So here is the second post on medieval marriage. This time we are looking at the peasant's perspective and how the views of the Church and that of the nobility effected them.
In addition to the Church teachings, the wishes of the feudal lords were also influential and must be acknowledged as a power over peasant marriages. The feudal lord had a vested interest when it came to whom a peasant wanted to marry. If a peasant woman married a free man , the lord would not only lose a worker but also a producer of serf children.
Another aspect that effected peasant marriages was the seasons. Generally speaking, marriages did not take place during the harvest or winter. So peasant marriage could be seen as being tied to the rhythm of the seasons.
The Church saw virginity as a highly desired state before marriage, however the issue of premartial sex and illegitimate birth was more accepted in daily village life. Premartial pregnancy was seen as a prelude to marriage, as children were so important to the economy that some couples wanted to be sure of fertility. Infants and small children could be seen as a drain on the peasant household or domus, but once they matured, the offspring could work and bring prosperity to the home through marriage. Another factor was that adult children could care for their ageing parents.
Lords turned the situation of premartial sex and birth to their advantage by fining women a Legerwrite / Lechewytt charge (premartial sex) and a Childwrite charge (children out of wedlock). An example of this can be found on January 1316 in Wakefield, where the young women were rounded up and fined for being deflowered or being married without a license. One case recorded is that of Juliana, daughter of John Sibbeson; who was deflowered before she was married and had not yet paid her lechewytt or merchet (similar to a modern day marriage license).
The medieval marriage service itself, was an adaptation of the ancient Roman civil rite of marriage. The ceremony generally took place on the Church steps or porch, which suggested that it was not in origin a church service and the role of officiating priest was simply that of chief witness. The medieval service did not differ very much from what is used today.
"I... take thee... to be 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 us do part, if holy Church will ordain, and thereto I plight thee my troth."
After the bride had plighted her troth in simliar words, the groom placed gold, silver and a ring on a plate. This was blessed by the priest and then the groom continued...
"With this ring I thee wed, and this gold and silver I thee give; and with my body I thee worship and with all my wordly chattels I thee endow. In the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen."
To truly solemnise the proceedings a mass could then be held within the church.
So, ends part 2 of the medieval view of marriage. Hope you found it interesting.
Nicóle xxExamples taken from Religion in the Medieval West by Bernard Hamilton and The Ties That Bound by Barbara Hanawalt.
Image Istock Photo