5 Medieval Facts of Marriage

 “To marry for love without land or chattels could assure nothing but a life of penury.”


1.   In medieval times, more than half the population of any given area was generally under 20 years old. Life expectancy back then was only about 42 years, and so girls were married at the ripe old age of 12 to boys as young as 15.

Women were rarely allowed to choose who they wanted to marry, but men were free to choose their wives.

There was one exception to this rule: if the girl was from a poor family who could not afford a dowry, she was free to marry whomever she wanted because her family had nothing to bargain with in the typical monetary marriage arrangement.

2.  Medieval marriages had nothing to do with love. It was all about who had how much to give.


Monetary worth dictated “I do”s.

The bride’s family gave a dowry to the groom, and he kept that dowry forever – even if they separated. There are thousands of medieval records of men who became very wealthy by marrying & separating from many wives.

3.  A notice of an impending wedding would be posted on the door of the church. But this was no invitation for celebration. The notice was to allow anyone with an an argument against the union to come forward with objections before the wedding date.

Valid objections included proof that the couple were brother and sister…that the girl had been molested, raped, or promiscuous…that the girl’s family had outstanding debt which might compromise their ability to pay the full dowry.

Objections proven to be valid were grounds for cancellation of the wedding ceremony.


4.  A priest was not required to officiate a marriage ceremony – not until the 1500‘s when the Council of Trent made it a law. Before this, anyone could perform a marriage as long as:

a)  during the wedding ceremony, the bride stood on the left side of the groom (the reason being the religious belief that Eve was formed from the left rib of Adam),


b)  the person performing the ceremony had not previously killed anyone.

Whew! What a relief it must have been to know that your wedding officiant wasn’t a bloody murderer!


5.  Three principle wedding gifts were required:

a) the balance of the dowry from the bride’s family to the groom,

b) a new home purchased by the groom’s family for the newly wedded couple, along with a signed contract stipulating the provision of an annual salary for the couple to live on,


c) a monetary payment (land and chattel were also acceptable) by the bride’s family to the person performing the wedding ceremony.



Which of these facts of marriage could you live with?

Which could you live without?


Medieval Monday


See all 5 Medieval Facts of Life posts!


9 thoughts on “5 Medieval Facts of Marriage

  1. So now it makes more sense to me that when I married Judy her father gave me 2 milking goats, 3 laying hens, and a cured ham. Boy that ham was good with fresh eggs, and a sprinkling of goat cheese.

  2. Enjoy the history lessons esp arcane subject matter. My first thoughts were that in European paintings children are painted as small adults with adult clothing and features facially. The time came and I can’t relate the century when this changed and children were painted as children. I wonder how much the original style was influenced by your topic today and why the change came about in painting children.

    • This is a very intriguing train of thought. I, too, have wondered about medieval childhood. I learned some general things, but not the answers to deeper questions about this matter. Thanks to your comment, as soon as I have a break in my course studies, I’m going to dig into serious research about this particular aspect of medieval life…

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