Sunday, April 4, 2010

Anglo Saxon Society

Anglo-Saxon Society

Marriage in Anglo-Saxon England
It was not a necessity to be married in a church or even by a priest. Ostensibly, marriage was a “secular business arrangement” or contract between the man and the bride’s family.

Be Wifmannes Bedweddunge – a betrothal tract of the period which outlined the financial arrangements in which the groom pays remuneration for the bride’s upbringing; a grant of marriage settlement is made upon the bride (and property settlement should he predecease her); the contract is witnessed by the friends of the groom and the bride’s family; it was most likely not written down and a verbal promise was considered binding.

A woman was not forced into a marriage against her will.

At times, a religious formality was performed to endorse the union in the eyes of God – however, it was not unusual for a person of rank to ignore the marriage vows if a better alliance came along.

Clergy were forbidden to provide a church service for second weddings regardless of the previous marriage ended in divorce or death. Often second marriages left the children of the first marriage disinherited.

“Marriage by Seizure” was a Scandinavian tradition – the bride was carried off and the union recognized when the “bride price” was paid to her relatives.

Adulterous wives were severely punished – mutilated (nose and ears cut off) or killed. There was no such limits imposed on Scandinavian men who were openly promiscuous, and men often kept one or two concubines, whose children he may or may not decide to recognize.

Under the monogamy laws of Canute (1020), it was forbidden for men to have more than one wife upon the threat of excommunication; “foreigners”, if they will not regularize their marriages are to depart from the land with their goods and their sins”.

Upon marriage, a woman and her children became the responsibility of her husband – however, her kin would still guard her interests.

No tradition of regal primogeniture in Anglo-Saxon England. First born son might inherit his father’s position, but an uncle, brother or cousin could be considered a more worthy heir to the throne.

Monarch was often chosen from the relatives of the previous king, who could clearly trace his line back to Cerdic. Heir named by the king but chosen or acknowledged by the Witan.

King’s counsel – a group of the country’s elite – the foremost churchmen, prominent nobles. The king rules with the agreement and cooperation of the Witan.

A court gatherings, the Witan enforced law and order; taxation; sanctioning of land grants; endorsement of legal codes; settlement of disputes; agreements of tribute; and was attended by the clergy, nobility and other delegates.

Witan selects the strongest male of the ruling royal family to succeed – however, this often means the most malleable.


streona_sweetie said...

Oh Canute ... he made the rule that no man could have two wives, and yet he had two wives himself! The first was Aelfgifu of Northampton, who he had two sons with (Sweyn and Harold); the second Queen Emma, which resulted in Harthacanute. I think he was doing it for show. What a dog.

Melisende said...

Yes, but as with all rulers - its more of a case of "do as I say not as I do"