercourse was forbidden:

When one's wife is menstruating, pregnant, or nursing
During Lent, Advent, Whitsun Week, or Easter week
On feast days, fast days, Sunday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday
During daylight
If you are naked
If you are in church
Unless you are trying to produce a child

And be careful - no fondling, no lewd kisses, no oral sex, no strange positions, only once, try not to enjoy it, and wash afterwards (purify oneself from the pollution)

  "Practical considerations, mainly economic, supported the drive for an unmarried clergy. Married clergy, the reformers declared, were expensive to maintain - married priests, after all, had to provide food, clothes, and housing for those bawling babies and slatternly wives, and the church's resources were thereby frittered away, not in the service of God, but in catering to the whims of the wives and children of married clerics. Even worse, married priests, bishops, and others would be tempted to treat their ecclesiastical offices as family property and to convert the sacred dignity into the family heritage. This last was close to the mark. Sacerdotal dynasties were common, almost the norm, in some regions of eleventh-century Europe, and had been commonplace for centuries."

  ". . . marital sex must not be "unnatural" which Gratian apparently took to mean anal copulation and perhaps oral sex as well. Unnatural sex in marriage was worse than adultery or fornication, according to sources that Gratian cited. His objection was not primarily that anal and oral sex were contraceptive; rather he reprobated these types of intercourse because they were an inappropriate use of the sex organs, and that, he believed, ran counter to natural law. Intercourse in a "natural fashion but with contraceptive intent Gratian classed as a very slight sin, a moral blemish, much like such other minuta peccata as excessive talking, eating after one's hunger was sated, registering annoyance at an importunate beggar, or oversleeping, and as a result being later for divine services."

  "The marital debt was one area in which Gratian not only conceded but absolutely insisted that men and women enjoyed equal rights before the law. The wife had every bit as much right to demand sexual dues from her husband as he did from her. This parity in respect to the conjugal debt was Gratian's most emphatic venture in the direction of equality between the sexes."

  "Several decretists noted the irony and apparent inequity of allowing men who had kept concubines to be ordained, while denying orders to those who had contracted two legitimate and perfectly legal marriages."

  "The twelfth-century has been called the century of love, because of the celebration of love in the poetry of the period."

  Under Pope Alexander III's reforms: "Sexual intercourse created a bond that precluded subsequent marriage between either party and members to the other party's immediate family. Further, once married persons had consummated their union, Alexander was prepared to force them to continue sexual relations so long as either party desired them. Even if one party contracted leprosy, the sexual obligation remained in force. The pope further held that couples who had exchanged consent before reaching the minimum age for marriage were bound by their agreement if they had sexual intercourse; consummation thus outweighed the impediment of minority. Likewise a conditional marriage became binding if the parties had intercourse, whether or not the stipulated conditions had been fulfilled - again, sexual relations healed a defect in marital consent."

  "Europe in 1198 was spotted with festering patches of heresy. In the manufacturing towns of northern Italy and southern France the unordained and untrained followers of Peter Waldo were preaching and teaching an alarming brand of Christianity that denied the special authority of the clergy and cast doubt on the spiritual value of the sacraments. Elsewhere, Cathar heretics attacked the benevolence of the Creator by proclaiming that the material world was intrinsically evil; they maintained that only the spiritual realm, on which they seemed to feel they had a monopoly, had been created by an all-good deity."

 Speaking of sexual offenses in the 14th and 15th centuries

"The popular belief that simple fornication between unmarried persons was neither a sin nor a crime persisted, although this had been classified formally as heresy since 1287."

 "Several authorities maintained that when a woman committed adultery, her husband was at fault and should be punished as much or more than she was, but I have yet to see a case in which that was done."

 "Dowry represented the married woman's claim to financial security, but that security might be jeopardized by her own actions or those of her husband. The married woman who committed adultery stood to lose her dowry, and the beneficiary in that case was her husband, who received part or all of it as compensation for his humiliation."

  "The sixteenth century Reformation was not entirely centered on abstract issues of theology, such as justification by faith, or on ecclesiological problems, such as the plenitude of papal power or the priesthood of all believers. Problems involving sexual conduct were also at issue in the struggles between Protestant and Catholic.

 Roman Catholic and Protestant beliefs differed sharply on questions about the sacramentally of marriage, clerical celibacy, divorce and remarriage, and ultimately about the aims and purposes of human sexuality itself. The Catholic reaction, both in its reform mode and in its Counter-Reformation mode, tended to sharpen rather than blunt the difference between the two camps."

 ". . . most Protestants regarded celibacy as an oddity, graced with no special prestige or privilege. Protestant writers treated sex as a normal part of conjugal relationships, a sign of love between husband and wife, rather than a failing that required a procreative purpose to excuse it. For Protestants, marriage was a basic Christian institution, approved by Scriptures, and integral to a full human life. Reformers praised the beauty, dignity, and morality of married life as a central feature of Christian society; but at the same time, they also taught that marriages could be terminated for good cause. Since marriage for them was no sacrament, questions that troubled Roman Catholic writers when dealing with divorce and remarriage created fewer difficulties for Protestant theologians."

  "Long before the time of Jesus, philosophers and rulers had learned to be wary of sex. this fiery passion must be controlled lest it disrupt settled households and property arrangements and undermine the social harmony of communities."

  "Writers who take reproduction as the sole or primary goal of sex have virtually without exception dealt with human sexuality from an exclusively male perspective. Men are normally fertile from puberty to late old age, and male orgasm accompanies the emission of sperm. Thus the view that sex and reproduction are inextricably joined together reflects the experience of most men. Women experience sex differently. Females are fertile only for a fraction of their adult life, from puberty to menopause. The biological cycle of the human female, unlike that of most other animals, does not involve a close link between ovulation and the female sex drive. Moreover, orgasm for women is primarily a function of the clitoris, which has no reproductive function at all. thus the link between sexual satisfaction and reproduction is relatively weak from a woman's viewpoint. Reproductionist writers about sexual morality have historically rejected this point of view. Indeed, they have rarely even considered it."

  "The model of sexuality that lays primary emphasis on the impurity of sex also remains vigorous." page

  "Advocates of the pollution model of sex attach only secondary importance to procreation; hence they tend not to emphasize "nature" as a criterion of sexual morality, nor are they greatly concerned about contraception. Unlike procreationists, pollutionists strongly favor limiting marital relations by restricting the times, seasons, places, and circumstances in which sex is allowed."

  "The third model of sexuality views marital sex as a source of intimacy and affection, as both a symbol and a source of conjugal love. Subscribers to this school of thought regard sexual pleasure more positively than do adherents of the other two models."

  "Writers at different periods during the Middle Ages adopted elements of each of these models of human sexuality, as we have seen, in varying combinations and with varying degrees of enthusiasm.

  "Since the Reformation, Protestant Christians have often emphasized the third model of sexuality, although some Protestant authorities (notably the Puritans) stressed the impurity view."

  "Catholic tradition has consistently opposed many varieties of sexual expression - it condemns premarital and extramarital relationships, remarriage following divorce, and all types of deviant sexual practices, including oral and anal intercourse (either homosexual or heterosexual) and masturbation - and classifies them as grievous sins."

  "These three factors - the continuity of the socioeconomic environment, the continuing identification of the erotic with the sacred, and the inertia of the law and its institutions - not only help to explain the continuity of medieval sexual teaching, but are useful in understanding the historical development of that teaching itself."

  "While the medieval church's marriage and sex policies may have helped to increase ecclesiastical wealth, it does not necessarily follow that the system was designed in order to achieve that goal, although some Protestant reformers suspected that it had been. We are more likely dealing with an unintended result of the Church's urge to protect the sanctity of sex, rather than with policy consciously created to enrich the ecclesiastical establishment.

 The leaders of the medieval church, although occasionally sensitive to the problems and moral dilemmas of their flocks, were often indifferent to the social implications that their policies created. Nowhere was their indifference more marked than in matters concerning reproduction and family life. . .

. . . Virtually all restrictions that now apply to sexual behavior in Western societies stem form moral convictions enshrined in medieval canonical jurisprudence."

  'The history of changing concepts among Christian leaders and intellectuals about the nature of human sexuality and about the kinds and varieties of sexual practices that are consistent with Christian beliefs suggests that dogmatic ascertains about the unity, consistency, and invariably of Christian sexual morality must be treated with skepticism. "Christian sexual morality" has encompassed a wide range of inconsistent views."

  "The failure of medieval efforts to eradicate fornication, concubinage, premarital cohabitation, adultery, and sodomy through legal prescriptions, even where those prescriptions were backed by serious enforcement efforts, is rather sobering. It suggests that simply enacting theological principles into law is not likely to be a rewarding exercise."

What were weddings like during the Middle Ages?

So long as the couple made the vows before a witness, the marriage was valid--no priest had to be present (although this is increasingly not the case after the 13th century).

Weddings during the Middle Ages were considered family/community affairs. The only thing needed to create a marriage was for both partners to state their consent to take one another as spouses. Witnesses were not always necessary, nor was the presence of the clergy. In Italy, for example, the marriage was divided into three parts. The first portion consisted of the families of the groom and bride drawing up the papers. The bride didn't have to even be there for that. The second, the betrothal, was legally binding and may or may not have involved consummation. At this celebration, the couple exchanged gifts (a ring, a piece of fruit, etc.), clasped hands and exchanged a kiss. The "vows" could be a simple as, "Will you marry me?" "I will." The third part of the wedding, which could occur several years after the betrothal, was the removal of the bride to the groom's home. The role of the clergy at a medieval wedding was simply to bless the couple. It wasn't official church policy until the council of Trent in the 15th century that a third party [c.f. a priest], as opposed to the couple themselves, was responsible for performing the wedding. In the later medieval period, the wedding ceremony moved from the house of the bride to the church. It began with a procession to the church from the bride's house. Vows were exchanged outside the church (BTW, the priest gave the bride to the groom...I don't think she was presented by her father) and then everyone moved inside for Mass. After Mass, the procession went back to the bride's house for a feast. Musicians accompanied the procession.

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Christian Ceremonies

 Non Religious Cere...

  Ministers & Judges

  Alternative Vows

 Special Readings

   Rose Ceremony

  Unity Candles

Name Change!

    Involving Children 

Involve Family&Guests

  Spanish Ceremony 

  Affordable Photography

Catholic Ceremony

        Jewish Ceremony

 Jewish-Christian Cere.

   Marriage License Info.


2nd Marriage w/children






A word on historical English weddings. Traditionally, in front of the church door, the groom would, in front of witnesses, announce his bride's dower--that portion (usually 1/3) of his holdings she would be allowed to use should he die before she did (she could also inherit land and property, but this was a different thing). They would then go in for the solemnization of vows (very short) and the nuptial mass.

For much of Western history, marriage was an exchange of property, i.e. the woman was being given by her father to her husband. The union of property & money & lineage were what was being celebrated --- not so much the union of two lovers. Hence, "real" medieval & Renaissance wedding ceremonies were simple legal unions, sanctioned by the Church, and done with as many important people as possible to witness it.
"Real" ceremonies of the time were not terribly intricate in Western Europe & the UK, so I think it would be much more interesting, charming, and enjoyable to make up your own medieval-ish or Renaissance-esque wedding ceremony. Weddings are filled with 'traditions' such as the tossing  of the bouquet, the garter toss, the bride wearing white  dress and veil, the lighting of the unity candle, the  exchange of wedding rings, etc.  Just how far back do these 'traditions' really go?  Do any of them stem from medieval or renaissance times?

The expression "tie the knot" comes from Roman times when the bride wore a girdle that was tied in knots which the groom had the fun of untying. Diamond engagement rings were given by medieval Italians, because of their belief that the diamond was created from the flames of love. Ancient Spartan soldiers were the first to hold stag parties. The groom would feast with his male friends on the night before the wedding. There he would say goodbye to the carefree days of bachelorhood and swear continued allegiance to his comrades.
Bridal showers were also meant to strengthen the friendships between the bride and her friends, give her moral support, and help her prepare for her marriage.
The idea to give gifts is fairly new, dating from the 1890's. At one shower, the bride's friend placed small gifts inside a Japanese parasol, and then opened it over the bride's head so all of the presents would "shower" over her. When word of this hit the fashion pages, people were so charmed, they decided to do the same at their showers.
The bridal party has many origins, one of which comes from the Anglo Saxon days. When the groom was about to capture his bride, he needed the help of his friends, the "bridesmen" or "brideknights". They would make sure the bride got to the church and to the groom's house afterwards. The bride also had women to help her, the "bridesmaids" or "brideswomen".
The white wedding dress was made popular by Anne of Brittany in 1499. Before that, a woman just wore her best dress.
In biblical days, blue (not white) represented purity, and the bride and groom would wear a blue band around the bottom of their wedding attire, hence something blue. It is unknown when wedding rings were first worn. They were probably made of a strong metal, like iron so that it wouldn't break easily which would have been a very bad omen. The ancient Romans believed that the vein in the third finger ran directly to the heart, so wearing the ring on that finger joined the couples hearts and destiny.
Weddings just wouldn't be complete without fertility symbols, like the wedding cake. Ancient Romans would bake a cake made of wheat or barley and break it over the bride's head as a symbol of her fertility. It became tradition to pile up several small cakes, one on top of the other, as high as they could, and the bride and groom would kiss over the tower and try not to knock it down. If they were successful, it meant a lifetime of prosperity. During the reign of King Charles II of England, it became customary to turn this cake into an enjoyably edible palace, iced with white sugar.
Tying shoes to the bumper of the car represents the symbolism and power of shoes in ancient times. Egyptians would exchange sandals when they exchanged goods, so when the father of the bride gave his daughter to the groom, he would also give the brides sandals to show that she now belonged to the groom. In Anglo Saxon times, the groom would tap the heel of the bride's shoe to show his authority over her. In later times, people would throw shoes at the couple, and now we just tie shoes to their car. (This information is from the book "A Natural History of Love," by Diane Ackerman)

Do the garter and bouquet tosses really date back to medieval times?

The garter toss is one of the oldest surviving wedding traditions. Back in medieval times, it was customary for friends, relatives, guests to accompany the bridal couple to the marriage bed. As time went on, this became rowdier and rowdier to the point that some guests were all too eager to help the bride out of her wedding clothes. To forestall such impropriety, the garters were quickly removed and thrown to the mob as a distraction. As time went on, it has evolved into the tradition we now know.

The wedding guests would follow the couple back to their room, and try to grab the bride's garter for good luck. Brides starting tossing their garter to the crowd as a means of self preservation! As society changed it became inappropriate to throw part of your underwear, and the bouquet was substituted. Sometime this century, the garter toss was added back in as a means of equalizing the tradition. Women could catch the bouquet and men could catch the garter. Why the groom can't throw part of his own costume is beyond me.

The sources I read indicated that in the past anything of a bride's was lucky--gloves, flowers, garters, etc. It was said that a man who gave his love the garter of a bride would be guaranteed faithfulness. The guests were so eager to get the garter, often the bride would be accosted at the altar by men who stole it from her. Smart brides began having men compete for the garter--usually a foot or horse race. Also, many would give out small colored ribbons called "favours" to guests as an attempt to avoid being turned upside down by men eager for their garter. I've also read that the guests would sit at the end of the bed with their backs to the bride and groom. Men would throw the bride's stocking over their shoulder and try to hit her nose, while women would do the same for the groom. Those with good aim were the next to be married. Sound like a fun wedding night?

 What is the story behind the wedding rhyme:
     "Something old, something new,
          Something borrowed, something blue,
          And a lucky sixpence for your shoe."
It's from the late 19th century, authorship unknown.

The following is from Oxford's -A Dictionary of Superstitions- (p.42-43): "Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue" was quoted in a 1883 newspaper and ascribed to "some Lancashire friends." Something old tradition- no pre-20th century citations. The editors point out a possible link to the belief that "something old" will protect a baby, first cited at 1659. No citations for "something new." Something borrowedsame 1883 paper (one issue earlier) "it is widely accounted
'lucky' to wear something...which has already been worn by a happy bride at her wedding."
Something blue- Wearing blue to express faithfulness traced back as far as a 1390 citation from Chaucer's "Squire's Tale." -Sixpence- appears twice, as "silver sixpence" and "lucky sixpence" (the third line scans with a more staccato rhythym than the first two.). There's 1774 record of a Scottish groom using a sixpence in his shoe to ward off evil from his rival, and an 1814 (Scottish again) citation that the bride "wear a piece of silver in one of her shoes" to ward evil from disappointed suitors. There are also 20th century citations to the bride's walking on a gold coin to produce
prosperity. For your curiousity, pre-1650 wedding superstitions included: 1549 the lifting over the threshhold; 1601 sun seen shining on the bride = good fortune; 1648 garters passed on to groomsmen and bridesmaids; 1604 bride's left stocking thrown (as modern bouquet); 1615 premature marriage producing premature death; 1592 unmarried elder sisters dancing barefoot at wedding party; 1634 one wedding brings another; stepping between couple unlucky (or even caused by the devil).

Handfasting refers to the old practice of trial marriages for a year and a day, supposedly prevalent in Scotland, Wales and Ireland. I've never actually run across other references to this other than Sir Walter Scott (19th cent.).

"When we are handfasted, as we term it, we are man and wife for a year and a day; that space gone by, each may choose another mate, or, at their pleasure, may call the priest to marry them for life; and this we call handfasting."

     -- Sir Walter Scott, _The Monastery_ (1820), ch. 25.

The old way in Great Britain for couples to pledge their betrothal was for them to join hands, his right to her right, his left to her left, so from above they looked like an infinity symbol. Done in front of witnesses, this made them officially "married" for a year and a day, following which they could renew permanently or for another year and a day. This was called "handfasting" and was used extensively in the rural areas where priests and ministers didn't go all that often. Sharing a cup and pledging their betrothal in front of witnesses used to accomplish the same thing (usually done in taverns) but was eventually outlawed in most of Europe.

"This custom of handfasting actually prevailed in the upland days. It arose partly from the want of priests. While the convents subsisted, monks were detached on regular circuits through the wilder districts, to marry those who had lived in this species of connexion."
      -- Andrew Lang,The Monastery

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The juridical procedure in Norse society was complicated, but three ceremonial actions seem to have been necessary to make the marriage complete:

Engagement, which meant that the man and the woman were promised to each other. This was part of the deal, and economic compensation was necessary if one side wanted to break the engagement.

Wedding, where the bride was formally given to the bridegroom by her guardian, usually her father. This was done at a feast in the bridegroom's home. "I give thee my daughter" was the formula spoken by the guardian.

Bedding, where the couple went to bed together in the presence of witnesses. This was not a pornographic show. The witnesses left before any sexual action began. But the fact that the couple had gone to bed together was firmly established.

With Christianity came a different perspective. Marriage was now a sacrament, instituted by God and therefore something that concerned both church and society outside the two families. Mutual consent was demanded, and the husband was expected to be faithful. These were new ideas.

Medieval wedding ceremonies

The first part of the ceremony took place outside the church door. At cathedrals with several entrances, there was usually a designated "bridal door" for this. The actions done there corresponded to the functions of the old germanic ceremony. Even though it was now led by a priest, it was essentially a secular act by which the union of the families was confirmed.

When people had arrived at the church door, the men were placed on the right side and the women on the left. If the bride was a virgin, her hands were bare. If she was a widow, she wore gloves. In some countries the most important parts were conducted in the vernacular, in others everything was in Latin. In the latter case, the priest would read the words that the bride and bridegroom were supposed to repeat.

The ceremony at the church door began with the mutual consent of the man and the woman. The priest asked the man if he would take the woman for his wife. The man replied "Yes", and then turned to the woman and said: "I take thee, N. now to be my wife, in the name of the Lord". The same was then repeated for the woman.

Next, the priest blessed the ring. Only one ring was used, given by the man to the woman. The ring was sprinkled with holy water, the bridegroom took the ring and moved it so that it came to be placed in turn on the bride's thumb, index finger and long finger - where it stayed. This was accompanied by the priest (or the bridegroom) saying: "In the name of the Father - and the Son - and the Holy Spirit". Non-Scandinavian rituals have different wordings and movements, where the ring would end on what we call the ring finger.

Now the priest would bless the couple, after which the whole party moved into the church. According to some rituals, the couple held burning candles in their hands during the procession.

Inside, a "bridal mass" was celebrated. It consisted of prayers, hymns, bible reading, antiphonals, and culminated in the solemn bridal benediction. The couple kneeled at the altar and a fine piece of cloth (called a "paell" in Swedish) was held over them by four unmarried people. The blessing of the bride included many words from the Old Testament, particularly the apocryphic book of Tobias. It included wishes that she should be good to her husband like Rachel, wise like Rebecca, and faithful like Sarah. Let her be fertile, chaste and innocent, and let them both live to see their offspring to the third and fourth generation. The bridal benediction is very old - the first known example is from the 5th century.

After this benediction a mass (communion) followed. The ritual kissing of the bride belongs here, at the moment of the kiss of peace. The priest kissed the bridegroom, who kissed the bride, and then the bride passed the kiss on to the women while an assistant cleric brought it from the priest to the male side of the church (of course the men were on the south side and the women on the north side in the nave).

Interestingly enough, the formula "I now pronounce you man and wife" was not used everywhere. It occurs in late period German and French rituals, but there is evidence that in older times, the priest left the confirmation of the marriage to God: "May the God of Abraham, Isac and Jacob unite youI"

Afterwards, in the evening, there was the bedding. The Church adopted this pagan custom and converted it from a juridical act into a blessing of the matrimonial bed.

Remember also that medieval wedding gowns were usually not white, as far as I know.

I hope some of the above may be of use to you. If you want a medieval wedding, I suggest that you choose such medieval elements that are compatible with your faith and that are practically feasible, and try to incorporate them into whatever modern ritual your church is using. Having parts of the lIn regards to the query as to information on Italian Renaissance (especially Venetian) weddings, information on marriage itself in Venice may be found in both:

From the Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir: The betrothal was the big thing, with the actual nuptials merely a followup. This said, I would venture to guess that during the 12th century, the average couple would have any ceremony that felt right to them and their families (usually the declaration of dower, or a reading of the betrothal or nuptial agrement), even to the
almost-legendary jumping over a broomstick, followed by a mass, and of course by a party.

The Church always held that the essence of marriage was consent, and in that sense, a priest was not necessary. But for a number of reasons (one of them being that the Church was called upon, from time to time, to assess the validity of existing marriages, usually in royal cases where a king wanted to dump a wife, and it was very hard to do this with any semblance of validity unless there were witnesses), the Church began to require public witnesses on its behalf, and to move toward the requirement that a priest to be present and the marriage be formally acknowledged and recorded.

Hence what you say next:

>This said, I would venture to guess that during the 12th century,
>the average couple would have any ceremony that felt right to
>them and their families (usually the declaration of dower, or a
>reading of the betrothal or nuptial agrement), even to the
>almost-legendary jumping over a broomstick, followed by a mass,
>and of course by a party is simply not so. What they did had to satisfy the Church's requirements of the time, and in particular, had to satisfy the Church's witness that the requirement of serious present intent was fulfilled.

Tradition plays a tremendous role in setting ceremony; and in the middle ages, there is every evidence that it did so more, since religious conformity (denial of which is the basis for a huge percentage of modern variations) was the overwhelming rule.

Finally, the SCA normally assumes that its members are upper class. In the High Middle Ages, there are upper class Jews and Muslims as well as Christians in parts of Europe at various times. One might on rare occasion even find someone who professed himself openly to be atheist. But by that point, there are _no_ openly admitted upper class pagans in Europe.

In early Saxon days and through the 18th century, it was the poorer bride who came to her wedding dressed in a plain white robe. This was in the nature of a public statement that she brought nothing with her to her marriage and that therefore her husband was not responsible for her debts. Colors used for wedding dresses reflected the values that were ascribed to certain colors. Blue was used to show constancy. Green was an indicator of youth. A blue ribbon on the shoulder symbolized purity, fidelity and love. Two colors not used much in medieval wedding gowns were yellow and gold, the first because it symbolized jeolousy and the second because it symbolized avarice.

The following is a list of catalogs which have been suggested for inclusion in the Medieval and Renaissance Wedding Faq as sources of clothing and/or items with medieval flavor.

For medieval clothing, patterns and items:

P.O. Box 93095
Pasadena, CA 91109

Renaissance Herald (was Renaissance Shopper)
P.O. Box 422
Riverside, CA 92502

Amazon Vinegar & Pickling Works
2218 East 11th Street
Davenport, IA 52803

Exclusively Weddings
1301 Carolina Street
Greensboro, NC 27401

Harriet's, ETc
Millwood Crossing
381 Millwood Avenue
Winchester, VA 22601

Museum Replicas Ltd
2143 Gees Mill road
Box 840
Conyers, GA 30207

The Noble Collection
P.O. Box 831
Merrifield, VA 22116

Hedgehog Handiworks
8406 Flight Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90045

Dancing Dragon 5670 West End Road, #4
P.O. Box 1106
Arcata, CA 95521

Past Times
280 Summer Street
Boston, MA 02210-1182

For paper products, parchment, invitations, and gifts:

Colorful Images
1401 South Sunset Street
Longmont, Co 80501-6755

Catalogs for the Medieval and Renaissance Wedding Faq. The same request applies...if you have a copy of any of these catalogs or have ordered from the companies.

Whole Costumer's Catalog
PO Box 207
Beallsville, PA 15313

Carolina Stitches in Time
Box 10933
Winston-Salem, N.C. 27108
(919) 764-0790

Chivalry Sports
PO Box 18904
Tucson, AZ 85731-8904
Inquires (602) 722-1255
Orders 1-800-730-KING

JAS Townsend & Son
P.O. Box 415
Pierceton, IN 46562
(800) 338-1665

Mediaeval Miscellanea
6530 Spring Valley Drive
Alexandria, VA 22312
(703) 642 - 1740 and Fax: (708) 237-1374

The Queens Thimble
515 S. Evergreen Dr.
Mira Loma, CA 91752-1577

Sterling Silks/Sterling Cloth Company
701 Cleveland Avenue Southwest
Canton, Ohio 44702
(216) 456-0653

9600 Business Park Dr. Suite 2
Truckee, CA 95734
(916) 587-5974

RD 1 Box 1444
Herndon, PA 17830
(717) 425-2045

Alice Stephenson
2734 Mountain View W.
Tocoma, WA 98466
(206) 565-2893

House Morning Star
11246 S. Post Oak Rd. #217
Houston, TX 77035
(713) 729-7990

An anotated bibliography of pre-1650 costume sources (including books and periodicals) is available from:
Puffs and Slashes
c/o L. R. Fox
P. O. Box 443
Bloomington, IN 47402-0443
$2.50 per copy

In D-FW Greater Metroplex & Looking Affordable Wedding Photography?

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2nd Marriage w/children





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The period Scottish marriage was prefaced by the making of a marriage contract. On the day of the marriage, the couple and witnesses appear before a priest, declare that there is no hinderance to their getting married, and say "I, name, take, you name, as my husband/wife, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost".

Incorporate a blacksmith with anvil and hammer, as well as a Piper?

The blacksmith is actually an *English* tradition -- coming from the English couples running away to Scotland to get married (because until about 1940 all you had to do was consent to marriage in words of the present tense to get married in Scotland) and stopping at Gretna Green (one of the most southerly border villages) and snagging the blacksmith as a witness. *Scottish* couples didn't go to gretna green and its famous blacksmith, because they could get married anywhere they wanted to.

Of course, this was an irregular form of marriage -- perfectly legal and binding, but the authorities still did their best to make you solemnize it properly afterwords (ie, do the banns and church thing, even though you were already married).

 Handfastings were not weddings, nor were they "pagan"--they were a result of the fact that the Christian priests of the day had to act as "circuit riders", and one couldn't always have a priest handy to do a marriage whenever. Thus, you had a "handfasting", and the matter was then solemnized/rendered official when the priest made it 'round.

Technically you don't need a priest for a handfasting--all that's required is the agreement to a wedding contract between the two individuals involved. In Scotland, for most of period, if you agreed between the two of you that you were married, you were--this also applied to England (see the issue of whether Anne Boleyn or Catherine Howard had secretly arranged a marriage before their marriages to Henry).
Technically all you needed was to exchange consents in the present tense. No priests, no witnesses (though that would make it hard to prove), no marriage contracts. "I take you for my husband" "I take you for my wife". This constituted a marriage ceremony.

Usually the procedure went like this: the parties involved (or rather their parents/guardians) arranged a marriage contract, in which the various goods/monies/services each party would provide to the marriage were spelled out. Bans were posted so that anyone claiming a prior contract could come forward. If none introduced a prior claim, then the couple declared themselves married before witnesses--usually, though not necessarily, in front of a priest.

Usually the parents arranged the marriage contract.

Often, there was a handfasting at which the couple was betrothed (that's what handfastings are, betrothals, getting engaged to be married). This is usually when the marriage contracts were signed/witnessed/whatever.
The banns were posted/read/whatever. This would not only give notice for prior marriages to be made known, but also of any other impediments (like consanguinity, etc.) to be made known. For all I know, however, there may (also) have been a totally different motivation for the banns. I can't really say, as I don't know. But people didn't do banns unless they intended to have a church wedding.
The couple went to church, and, in the precense of the priest, at the door of the church, they exchanged consents in the present tense.

A blessing might be given, a nuptial mass was often celebrated.

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Marriage in the Middle Ages
by Laura Reynolds

Marriage is an institution that requires love, trust, devotion, and cooperation. It is a partnership that takes an enormous amount of hard work in order for it to be successful. The reward of having a successful marriage is knowing that your partner loves you with all his/her heart. This individual is someon e you can depend on in a time of need, or someone you can refer to as your best friend. The decision of choosing the person you will spend the rest of your life with may be the most important one you will ever make. However, imagine not being able to ma ke this decision for yourself.

 Today, when couples decide to marry, they usually prefer to wait until they are out of high school. Many more wait until they are close to their thirties to make a permanent commitment. However, in the Middle Ages, marriage was entered at an extremely early age. "Augustus' legislation assumed that many girls would join their husbands at the minimum legal age of 12 years (and clearly too, their husbands would be much older)" (Herlihy 17). The reasons for early mar riage hinged on the fact that women lived such short lives. Society figured that if young women married older men these women would die within a very short time of each other. "The Augustan marriage laws of A.D. 9 penalized women who had not delivered a baby by age 20" (Herlihy 17). These laws instilled into women that offspring should be produced before they reach their death. There was only one law that protected minors from marriage. "Augustus forbade the betrothal of girls under the age of ten, a nd limited the time of betrothal to two years" (Herlihy 17). The betrothal of the medieval period is compatible to the engagement period of our time.

Once the age for a woman to marry was attained, the procedure for finding her a husband began by her parents. "Marriage was by arrangement; no sensible family would allow the possession of valuable lands and property to be jeopardized by casual alliances" (Chamberlin 57). Relationships built on monetary worth rather than genuine love were not ve ry solid to begin with, and often were surely awkward until each of them became used to living with the other. The dowry was an exceptional part of the marriage transaction. "The dowry was the donation, which is given or promised by the wife or by her s ide to the husband or his side with the purpose, that it remain forever with him because of the burdens of matrimony" (Herlihy 14). If the classical dowry was more valuable in worth, the more appealing the woman, or offer of marriage was to an available gentleman.

 "First and foremost, wives brought lands and money to their husbands, and marriage proposals were frequently discussed in the most cold-blooded terms" (Smith 106). These couples needed to establish a bond between them eventually becau se essentially the two of them were strangers to each other. However, just because a marriage was based on these terms did not necessarily mean acquired love was not possible. "Despite the hard-headed practicality which dominated the marriage market, ro mance was often present. Courtship and romantic love, however, tended to follow the marriage agreement, not precede it" (Smith 110). Even if love was not eventually established in the relationship, admiration and friendship usually was. "The institutio n of the classical dowry imposed the chief costs of establishing the new household upon the bride or her family" (Herlihy 73). The role of the groom was to make a final decision on his choice for a bride, unless of course, his parents had chosen for him. "There is no hint of a contribution from the groom's side, or of any informal exchange of gifts" (Bennett 172). Even if he or his family wanted to, it was not allowed. "Laws forbade altogether conveyances between the spouses, except for the dowry itse lf" (Herlihy 15).

"Roman law recognized two types of legal marriage. The first and oldest was called in manu (under the hand). This form of marriage transferred the father's patria potestas (the power of life and death ove r her) over the girl into the hands of the husband" (Herlihy 9). This type of marriage was prominent, but as the emergence of free marriage came about in manu gradually began to fade out in popularity. "Under free marriages, the bride remained, t o be sure, under the technical authority of her father. But she could seek formal emancipation, and her father's death would at all events make her a person, sui iuris, to conduct her own affairs" (Herlihy 9). The wedding ceremony of today is a highly extravagant, as well as, a celebrated event in most cases. It is a day of merriment between family and friends of both bride and groom. In medieval times this ceremony did not take place at first, and when it eventually did it was nowhere near as elaborate as the ceremonies of today. "The Church was slow to develop rituals of marriage. Christian rituals of marriage appear in both East and West only toward the end of the fourth century" (Herlihy 13). Even though the wedding ceremony finally a ppeared across the world, no ritual was exactly alike. "In the East, the most characteristic ritual was the placing of crowns upon the heads of both bride and groom; in the West, the nuptial blessing, imparted by the priest, became the central religious ceremony" (Herlihy 13). At the beginning, marriage ceremonies were performed in the bedroom, but in or at a church. This seems the earliest appearance of the common medieval practice: the blessing of the couple infacie ecclesie, at the door of the churc h" (Herlihy 14).

 Once the couple was married, the woman's role was very important. She was often left in charge of the household while her husband went away on trips. "The slightly better education which women were receiving enabled them to pla y a more active part in society, and the wife stepped out of the background she had long occupied" (Chamberlin 57). Through marriage, women were gaining a sense of power. They had more say in family affairs then they ever did. Husbands put their trust in these women, they referred to as their wives, to manage and control a majority of family affairs. "Marriage had always been a crucial stage in a woman's life, for at marriage a girl became a domina, the 'lady' of a house, part of whose internal authority was placed into her hands" (Duby 12).

 These women were slowly becoming business women. They handled the finances, along with much of the hard labor around the house. "After marriage these women came to play a very active role in the managing of the family fortunes. Husbands were often absent on business for long periods, and the day-to-day running of the family estates fell to the women of the household" (Smith 107). Not only did these women have to handle the fact that their mate was far away, but they must take into account that they may not return. While all this was on their mind, they were still expected to conduct business, do chores, and take care of the children. "The wife's duty was as a charitable and competent economic manager by portraying her distributing alms, supervising the household production of food, supervising workers such as the dairy women, milking cows, and churning butter" (Bennett 147). These women definitely had to be responsible and organized in order to keep things together. Men had obviously put much of their trust into their wives even after they had not known them for a very significant period of time. She was, in a sense, the glue that held the family together.

"Marriage was dissolved by divorce, death, captivity, or by any other kind of servitude which may happen to be imposed upon either of the parties..." (Amt 34). Divorce was a widely used alternative if a marriage was absolutely not working out. However, the women were not allo wed to make the decision. "Laws continued to allow husbands to divorce their wives, but not wives their husbands. The husband had only to draw up a libellum repudii, or document of repudiation, in which he formally renounced the obligations he had assum ed in the original marriage contract" (Herlihy 51). A woman was forever attached to the institution of marriage; divorce was not an option for her. "A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. If the husband dies, she is free to be married to wh om she wishes, only in the Lords" (Amt 20). In some cases women can retain their dowry. "When a divorce takes place, if the woman is her own mistress, she herself has the right to sue for recovery of the dowry. If, however, she is under control of her father, he...can bring the action for the recovery of the dowry" (Amt 33). Though divorce was fairly easy, a few stipulations were given before remarriage. "Those who intend to estrange their wives shall wait four months (for cooling off); if they r econcile, then God is Forgiver, Most Merciful. If they go through with the divorce, then God is Hearer, Knower. The divorced women shall wait three menstruations (before marrying another man)" (Amt 299-300). Divorce has many similarities and differences from today's society. Divorce is not an easy decision, regardless of what time period it may occur in.

 Marriage is a bond between two people. Whether the two people enter into this institution because they are in love or because of other reasons , such as in medieval times, it remains just as much as a challenge. Both individuals carry an enormous amount of responsibility in a marriage. However, for all the bad times, there are good times that can also be recalled. These joyous times are what s uccessful relationships thrive off of. Although marriages in the Middle Ages may have many contrasts with the marriages of today, the concept is basically the same. The only major difference is that today we are more advanced in our techniques regarding marriages.

Private Marriages

by: Karen Ann Divver

A private marriage was a marriage where the bridal couple gave each other the sacrament of marriage without it occuring in a church. The Church deemed the marriage valid because it was the couple who should be bestowing the sacrament to each other. Private marriages caused many problems for the Church and the courts. Often one of the couple abandoned the marriage and then tried to remarry. In some cases, the "remarried" spouse has had children before the abandoned spouse could find their spouse and tell of their marriage. The Church would then deem the second marriage void and any children from that marriage were then labeled bastards. The secular government then urged the Church to declare such marriages invalid because of the controversy they caused. The Church eventually did declare private marriages invalid, but they did not die out until much later in the Middle Ages (Shahar 83+).

 Views on Rape in the Middle Ages

By: Ben Stiles

Like today, rape was a punishable crime in the middle ages. Not surprisingly, the majority of rape cases registered held women as the victim of the crime. Also similar to modern times was the idea that young women should be well sheltered from sexual encounter, and that the offenders of these crimes against young teenage girls were most highly punishable. "One father lost his life trying to save his teenage daughter from a rapist" (Hanawalt 98). Upon hearing his daughter's screams, he raced into the woods where his daughter had been gathering firewood, only to be shot by the offender's arrow. No doubt this offender suffered serious persecution after the incident.

Another strange incident shows a woman who had been raped in the woods years earlier worrying about the effects on the night before her wedding. As the story turns out, the man who had raped her turned out to be her soon to be husband, and the uniting of the couple went on without a hitch (Hanawalt 196). Most marriages today would probably not have been carried through if the same case had been true.

A document written by Andreas Capellanus in 1184 states "If you should, by some chance, fall in love with a peasant woman, be careful to puff her up with lots of praise and then, when you find a convenient place, do not hesitate to take what you seek and embrace her by force." Contrary to this quote, peasants were not the only women being raped during the early middle ages. Noble women and ladies of the castle were often taken advantage of in the crowded passages of the castle. It was also not uncommon for a woman to be raped in her own bed while her husband was out attending to family business (Bogin 25).

A game for knights in training was to seduce and abduct the woman of the castle. This was only a game to test the young knight's valor, but its setting was real life and sometimes ended in the forceful taking of the lady, followed by her rape (Duby 82). This sound s to be a form of hazing which seems so popular to the fraternities and sororities of colleges today.

Seemingly rape was very common in the middle ages. For the most part, punishments were severe if the offended could be found. With the lack of medical training and procedures we have available to us today, blood and bodily fluids testing would have been impossible. Only with the testament of a witness would a trial be valid.

Bogin, Meg. The Women Troubadors.New York: W.W Norton and Co., 1980.

A History of Private Life.Ed. Georges Duby. London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University., 1988.

Hanawalt, Barbara. The Ties That Bound.New York: Oxford University Press., 1986.

Sexual Initiation

By: Stephanie Smith

Anthropologists consider rituals surrounding sexual initiation a major indicator of crossing into adolescence. Medieval moralists believed that lust dominated the adolescent experience. They felt the need to protect both sexes from such an urge, so they gave much advise on how to avoid such tempting situations. There were cautions to females not to speak to men in the streets, for they may "tempt one's heart." The moralists praised chastity by both sexes until marriage. The age in which men entered adult-hood became increasingly delayed in the later Middle Ages, so they were likely to find "sexual outlet" with prostitutes in spite of the moralists cautions (Hanawalt, 120-121).

Females who entered service were likely to experience unwanted sexual initiation by their masters or by being sold by their mistresss. Only females who married early and were of the better classes could expect to find sexual initiation only in marriage--but even that was no guarentee. There are records of stories of voluntary and forced sexual initiation of young women in London. In one account, a young women named Elizabeth Mappulton had been forced into sexual relations with a man for a year. She complained to her parents who wanted to protect her, but could not keep her in their home because they needed the benefit from her labor. He would not marry her, so during her parents petition to the Chancellor, they refered to her as a "maiden". This was an unmarried women without her chastity. Sexual initiation did not change her status to adult-hood, for only marriage could do that (Hanawalt, 122).

When the loss of a woman's chastity was forced, she could get compensation with the help of family and friends to argue her case. A man who assaulted a 14 year old girl was forced to pay a fee to the Chamberlain, who would keep it until the victim either arrived at full age or married. The man was stripped of his citizenship and forced to leave the city. His severe punishment shows the concern of the city government for at least the respectible young women of the city (Hanawalt, 122).

Family and friends could force girls into sexual initiation if they wished. Even priests could not be trusted with young females. Prostitutes were constantly on the prowl for girls to sell to their customers. Cases of forced prostitution of naieve young teenage girls run far and wide. There appear to be no records of forcd sexual encounters on males, for homosexuality does not appear in the records (Hanawalt, 123).


Hanawalt, Barbara A. Growing Up in Medieval London. New York: Oxford University. 1993.

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Medieval Contraceptive Potions and Other Strange Methods

by Kerri Carper

Although the Medieval Church stood firmly rooted against any kind of contraception, whether it was a certain position, a mechanical device, or a medical concoction (Brundage, 508), women and their families continued to find means of preventing conception. Often, they turned first to history, searching the manuscripts of famous intellects such as Aristotle of the fourth century B.C., Lucretius of the eighth century B.C., Pliny and his contemporary Dioscorides, and the second century gynecologist, Soranus of Ephesus (Tannahill, 128). Women, and men in accordance, employed such seemingly modern methods as coitus interruptus, the act of interrupting intercourse before the man has ejaculated (Brundage, 358); in fact, this method was especially popular for men who liked to feel they were in control of the sexual encounter (Tannahill, 128). In addition, the most obvious and fool-proof form of contraception was, of course, abstinence, which was quite common (Tannahill, 128). Surprisingly, a form of the contraceptive sponge appeared in use sometime before and continued into the Middle Ages (Tannahill, 74). Invented, or rather suggested by Soranus of Ephesus, "wool plugs" were saturated with a gummy substance or with astringent solutions to contract the uterine opening around the plug (Tannahill, 128). Lastly, the Romans, apparently by the Middle Ages, had already invented a kind of condom by utilizing the bladders of goats (Tannahill, 130). Though these methods all seem ordinary and obvious, women of the Middle Ages also sought the help and suggestions of witches or local "wise women (Tannahill, 153)," who concocted strange brews, potions, and post-intercourse rituals (Tannahill, 130).

In an attempt to find the perfect method of contraception, one that would work without fail, these "wise women" consulted their books, ancient manuscripts, and their colleagues, contemplated, and of course, experimented. Their efforts resulted in many strange mixtures, potions, dances, positions, and superstitions. Sensible women, of course, relied on Aristotle's suggestion of olive oil as a versitile form of birth control, or on Lucretius' recommendation that women undulate their hips during intercourse in order to direct the semen away from the uterine opening, the danger zone (Tannahill, 128)! Soranus of Ephesus added that women should, at the moment of the man's ejaculation, draw her body back so the semen cannot penetrate, then sit with her knees bent and make herself sneeze (Tannahill, 128); this bizarre ritual was meant to expel the seminal fluid from the woman's body. Likewise, prostitutes and other women were advised to jump up and down after intercourse, again to expel the semen from their bodies (Tannahill, 74). Nevertheless, when these ancient methods proved out-dated, the "wise woman" devised, rather experimented with materials such as herbs, flowers, blood, oils, and animal excrement. One such brew, called a "cup of roots," consisted of Alexandrian gum, liquid alum, and garden crocus. A woman mixed these ingredients together with two cups of beer and consumed the mixture for supposed sterilization (Tannahill, 74). In other instances, the "wise woman" devised potions thought to diminish sexual desire, if not curtail it altogether (Tannahill, 128). These witches suggested that a woman try one the following at a time:

Moreover, the testicles and the blood of a dunghill cock was to be hidden under the marital bed before a sexual encounter to prevent conception (Tannahill, 128). Finally, after intercourse had taken place, women inserted pepper into the mouth of the uterus, as if to "sneeze" closer to the source (Tannahill, 128). Though this list in not all-inclusive or exhaustive, it demonstrates the ignorance and uncertainity with which Medieval society viewed sexual intercourse, contraception, and the surrounding medical field.

In all, though not condoned or accepted by the Medieval Church for purposes other than procreation, sex was, and is, a natural, necessary, often experimental element in life; thus contraception follows not far behind as a vital part of sexual practices in a time of food shortages and other devastating hardships, characteristic of the Middle Ages. Consequently, Medieval women appear justified in dabbling in the "womanly arts (Labarge, 35)," not only to save or preserve their existing families, but also to exert some kind of control over their bodies and over their lives as a whole.

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Love and Marriage

Nicole Brogan

Apparently love and marriage did not "go together like a horse and carriage". I was interested in how marriage, law, and the church got involved and came across these quotes:

"The attitude of women towards love seems to have been shared by both the upper and lower classes. The fourteenth century peasant women of the southern French village of Montaillon, whose attitudes were minutely ananlysed by Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, never speak of love in connection with their feeling towards their husbands. They seem to have regarded love as something wich existed outside marriage. Andrew the Chaplain in his treatise, The Art of Courtly Love, which dates from 1180, writes of the rules of love as applied to the middle and upper classes:

'We declare and hold as firmly established that love cannot exert its powers between two people who are married to each other. For lover's give each other everything freely, under no compulsion of necessity, but married people are in duty bound to give in to each other's desires and deny themselves to each other in nothing.' (pg. 36)

But, Christine de Pisan, whom we will read later, seemed to have made out differntly. She was fifteen and he was twentyfour when they were married. After her husband died, Christine de Pisan described their marriage: "He did not demand sex on the first night, wanting to let her get used to his presence. Only on the next day did he kiss her lingeringly and promise that God had created him only to be good to her. During their marriage love and affection grew between them.". (pg. 35)

Sexism in the Wedding Vows?

by : Layla Osman

I found a Middle Ages wedding ceremony that included some interesting variations in the vows for the man and those for the woman. The differences are in italics.

The man would say, "I, (his name), take thee, (her name), to my wedded wife to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, for fairer or fouler,in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us depart, according to God's holy ordinance; and thereunto I plight thee my troth."

The woman would the say, "I, (her name), take thee, (his name), to my wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or worse, for richeror poorer, in sickness and in health, to be bonny and buxom at bed and at board,to love and to cherish, till death us depart, according to God's holy ordinance; thereunto I plight thee my troth."

Very interesting, I thought. Also, many times, only the woman wore a ring, unless it was a "double-ring" ceremony.

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Medieval Manners

By Kimberly Arnold

I found my information from the following fascinating text. Furnivall, Frederick James, ed., Early English Meals and Manners: John Russell's Boke of Nurture, Wynkyn de Worde's Boke of Keruynge, The Boke of Curtasye, R. Weste's Booke of Demeanor, Seager's Schoole of Verture, The Babees Book, Aristotle's A B C, Vrbanitatis, Stans Puer ad Mensam, The Lytylee Childrenes Lytil Boke, for to serbe a Lord, Old Symon, The Birched School-Boy, &c., &c., with some Forewords on Education in Early England. Detroit: Singing Trees Press, 1969.

The first story I found interesting in this book is called The Boke of Curtasye . It seems to written by a man for men. Some of the material is common sense and still applies today, but other of it applies only to the time in which it was written. They even had the courtesy of "don't double dip" in the Middle Ages! Although it is stated as "don't put into the dish, bread that you have once bitten." It was circulated around 1430-40. I have copied its first book below.

The second story called On Rising, Diet, and Going to Bedis also very interesting, but might be a little late for our time period according to the publishing date. However, its contents are contained within a book of medieval manners and it seems to be very similar to the previous mentioned material. They thought that one should eat only twice a day. They skipped the "most important meal of the day" as we say today, or breakfast. Supper and dinner were the only meals eaten. They were not to drink between meals --- I would assume this meant filling alcoholic beverages. Supper, or lunch, was to be the largest meal of the day. This was to avoid consuming large amounts of food before going to bed. They also were to rub their body before going to bed to stimulate circulation. Undressing by a fire, and warming garments were also recommended to avoid catching a chill. Most importantly, they believed in stress relief! One was to "put off your cares with your clothes."

The Book of Courtesy

The First Book.

In this book you may learn Courtesy.

Every one needs it.

On reaching a Lord's gate, give the Porter your weapon, and ask leave to go in.

If the master is of low degree, he will come to you; if of high, the Porter will take you to him.

At the Hall-door, take off your hood and gloves.

If the first meal is beginning, greet the Steward, bow to the Gentlemen on each side of the hall, both right and left; notice the yeomen, than stand before the screen till the Marshal or Usher leads you to the table.

Be sedate and courteous if you are set with the gentleman.

Cut your loaf in two, the top from the bottom; cut the top crust in 4, and the bottom in 3.

Put your trencher before you, and don't eat or drink till your Mess is brought from the kitchen, lest you be thought starved or a glutton.

Have your nails clean.

Don't bite your bread, but break it. Don't quarrel at table, or make grimaces.

Don't cram your cheeks out with food like an ape, for if any one should speak to you, you can't answer, but must wait.

Don't eat on both sides of your mouth.

Don't laugh with your mouth full, or sup up your potage noisily.

Don't leave your spoon in the dish or on its side, but clean your spoon.

Let no dirt off your fingers soil the cloth.

Don't put into the dish bread that you have once bitten.

Dry your mouth before you drink.

Don't call for a dish once removed, or spit on the table: that's rude.

Don't scratch your dog.

If you blow your nose, clean your hand; wipe it with your skirt or put it through your tippet.

Don't pick your teeth at meals, or drink with food in your mouth, as you may get choked, or killed, by its stopping your wind.

Tell no tale to harm or shame your companions.

Don't stroke the cat or dog.

Don't dirty the table cloth with your knife.

Don't blow on your food, or put your knife in your mouth, or wipe your teeth or eyes with the table cloth.

If you sit by a good man, don't put your knee under his thigh.

Don't hand your cup to any one with your back towards him.

Don't lean on your elbow, or dip your thumb into your drink, or your food into the salt cellar: Thant is a vice.

Don't spit in the basin you wash in or loosely(?) before a man of God.

Another fascinating story from this book is called On Rising, Diet, and Going to Bed (from Sir John Darington's "Schoole of Salerne," 2nd part. The Perserbation of Health, or a Dyet for the Healthfull Man, 1624, p. 358. It is also translated below.

On rising, empty your bladder and belly, nose and lungs.

Cleanse your whole body.

Say your Prayers.

Walk gently, go to stool.

Work in the forenoon.

Always wear a precious stone in a ring; hold a crystal in your mouth; for the virtue of precious stones is great.

Eat only twice a day.

Don't drink between dinner and supper.

Don't have one fixed hour for your meals.

In Winter eat in hot, well-aired places.

Fast for a day now and then.

Eat more at supper than dinner.

After meals, wash your face, and clean your teeth, chat and walk soberly.

Don't sit up late.

Before bed, rub your body gently.

Undress by a fire in Winter, and warm your garments well.

Put off your cares with your clothes, and take them up again in the morning.

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Medieval Sourcebook: Manorial Marriage and Sexual Offense Cases

Manorial Marriage and Sexual Offense Cases

1. Alexander Wymer was attached to answer Vincent Buncheswell on a plea of wrong (trespass) in which (Vincent) says that A.W. on the Friday after St. Gregory the Pope's day in the 26th year of king Edward [1298] in the vill of "Estrudham" came and brought with him unknown men and others speaking ill with the friends [including kinsmen] and neighbors of the said V. and spread scandal about him with shocking ("enormis") words, and caused him to lose 20 m. value concerning Mary of Hecham whom he was supposed to marry, because the said Alexander told Mary that the said Vincent did not sow or plough his land in good time and was not a good farmer ("cultor"). Because of this, he lost Mary's love and marriage to the said Vincent's serious loss 40/-. He seeks a [jury] inquiry into the matter. [Gressenhall Manor Court, July 8 1298, MEDIEVAL STUDIES xlix (1987), 509, n. 59.]

2. John Page and Agnes his wife appear through their attorney John Chupm' against John Baker in a plea of a broken covenant alleging that the aforesaid John [Baker] sold to Agnes Page, John Page's wife, one Matilda John [Baker's] wife for one pig (cost 3 shillings) of which pig John Baker took pssession and with which he was well contented. Later the said John came and sought to have his wife back and he gave ("daret") Agnes 2 shillings, and on this he produces suit. And the aforesaid John Baker denies force and injury, and says that he broke no covenant to him and detained no money from him foir the abovesaid reason, and he seeks an inquiry, and the said Agnes does so too. Therefore etc. [m. 2, July 30 1330]

 [Inquiry - margin] John Page and Agnes his wife appear through their attorney Peter Godsone against John Baker and Matilda his wife in a plea of broken covenant alleging that the aforesaid John Baker sold his wife Matilda to Agnes Page for one pig (3 shillings) etc. Later John Baker came and sought to have his wife again and he gave (offered?) 2 shillings which he did not pay. And he say he did not make any covenant with him, and he seeks an inquiry. [m. 3d, November 13 1330]

 [Amercement 1 penny - margin] Because the aforesaid John Baker failed against John Page by inquest, it is therefore held that the aforesaid John Baker be in mercy and that the aforesaid John Page recover 2 shillings and his losses ("dampna") which are taxed at 2 d. etc.[m. 3d, Feg 5 1331] [Lewisham, Kent, All references from P.R.O., SC2/181/58, courtesy of John Beckerman.]

3. Henry Cook of Trotteslyve (Kent) and his wife were summoned because each has turned away from the other and they do not live together. Both appear in person. And Henry then alleged that he did not know why his wife left him but she behaved as badly as possible towards him, with contumelious words and other evil deeds, as he asserts. His [unamed] wife said that her said husband loved several other women and therefore had a malevolent mind towards her, and she could not go on living with Henry on account of his cruelty. Finally both of them swore after touching the gospels that they would live together in future and give each other the usual conjugal services ("suffragia"), and that she [blank left for name] will now be humble and "familiaris" with her husband and not fighting, contumelious or insulting; and that the husband will treat his wife with marital affection from now on ... [1347. REGISTRUM HAMONIS HETHE, ed. Johnson, p. 974, courtesy Larry Poos.]

4. John Marabel, a married man, is cited of adultery and incest with Alice, daughter of Robert de Wywell, daughter of the said John's wife. The man appears and admits (his sin). The woman is not found. And John is forbidden from coition with either the mother or the daughter in future, unless the mother, who is the wife, seeks the debt and he pays it with sadness. And he will have as penance to make a pilgrimage with bare feet to St. Mary at Lincoln, to St. Thomas [Becket] at Canterbury, and to [St. Thomas Cantilupe] at Hereford and to beatings in penitential fashion round the church and round the marketplace of Grantham. And he will forswear the sin and suspect locations for the said Alice under pain of 40/-. It is later held that the same John on his pilgrimage would take much from his said wife, (so) the penance was changed so that he will fast on bread and water as long as he lives every fourth and sixth week, unless work or sickness prevents this... We John warn thee, the aforesaid John, once, twice and a third time that you, having been parted for good from your wife, will eject the said Alice from your company within the next six days under pain of greater excommunication which is now (pronounced) most firmly on your person in these writings if you should disdain to carry out the aforegoing. [1347. Lincoln Dean and Chapter, A/2/24, fo. 72v, courtesy Poos.]

Translation by Paul Hyams of Cornell University.

Domestic Violence in the Middle Ages

by Sharon Carroll

When Normans invaded England in 1066, William the Conquerer set forth ten laws as the new king. The first were concerned with religion, then loyalty to the crown, then murder. William's policy regarding murder was to seize the offender, or have the town pay forty-six silver marks to the crown if the case went unsolved(Laws of William the Conquerer 1066,World Wide Web, 1996).

What this would imply is that William valued the life of a human being at forty-six silver marks. When the Magna Carta was written in 1215, there is no mention of assault or homicide in the first fifty-six regulations(The Magna Carta 1215World Wide Web, 1996). If the life of a man was so cheap, what was the punishment for attacking women?

While rape, stealing heiresses, and secret mariages were outlawed by 1797 (A.G.L. Shaw, Convicts and the Colonies, Faber and Faber, London: 1966), medievel customs encouraged men to beat their wives regularly. The thirteenth century code in France, Customs of Beavais, advised that " may be excused for the injuries they inflict on their wives, nor should the law intervene. Provided that he neither kills nor maims her, it is legal for a man to beat his wife..." (Frances and Joseph Gies, Women in the Middle Ages, Harper Perennial, 1978). A contemporary Spanish law allowed men to kill their fiancees or wives if he suspected her of adultery. The man's honor and integrity had been tarnished, and he was also able to murder the unfortunate lover without facing criminal charges. An English law established a century later allowed a man to "correct" his wife in whatever manner was suitable.

This was an age when peasant women toiled in the fields, female serfs aspired to be household servents, and women of all classes could be forced into and out of marriages. Educating girls was often considered a waste of time; even Saint Thomas Aquinas claimed that "woman is defective and misbegotten" (IBID p.50).

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Troubadours and Eros

"The ideas of courtly love first appeared in the lyric poetry composed by the troubadours of Southern France. In Occitania, many of these wandering minstrels were also Carthar. Speculatively, the Occitanian troubadour ideas of love and relations with women grew spontaneously out of the environment supplied by the region in the eleventh and twelfth centuries."

- "Searching For A Cathar Feminism, 1100-1300"



"For the first time people wrote extensively about love; courtly love, fine love, adulterous love, the love of the troubadours, and they went a long way into things. The troubadours for example were people who wrote about 'tremendous', 'inaccessible' love and respect for the lady. For the first time the lady is elevated to the level of the man and this is the most important thing in the culture and is perhaps the most symbolic thing about the cultural effervescence of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries."

- Gerard Zucherro, Rosamonda



"The effects of this love were not purely emotional and physical; it improved a man in every way. By developing the idea that a noble could not be a perfect knight unless he loved a woman the Cathar troubadours laid the foundation of courtly chivalry. Women were bound to enjoy a more elevated position in society. Although she could not fight herself, she could make a man a better warrior. The women of Occitania were accorded a great deal more respect than was common, and in this way did there exist an ideological, courtly, and chivalric kind of feminism."

- "Searching For A Cathar Feminism, 1100-1300"



The joyous love songs of the troubadours were often heard during Cathars worship but that one may have influenced the other is only a matter of speculation.

"The name troubadour itself (Provencal, trobador) has been traced with reasonable assurance from the Arabic root TRB (Ta-Ra B = 'music, song'), plus -ador, the usual Spanish agential suffix (as, for instance, in conquist-ador); so that Ta Ra B-ador would have meant originally simply 'song- or mustic-maker'.

- Joseph Campbell, Creative Mythology



"The troubadours resembled Arab singer, not only in sentiment and character, but also in the very forms of their minstrelsy. Certain titles which these Provencal singers gave to their songs are but translation from Arabic titles."

- Philip K. Hitti, History of the Arabs



"...Simultaneously with the rise, at the opening of the twelfth century, of this elite tradition of Arabized European poetry, the 'cult of the dame', likewise 'following the Arab precedent', also suddenly appears. Thus we know have evidence of an unbroken, though variously modified, aristocratic tradition of mystically toned erotic lore, extending from India not only eastward as far as to Lady Murasaki's sentimental Fujiwara court in Kyoto, but also westward into Europe..."

- Joseph Campbell, Creative Mythology

"I have found the lever and seen that latch of that cave; occasionally reached even the crystalline bed. In fact, I have danced up to it and back frequently and rather well; yet never have known rest upon it...My eyes I have feasted richly on those gleaming walls, and with upturned gaze to the medallion, vault, and keystone, full eagerly have I destroyed my sight on the ornaments up there, they are so bespangled with Excellence. The little sun giving windows often have sent their rays into my heart."

- Gottfried von Strassborg, Tristan

"...Whereas according to the Gnostic-Manichaean view nature is corrupt and the lure of the senses to be repudiated, in the poetry of the troubadours, in the Tristan story, and in Gottfried's work above all, nature in its noblest moment - the realization of love - is an end and glory in itself; and the senses, ennobled and refined by courtesy and art, temperance, loyalty and courage, are the guides to this realization. Like a flower potential in its seed, the blossom of the realization of love is potential in every hear (or, at least, every noble heart) and requires only proper cultivation to be fostered to maturity. Hence, if the courtly cult of amor is to be cataloged according to its heresy, it should be indexed rather as Pelagian and as Gnostic or Manichaean, for...Pelagius and his followers absolutely rejected the doctrine of our inheritance of the sin of Adam and Eve, and taught that we have finally no need of supernatural grace, since our nature itself is full of grace; no need for a miraculous redemption, but only of awakening and maturation; and that, though the Christian is advantaged by the model and teaching of Christ; every man if finally (and must be) the author and means of his own fulfillment."

- Joseph Campbell, Creative Mythology



"Another phenomenon that, though apparently chiefly literary, also probably comprised an initiatory organization is the Fedeli d'Amore. Representatives of the movement are documented in the thirteenth century in Provence and Italy as well as in France and Belgium. The Fedeli d'Amore constituted a secret and spiritual militia, devoted to the cult of the 'One Woman' and to initiation into the mystery of 'Love'. They all used a 'hidden language' (parlar cruz) so that their doctrine should not be accessible to 'la gente grosa', to use the expression of one of the most famous Fedeli, Francesco da Barberino (1264-1384)."

Love may be the sine qua non for marriage in our society, but it hasn't always played that role throughout history. A professor of psychology probes the past to show why the increased status of women made possible an era of marrying for love. But is it the ephemeral nature of romantic love itself that now dooms many marriages to failure?
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The Changing Role of Love 
in Marital Choice 
across the Centuries 

by Bernard I. Murstein


Until fairly recent times in Western society, marriage was regarded as too important a family matter to be entrusted to nubile, inexperienced youths. As sociologist William Goode notes, "Kinfolk or immediate family can disregard the question of who marries whom only if a marriage is not seen as a link between kin lines, only if no property, power, lineage, honor, totemic relationships and the like are believed to flow from the kin lines through the spouses to their offspring." The parents' role was to be alert to the unwanted presence of lust, passion, or "love" in their offspring, which might lead them into deleterious connections.

 The notion of parental rule supplanting individual choice may seem quaint and even ridiculous today, but viewing the modern institution of marriage against a backdrop of marital choice through the centuries may shed some light on today's high divorce rate. If romantic love is a luxury that earlier generations could scarcely afford to link with marriage, it also may be the undoing of many contemporary unions. In addition to being unpredictable in its duration, romantic love sets up high expectations that some marriages cannot fulfill.

 Mutual love generally, but not invariably, takes place between two individuals of equal status in society. Passion between unequals typically occurs in temporary relationships (a king may have a sexual relationship with a barmaid but is unlikely to marry her). In the rare case where the relationship persists, the status of one of the members changes. Thus, when the emperor Justinian wanted to marry the courtesan-actress Theodora, he first had to create a law which offered "glorious repentance" to those who had "prostituted their persons" to the theater.

Gender and Status

The chief basis of status among the ancients probably was physical strength and skill. Later, as civilization progressed, it was land. Although, then as now, most societies primarily were run by men, the biblical Hebrews seem to have elevated women to a higher status than either the ancient Greeks or Romans did, possibly because in the Hebrews' originally nomadic society, each sex played an active, functional role.

Among the Greeks and Romans during the apogee of their civilizations, when slave-holding was extensive, women enjoyed fewer privileges. Greek men carried the custom of purdah with them from the East, allowing their wives to leave their apartments only for limited, specified occasions. Women had little legal standing, were not given the opportunity to learn to read or write, had no say regarding choice of a marital partner and were lightly regarded by their husbands. In Xenophon's Oeconomicus , Socrates asks his friend Critobulus "Is there any one with whom you talk less than your wife?" The friend replies "There are few or none, I confess." Although Roman men did not sequester their wives, they maintained an enormous status differential as symbolized by the patria potestas, which literally gave them the power of life and death over the family. The advent of Christianity barely improved women's status. In 585 the Council of Macon debated whether women truly had souls, and concluded that they did -- by one vote !

Courtly Love

The twelfth century marked the emergence of the phenomenon we now call "courtly love," a code of behavior to guide those aspiring to be lovers. Its chief tenets were the ennobling power of love, the conception of love as a burning, rarely extinguished passion, the elevation of the beloved woman to a position superior to that of the supplicant (the man), analogous to the relationship between lord and vassal, the idea of fidelity between lovers, as long as they were still in love and the impossibility of love between wife and husband.

 Asked to judge a case involving a woman who thought she had gotten rid of an unwanted suitor by marrying the man she loved, Marie, Countess of Champagne ruled in favor of the jilted suitor, stating among numerous reasons that "love cannot exert its powers between two people who are married to each other. For lovers give each other everything freely ... but married people are in duty bound to give in to each other's desires."

 Historians argue over whether courtly love was a minor art form or a precursor of romanticism. My belief is that it was a milestone in the change of attitude toward women, albeit only noble women. (When the cleric Andreas Cappellanus wrote his definitive treatise The Art of Courtly Love (1184-1186), he counsels no courtly behavior should a knight espy a peasant woman in the fields. Rather, he should have no qualms about raping her.)

For Love or Money

By the seventeenth century, parental control was slowly but steadily waning in the Western world. Child betrothals, a favorite means of controlling marriage, had been abolished, and the minimum age required for marriage was steadily raised.

The lessening of parental control did not signify the entrance of falling in love as the preferred determinant of marital choice. Indeed, Dr. Samuel Johnson opined that "It is commonly a weak man who marries for love." Interestingly, women, often thought to be at the mercy of their emotions, sometimes sneered at romance, perhaps to prove that they could be just as rational as men alleged themselves to be.

Even Mary Astell, often called the first English feminist, asked "What does... Marrying for Love amount to? There's no great odds between ... Marrying for Love of Money, or for the Love or Beauty: the Man does not act according to Reason in either Case, but is govern'd by irregular appetites."

The raison d'être for marriage was procreation. Nothing was said about interpersonal compatibility or emotional satisfaction. What was important was that each gender carry out its ascribed roles -- the husband as the provider, the wife as the bearer of children and the homemaker. Love as a precursor of marriage was frowned upon because of its association with passion and irrationality. However, after marriage, it was a duty. Thus, in The Bachelor's Directory (1696) the husband is told "If she (the wife) loves you, you cannot without ingratitude forbear to love her," and the Puritan divine Benjamin Wadsworth thundered that "The Great God commands thee to love her ... How vile then are those who don't love their wives."


The French Revolution signaled the end of absolute obedience to many of the customs that had regulated marriage. A new movement, romanticism, arose based on protest against the organization of civilization, against the tyranny of Reason, against middle-class respectability and against the evils of society. The romanticists believed that one should disregard man-made laws, and instead worship nature, unspoiled pastoral life, mysterious, ancient forests, ancient ruins from the past and distant exotic lands. Sensation, emotion, feeling were good even if, like nature, they varied from moment to moment and from situation to situation.

 For the romanticist, the marriage ideal of the wealthy bourgeoisie, with their preoccupation with economics and rigid mores, was an infamy. If one loved, it mattered little if one was already married to another. Unions made in heaven had little respect for man-made conventions.

The upper-middle and wealthy classes watched the peccadilloes of the poets and painters of the romantic mold and were enthused by the energy they generated in their writings. However, they could not countenance the romanticists' lack of respect for marriage, parents, the law and religion.

 The answer lay in a new alloy forged of the driving force of the romantic's sensual passion and tempered by the conservative family sentiment of the bourgeoisie. The florid phrases, energetic manner, styled unconventionality and languid poses of the romantic were combined in a synthetic manner with bourgeois morality. Men saw their "bestial" needs elevated, not merely through their goal of propagation, but because they had as their object the "angel in the house," as the wife came to be euphemistically called in a book-long poem of the same name by Coventry Patmore. Passion was purified when expressed within the confines of matrimony, and that only when and if its delightfully deified object shyly nodded assent. Lust was transformed into treacly sentimentality.

 The acceptance of passion within matrimony did not quite sanction loving someone, as the romanticists did, just because feelings were there. The beloved had to possess a sterling character that predisposed to love.

 In the nineteenth century, the first marriage manuals published in the United States focused on the qualities deemed essential to marriage: religious, constitutional and physical, moral and characterological. An ideal husband, for example, was religious, sound of wind and limbs, and the recipient of no black marks for "idleness, intemperate use of intoxicating drinks, smoking, chewing, sniffing tobacco ... taking ... opium, licentiousness ... gambling, swearing and keeping late hours at night." An ideal wife embodied the four virtues of piety, purity, submissiveness and domesticity.

Love among equals

Two necessary steps were needed before marriage based on some degree of interpersonal compatibility could occur. One step was to accentuate the legal, political, and economic advance of women so that the new marriage would increasingly become a marriage of equals; though, to be sure, full equality would not be achieved by the turn of the century. A second necessity was to create an environment in which boys and girls would have time and leisure to interact, a primary requisite for developing interpersonal compatibility.

 From the earliest migrations to the New World, American pioneer women had achieved a much more favorable and functional role compared to many European women. During the nineteenth century, women gained the right to vote in some states, to hold and sell real property, to maintain personal property and to generally retain custody of children in case of marital breakup. In addition, the rapid industrialization of the country following the Civil War, the creation of many new service jobs, the perfection of the typewriter and the movement of women into secretarial positions, and the growth of the garment industry and of factories gave women, though they were exploited, a more important economic role in the family. The elevated status of women and the continued demand for justice by the women's rights movements helped create a climate for the emergence of a "new" much more independent woman. By the beginning of the twentieth century, therefore, many men were willing to accept the social equality of women, although they balked at granting them economic equality in terms of job and pay.

Increase in Leisure and Privacy

When the United States was a largely agricultural society and education was minimal and often secondary to work on the farm, opportunities for interaction between boys and girls were limited for much of the year. By the close of the nineteenth century, however, mass education was instituted, and it was possible for both boys and girls to continue education to high school and beyond. These youths had the opportunity to get to know each other because, unlike the situation in many European countries, coeducation was fairly prevalent.

The chaperone system of supervised interaction between the sexes was already decaying when a number of inventions hastened its demise. One of these was the introduction of the safety bicycle around 1885. Now a couple could pedal away from prying eyes for secluded trysts. The invention of the telephone helped to prepare for these rendezvous, and the advent of the mass-produced car a generation later furthered privacy to such an extent that its nickname was "the bedroom on wheels." At last, love in America became a prior condition for marriage rather than a sequel to the wedding. Alice Preston noted in the Ladies Home Journal in 1905, "No high-minded girl, and no girl of truly refined feeling ... ever ... admits the advisability of marriage without love."

The Last Word

In tracing the role of love in marital choice, one inescapable observation is the close relationship between the increasing status of women and the increasing role of love in the choice of marital partner. But, if love has finally triumphed, why aren't people happier? Why is the divorce rate so high?

The paradox is more apparent than real, because choice and freedom to divorce are synonymous. People today have the opportunity to leave unhappy marriages, choices that formerly were not legal or economically feasible. Also, with marriage increasingly entered into only for emotional satisfactions rather than for economic, sexual, or status reasons, the expectations for marriage have risen enormously, and the willingness to tolerate unsatisfactory marriages has dropped proportionately. Love may be the new sine qua non for marriage, but it has proved to be somewhat ephemeral in the majority of marriages.
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