Tuesday, October 25, 2011

How did a girl got married in the middle ages

Marriage was probably the worst thing that could happen to a women in the past, till at least two centuries ago. During the late Middle Ages and Renaissance or even in the modern centuries, marriage was often a reason for cry and grief. Until early in the 20th centuries in some countries there was a great sobbing coming from the bride on the day of her wedding.

Why was marriage so bad?
  • ninety percent of the time was no love involved (the percent represents my personal estimate);
  • because your husband basically owned you and he had the right to apply coercions if he felt was right, in other words he could bit up his wife at will;
  • because you couldn't get a divorce;
  • because a woman had no right what so ever unless she was rich and there was money involved, money wanted also by a male.
Girl inspectin a Hope Chest. 1929, author Poul Friis Nybo.
U.S. public domain
from Wiki Commons

So, how did the couples got married?
First, the marriages were based on interests and wealth. If you owned some land, cattle or any goods that would rise you above the peasants class you could expect a husband with a similar status or wealth. But if you were Cinderella with a golden heart and a super-model overall appearance but you were too poor, your parents may sell you to an old, rich and mean bachelor for a few bucks. That’s bad, to begin with!

Second, somebody else was choosing your husband, usually your parents, and not because they didn’t love you but because the traditions that were fallowed by everybody. They would choose whatever was best for you and for them from among the suitors. Sometimes some midwives were involved in finding a bride and a groom and also negotiating a contract. Those middle persons (or shall I call them marriage agents?) would come to the bride’s house to propose a groom and then they would say what was expected from the bride to bring into the marriage. She’ll bring what is called a dowry often composed out of household items and personal pieces of clothing. Wealthy families would even give land, money, cattle and other goods, including real estate, especially if they had little or no pretenders.

Third, once married, you stayed married. No way around. If you couldn’t take it any more, the only option was to run away hoping that the mean husband won’t find you and bring you back, in which case you not only endured increase beating from your significant other but the public opprobrium as well.
When you got married you had to move to your husband’s house. Usually he was still living with his parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles and other relatives. There was a whole new world, waiting for you to start cooking, cleaning, working the farm, taking care of the kids and perform other tasks that were assigned to you by your mother in law.

Maybe the worse thing was that the boy you really liked was still in the village and married to someone else whom he didn’t care about either.

So, was there a wedding?
When their kids got married, most wealthy families put up a public announcement and a small party that was not to celebrate the event but more for showing off the social status. Also, much thought was put into the gifts that were given to the newly weds by their god parents of their local lord protector. But a marriage into a poor family often went quiet, the event being reported only to the church which kept a record, and to close relatives. In some cases not even the church knew. It wasn’t until the Reformation that the church started to ask for a formal ceremony in front of a minister.

Then, after the wedding, what?
Simple! you took your dowry chest and moved away from home. From now on you were on your own. If you made it through the marriage, as most couples did, then you’ll do the same for your children as your parents have done it for you. And the cycle started over again. And it didn’t stopped until the 20th century!