Wednesday, 5 December 2012

A Medieval View of Marriage Part III

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Hi everyone,
                    This is the final part on medieval marriage. As I said at the start, it is a broad subject and we have only touched the surface.

The questions of consanguinity and consent created conflict between the Church and the other orders of society. As I mentioned in an earlier part of these posts, the Church banned incest. This meant marriage between cousins up to the sixth extent, but they also believed that people formed a kinship tie to anyone they had a sexual relationship with. This kinship tie then encompassed the former lover's family as well. A hypothetical example of this would be, if two brothers from one family wished to marry two sister from another, only one couple could marry. By the first couple's marriage the remaining unwed pair would be considered brother and sister, and therefore if they wed it would have been considered incest.

Both the nobility and the peasants wished to reject these laws. In the case of the nobility, many of their arranged marriages were based on increasing their property and wealth, and in some cases to form alliances. The laws of consanguinity thwarted their plans.

For peasant families, these laws totally restricted their options in marriage. If we consider a small village, a person was quite possibly already linked by marriage or kinship to over half of its population.

For sections of the nobility it was possible to appeal to the Church and the Pope. They could buy a dispensation which would allow them to marry their chosen partner, even if they fell into the category of incest. This, however was not an option for the poor.

Consent was another area which caused friction between the Church and its people. The Church stated that consent was the most important aspect of marriage, as it was a vow between two people and God. Whereas families (both peasantry & nobility) believed that this would lead to the young refusing to carry out family wishes and a rise in clandestine marriages. In response, the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 ordered that marriage banns should be called in the churches of the bride and groom prior to the wedding.

From the 12th century on, Church enforced priestly celibacy. Priests were not to be married or enter into any sexual relation, instead they were to spend their lives in contemplation of the spirit and not their flesh. This was an attempt to set the clergy apart from the other members of society. However, priestly concubinage remained common. Chidren of priests were considered bastards and could not inherit any property and the priest's mistress had no social standing.

In conclusion, both nobles and peasants followed the teachings and laws of the Holy Roman Church in belief but in daily practice deviated from it. In other words the ideals of the Church on virginity, chastity and consanguinity were at times just too hard to live up to.

So ends the third and final part on medieval marriage. I hope that you found it interesting.

Nicóle  xx
Religion in the Medieval West by Bernard Hamilton
The Ties that Bound by Barbara Hanawalt
Religion and the Decline of Magic by Keith Thomas.
Image from the Public Domain.

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