Medieval Marriage

Jan 2019
15
York, UK
#1
How did the customs and religious involvement with Marriage change during the Medieval Period in England.
I understand there was no religious involvement during the Anglo Saxon period you didn't need a priest and even up to the 13th Century the Church were slow to take over the duties.
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,077
Dispargum
#2
The Church's initial interest in marriage was to prevent sex outside of marriage. The Council of Winchester in 1076 ruled "no one should give his daughter or other relative to anyone without priestly blessing, otherwise it will be judged not a legitimate marriage but a fornicators' marriage."

Another early interest of the Church in marriage was the prevention of incest. Prior to the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 sixth cousins could not marry. That year the rule was relaxed to allow third cousins to marry.

As early as the ninth century the Church was dragged into the famous (or notorious) divorce case of Lothar II. More famous examples are the sixteenth century divorces of Henry VIII. These kings were going to do what they wanted marriage-wise, but for various reasons they felt they needed the support of the Church. This brought the Church into the anullment business. The easiest way to get a divorce was to deny that the marriage had ever existed. To prove a marriage, one needed witnesses. The Council of Westminster in 1200 ruled "no one may be joined in matrimony except publicly in front of the church and in the presence of a priest."

Another way to prove the existence of a marriage was to make marriage as simple as possible. In the early 1100s Ivo of Chartres said the only ingredient of a marriage was the mutual consent of both spouses. This was furthered in 1140 by the Canan Law of Gratian, a legal text. A few years later Peter Lombard also advanced this idea. At the end of the century Pope Alexander III consolidated the three of them into a single policy. This started the practice of both spouses publicly stating in front of witnesses that they wished to marry the other.
 
Likes: Chosenman
Jan 2019
15
York, UK
#3
Thanks Chlodio very helpful. I understand in Anglo Saxon Britain a simple statement before witness was all that was required, no priest had to be present?
 
Jul 2007
1,674
Australia
#5
Likes: Chosenman
Jan 2019
15
York, UK
#6
I have been reading "The Legitimacy of Bastards" by Helen Matthews (later medieval England) - and there are some interesting chapters on marriage - particularly on what constituted marriage in both canon and common law.

It might be worth visiting the early Anglo Saxon and Norman laws pertaining to marriage to get a better overview.
try >>> Early English Laws

You can read this online: Married Women's Property in Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman Law and the Origin of the Common-Law Dower
Hi Melisende

Thanks for that, really helpful.
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,077
Dispargum
#7
Thanks Chlodio very helpful. I understand in Anglo Saxon Britain a simple statement before witness was all that was required, no priest had to be present?
I can't really talk about the Anglo-Saxon era specifically.

Before the 12th century it was common for people to be married against their will, for instance if the marriage was arranged by their parents. So if there was a statement before witnesses it might not be by the bride and groom. Child marriages would be another example of marriage without consent. There were attempts at divorce/annulment on the grounds that as a child there had been no opportunity to give informed consent. Such arguments were often successful after the 12th century. Before the 12th century reforms these arguments were weaker since the bride and groom did not yet have to consent to the marriage.

I'm aware of an example in France in the sixth century where a queen and a prince wanted to marry and asked a bishop to preside. My understanding is that a clergyman was not necessary, but a prominent witness would be useful. In this case the marriage was controversial. The prince was marrying without his father's consent and the father was a king. The father could have used the law to annul the marriage. The bride and groom hoped that the bishop would be powerful enough to resist the king's attempts to disprove the marriage.

Initially the priest was not there to sanctify the marriage. He was there as an incorruptible witness, someone who would not lie about the validity of the marriage. The need for witnesses predates the 11th and 12th centuries and in fact predates Christianity. The Old Testament mentions wedding feasts which were a way for the bride and groom and their parents to publicly announce the wedding to a large group of witnesses. I don't know that a statement was specifically necessary so long as the witnesses understood that a wedding had occurred. A parent's invitation to "Come to my daughter's wedding" was a big step toward making a marriage. The gift of a ring was another. One early wedding ceremony had the presiding official tie the bride and groom's wrists together with ribbon. If at a later date the husband tried to get out of the marriage, the bride could call upon the witnesses to testify that there had been a wedding feast, a ring had been given, and wrists had been bound.
 
Likes: Chosenman