Category Archives: medieval

Katherine Swynford locations

It’s inevitable that many of these locations feature as castles belonging to John of Gaunt: Tutbury, Leicester, Herefored and Hertford to name a few.  I’ve also included a few places associated with Mary de Bohun whose household Katherine is listed in during some of the period when she and Gaunt went their separate ways.

 

Double click on the pointer to open up a box with a snippet of information about each of these locations. If nothing else it is possible to see how widely travelled John of Gaunt was within England. It is possible to see the lines of Roman roads as well as the marches between England and Wales as you look at the locations, a reminder that in the past boundaries determine fortifications and that key transport networks made it possible for the great and the good to administer their estates.

6 Comments

Filed under Fourteenth Century, maps, medieval

Medieval marriage II -adultery.

Public punishments.jpgMy wider reading seems to be taking a turn for the dramatic.  I am working my way steadily through Stolen Women in Medieval England: Rape, Abduction and Adultery, 1100-1500 by Caroline Dunn.  It’s a bit of a break from John of Gaunt’s entourage and its certainly eyebrow raising.  Dunn uses the example of  Richard Mareschal to demonstrate that medieval common law took a dim view of adultery.  He was charged with the abduction of Stephen de Hereford’s wife. It turns out that Mrs de Hereford was more than happy to spend time in the company of Mareschal, a cleric. He did not force the lady to go anywhere nor to do anything she didn’t want to do – in other words they were two consenting adults.  Dunn explains that medieval law still classified their relationship as abduction as clearly Stephen de Hereford had not given his permission for his wife to have an affair with Mareschal (p.124-126). There is a logic to it, though it effectively makes the woman in the case into a possession rather than a person – and that’s an entirely different post which I’m not going to get into here.  It is sufficient to remember that a woman was legally subordinate to her husband once she was married. The law that Mareschal was charged under was the medieval Raptus Law. 

Women could, in the early medieval period, have their nose and ears cut off if found guilty of adultery – a law which Cnut would have recognised. I mentioned the fine of legerwyte in an earlier post which was levied in manorial courts upon women who indulged in premarital sex. Mortimer explains that this fine could also be applied to adulterous men (p 226) as well as fornicating women.

It is also impossible to escape the religious element of the equation within medieval thinking.  Essentially the medieval Church, despite the number of churchmen with families of their own, believed that celibacy was the best state in which to live. St Augustine of Hippo explained rather pithily that sex was for the procreation of children and should, if it had to occur at all, happen inside a marriage – where it was a venal sin.  Outside marriage or without someone who was not your spouse it became a mortal sin. Consequentially adulterers, when not monarchs or extremely powerful lords (because let’s face it it’s virtually impossible to find a Plantagenet monarch who didn’t have at least one mistress and let’s not even venture into the maze that was John of Gaunt’s love life) were regarded as having broken both common and ecclesiastical law.   Priests were expected to keep a note of the goings on of their parishioners. Those members of the community who were misbehaving could find themselves dragged off to the ecclesiastical courts where they could be fined, required to do penance which involved being paraded around in your shift – see the image at the start of this post from a medieval manuscript.

Incidentally whilst king’s could do what they liked, it is worth noting that the petty treason laws which covered crimes against your more immediate master included committing adultery with your lord’s wife or seducing his daughters. The punishment was death.  Petty treason also covered a wife’s duty to her husband.  Plotting to murder your husband was covered by the petty treason laws and could result in a woman being burned for her crimes. Adultery could, it was sometimes argued, be regarded as a type of petty treason.  If Henry VIII had been particularly malevolent this is the fate that could have befallen Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard. Isabella of France’s (so called She-wolf and wife of Edward II of England) sisters-in-law provided an infamous early fourteenth century example of the punishments that could be inflicted on adulterous wives in France.

The Tour de Nesle scandal rocked the french royal family to its foundations.  Joan and Blanche were daughters of Otto of Burgundy. They were married to Philip and Charles of France respectively. Louis, the oldest of the french princes was married to Margaret, a cousin of the two sisters.  Isabella on a visit from England noted some unusual behaviour and informed her father, Philip IV, who discovered that Blanche and Margaret had been carrying on with two brothers- Gautier and Philippe D’Aunay. Joan knew about the adultery so found herself being tarred with the same brush for a time but went on to become France’s queen.  Blanche and Margaret had their heads shaved and were imprisoned for life – it’s probably best not to think about the inventiveness of Philip IV with regard to the punishment of the men involved. Blanche ended up in a nunnery where she died: a further reminder as to the punishment that could be meted out to adulterous wives without necessarily drawing anyone’s attention to the scandal.

All of this links to the stability of society and to the practicalities of inheritance.  If a noble marriage was about the union of two families, a treaty or about a land deal it really wouldn’t do if the heirs of that marriage didn’t belong to the husband. Thomas Aquinas wrote on the topic- which leads to the next point – the law was much more interested in women committing adultery than it was in their husbands carrying on with servants, peasants and prostitutes because essentially in the eyes of medieval society that didn’t count – which perhaps explains why during the Tudor period Henry VIII felt able to effectively kidnap one woman from her husband, take her home and have his wicked way without it impacting on his sense of honour.  The woman and her husband not being of sufficiently important status to count. Thus all those Plantagenet kings weren’t actually guilty of anything because they were the most important men in the land and could do whatever they wanted.  In fact Henry VII was regarded as rather lacking on the manliness front because he had no known mistresses – an absolute monarch was expected to take everything he wanted because he was the ultimate Alpha male.

And let’s not forget the thoughts of Pope Innocent IV on the topic.  He was with Thomas Aquinas; a woman’s adultery was worse than a man’s because man had more resemblance to Christ whilst a woman was more like the church which could have only one spouse i.e. Christ. The Oxford Handbook of Women and Gender in Medieval Europe reveals that this attitude was shifting by the end of the fifteenth century and that there were proportionally more court cases involving men and unmarried women which had been, presumably, previously ignored.

And as though that weren’t complicated enough there’s the whole concept of courtly love to take into consideration.  Society encouraged nobles and knights to place an unobtainable woman on a pedestal and then wander around  in a lovestruck state.  The key thing was that the woman was unobtainable: it was a game.  The man was expected to admire his lady from afar and go off and do derring and gallant deeds for her with no expectation of his devotion being reciprocated. There’s a rather macabre medieval illustration of a couple killing themselves rather than commit adultery – not quite sure how that fits on the scale of sin!

tristan and isolde drinking love potionMedieval tales seem to delight with romances  and marriages gone wrong – there’s Chaucer, who’s  Merchant’s Tale involves an elderly husband January marrying young May.  She promptly shimmies up a tree to meet her lover Damyan – Chaucer neatly referencing Adam, Eve and sin in one rather bawdy image. There’s  Tristan and Isolde who drink a love potion and of course, Lancelot and Guinevere who finds herself threatened with burning by King Arthur on discovery of the affair and has to be rescued…Arthur seems less put out with his friend Lancelot.

lancelot rescuing guineverre

 

Amt, Emilie.  (1993) Women’s Lives in Medieval Europe.  New York: Routledge

Bennett, Judith M and Karras, Ruth Mazo (eds) () The Oxford Handbook of Women and Gender in Medieval Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Dunn, Caroline. (2013 ) Stolen Women in Medieval England: Rape, Abduction and Adultery, 1100-1500  Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought Fourth Series.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Mortimer, Ian. (2009) A Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England. London: Vintage

Schaus, Margaret C. (ed) () Women and Gender in Medieval Europe: An Encyclopedia

 

 

SaveSave

1 Comment

Filed under canon law, Fourteenth Century, Law, medieval

Rules for Medieval Marriage

Marriage_of_Blanche_of_Lancaster_and_John_of_Gaunt_1359.jpg  I have been reading a Social History of Women in England 450-1500 by Henrietta Leyser  in between finding out about John of Gaunt’s retinue as it is sometimes easy to impose our own views and beliefs on the events of a particular period.  Interestingly it was only in the twelfth century that the Church came up with a consistent view of what constituted a marriage and what wordage was required from the couple who it joined in wedlock and whether the marriage needed to be consummated in order to be legally binding.

So here it is very briefly as I understand it: Peter Lombard of Paris insisted that a couple need only exchange the words “I take you as my wife” and “I take you as my husband.” He argued that the Virgin Mary was married to Joseph but had remained a virgin her whole life according to the theology of the time.  Consequentially, if it was good enough for the mother of Jesus it was good enough for everyone else.  Pope Alexander III backed this view.

In 1215 Pope Innocent III clarified the Church’s views on consanguinity by reducing the prohibited degrees of relationship from seven to four. When counting seven degrees of relationship the Church simply counted back up the family tree so that would have meant that a sixth cousin would be unable to may his or her sixth cousin which must have made life somewhat difficult for the intertwined aristocratic families. Properly the first degree of consanguinity is the closest one – parent and child; second degree of consanguinity -siblings; third degree aunt-nephew or uncle-neice; fourth degree- first cousins. However, the Church continued to make its calculations by going back up the family tree four generations meaning that the net of consanguinity covered much more than a first cousin. It included anyone with the same great great grandparent. However, there were such things as papal dispensations which fetched in a handy income for the Church.

478px-Lady_Margaret_Beaufort_from_NPGThe need to apply for papal dispensation where cousins removed were to be married often fitted into a rather lengthy negotiation process where the marriage was more of a seal on an alliance than a love match. Prior to a couple’s betrothal a financial settlement had to be agreed.  A bride’s family was expected to settle a dowry upon her.  This was her share of her inheritance.  It often took the form of goods and cash as well as land which her own mother might have brought into her own marriage.  In return the bride would receive dower rights from the lands which her groom held i.e. the income from those lands was hers.  Once the marriage settlement had been agreed then there would be a betrothal ceremony.  Given that these betrothals often took place where at least one of the participants was a very young child the betrothal wasn’t always binding.  Effectively where children  had not yet reached the age of reason it was much easier to wriggle out of a marriage alliance than after.  Margaret Beaufort was betrothed by her guardian to his son John de la Pole at the age of six but was rebetrothed on the orders of Henry VI to his half-brother Edmund Tudor  three years later.  Seven was regarded as the age of reason and after that time is was harder to break a betrothal. A full coming of age was twelve for girls and fourteen for boys though even at the time Edmund Tudor’s treatment of  his child bride raised eyebrows.

There were other considerations to take account of if you were of peasant stock and wished to marry. Family politics and relative wealth acquisition played their parts from the mightiest to the least in the land. However the peasantry or those descend from villeins had to find the money to pay marriage fines and there were plenty of them.  Leyser (120) describes Merchet – a fine paid for a licence to marry; legerwite which literally translates as a laying down fine was the fine levied on a woman who had had pre-marital sex (there was no corresponding male fine) and there was also chidewite which was the fee for having an illegitimate child.  You might also find yourself having to marry someone your lord had decreed was a suitable match for you – though of course this something that every strata of society had to deal with.

Innocent III also forbade secret marriages and decreed the necessity of the calling of banns. There were also times of the year when the Church decreed that marriages couldn’t occur.  Advent and Lent were marriage free times of the year.  Banns were called three times and the calling had to be at least a day apart to allow an opportunity for anyone objecting to the union to come forward.

During medieval times weddings did not take place inside the Church.  Weddings occurred at the church door – which given the climate in England probably accounts for the number of porches within medieval church architecture.   The marriage at the church door was a curious amalgam of vows and financial arrangements.  The ring that the bride wears today is all that is left of the symbolism of the groom’s symbolic gift of gold or silver given to represent the bride’s dower.  It was apparently quite normal for the groom to arrive with a shield or book stacked with gold or silver.  The couple exchanged vows in English. And did I mention that a priest wasn’t needed even if the couple did get married at the church door!  Of course having a priest made it easier to prove you were married.

And that leads to an explanation of the word wedding. Dixon Smith explains that consent to a marriage or a pledge to marry was shown by giving and receiving an item referred to English as a ‘wed’. A ‘wed’ could be any gift understood by those involved to mean consent to marry but was often a ring.  A ‘wedding’ where a man gave a woman a ring and she accepted it created the marriage.  This complicates things still further because if the giving of a gift is enough to have created a marriage there’s an awful lot of room for accusations and counter accusations of being married based on very little evidence other than a he says/ she says sort of exchange in a court.

Once the couple had exchanged their vows they entered the Church and celebrated Mass.  Once that was done the couple knelt to receive a further blessing.This was all followed by a wedding feast and there could be no skimping on the food or festivities.  Leyser reveals that Robert Juwel was fined for failing to provide a feast at his marriage (109).  Obviously this depended on the relative status and wealth of the groom and his family.

And finally the priest would bless the happy couple’s bedchamber and the bed.  There then followed an often rowdy and sometimes public bedding of the bride and groom.

images-17elizabeth woodville

 

All very straight forward except it wasn’t! Leyser goes on to reveal that during the Middle Ages couples  got married all over the place – from trees to inns.  This of course was because there were two kinds of marriage as anyone familiar with the convoluted story of Edward IV’s love life must be aware. If Edward IV, who married Elizabeth Woodville in secret, had previously been betrothed to Eleanor Butler then he was as good as married which made his union with Elizabeth bigamous.  The promise of marriage followed by intercourse was marriage and recognized as such by the Church. So despite the fact that secret marriages were prohibited, the Church recognised that people could and did get married without the consent of either the Church, their parents or their overlords. Law required the irregular or clandestine marriage to be regularised before any children could inherit but the marriage was legally binding even if there were no witnesses, no banns and none of the above negotiations. No priest was required for an irregular marriage either.  This makes either proving or disproving such a union rather difficult.

Unsurprisingly there are plenty of accounts in the ecclesiastical courts of couples who’d married clandestinely and which were followed up by objections. And so far as consanguinity was concerned anyone with an interest in English History knows where that got Henry VIII but realistically it was possible to extract yourself from an unsatisfactory marriage if some previously unknown impediment should be discovered and that’s before we even get on to the topic of people being pre-contracted in marriage and then going off and marrying someone else.

All of this seems to be rather complicated and in an age where the wealthy often married without love it comes as a bit of a surprise to discover that a marriage could be dissolved if it was proved to have occurred under duress.  Marriage by abduction did occur.  The reason why there may have been very few annulments for this reason was that once the marriage was consummated or the couple had lived together the grounds for duress was deemed to have fallen by the wayside.  Nor was cruelty a grounds for divorce though occasionally the courts threatened errant husbands with a whipping if they didn’t step up to the mark.

Of course sometimes people did marry for love – Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville spring to mind as do Margery Paston and the family bailiff Richard Calle. Katherine of Valois married Owen Tudor in secret rather than face life without a spouse and unable to marry to her own status in society until her son came of age.  More surprisingly Edward I’s daughter Joan of Acre married Ralph de Monthermer a squire from her household in secret.  Her father was not amused when he found out.

The image at the start of the post is to be found in Reading Museum.  It is an interpretation by Horace Wright completed in 1914 of the marriage between John of Gaunt and Blanche of Lancaster which took place in Reading Abbey on 13 May 1359.  The happy couple were third cousins so a papal dispensation was required. Their shared heritage was their descent from King Henry III.

Dixon-Smith, Sally.  Love and Marriage in Medieval England in History Extra 11 February 2016   http://www.historyextra.com/article/feature/love-and-marriage-medieval-england-customs-vows-ceremony

Leyser, Henrietta. (1997) Social History of Women in England 450-1500  London: PheonIx

 

 

 

 

 

7 Comments

Filed under Development of English, Historical Artists, medieval