(Continued from Part 1)
The previous post on sex in the Middle Ages discussed its various contradictions as espoused by the medieval Church.
Another important inconsistency was that even though sex was considered a requirement between spouses, this didn’t mean just any sexual act was acceptable.
Sex and sexual relationships in the Middle Ages, much like during any age, were fraught with contradictions.
Most of these contradictions stemmed from the involvement of the medieval Church in dictating proper sexual conduct. In turn, according to Marty Williams and Anne Echols, authors of Between Pit and Pedestal: Women in the Middle Ages, the Church’s involvement was owing to the fact that,
Many theologians were completely unable to reconcile sex and the sacred because sex was viewed as something unholy and unclean (p. 86).
They’re not who you think they are
It remains to this day the most incredible piece of medieval research I’ve turned up, even if I’ve since learned it’s not completely true.
In previously Medieval Mondays posts, I’ve written at length about medieval marriage. This in turn led me to write about medieval divorce.
Divorce (technically annulment of the marriage in its strictest sense) was a matter at the sole discretion of the Church, whose preference was almost always to keep marriages together. As such, the Church generally only granted divorces for six specific reasons.
Marriage is tough; this is the case no matter what period in history one considers.
Medieval marriages, though, as discussed in my three previous posts on this topic, were all the more difficult for the numerous challenges that arose at every stage of their formation.
Yet another difficulty of medieval marriage was hard it was to go about ending one. This was neither easily nor readily done given that, according to Eileen Power, author of Women in the Middle Ages, “Divorce in the modern sense did not exist in the Middle Ages.” (p. 33).
Medieval marriage, much like medieval society as a whole, was not an institution of equality between both partners.
For the medieval woman, marriage did dramatically increase her prestige compared to an unmarried girl, who had no real occupation or standing in her household and spent most of her time in the company of older female chaperones.
Medieval woman thus looked forward to marriage and the subsequent establishment of a home that was independent of those of their parents.
Medieval wedding ceremony (note the location and the bride’s dress)
In modern times, when a couple gets engaged to be married, they next begin planning the wedding celebration.
In the medieval times, long before the engagement, after overcoming the various challenges of finding a suitable partner discussed in last month’s post, the next step was to plan for death. In particular, that of the man.
That is to say, there would be negotiations regarding the endowments the would-be bride and groom would grant each other.
A medieval betrothal
Getting married in the medieval times was a complicated business.
On the one hand, it seemed straightforward enough – far less complicated than today:
- Almost every man and woman could reasonably expect to someday wed.
- The definition of marriage was not contested as it often is today: there was no same-sex marriage or common law marriage or the modern legal and political wrangling commonly associated with these.
- Wedding ceremonies themselves were quite simple, wholly untouched by today’s wedding industrial complex.
- Divorce was illegal, so when two people married, it was (in almost all cases) literally unto death.