Medieval Musings


M e d i e v a l  R o m a n c e


“I Do”

In my historical novel, Tangle of Time, a very young woman marries her young man outside of the village church doors. Their village priest officiates and most of the villagers are there to watch and witness. According to the history books, some marriages did take place as I described but most did not.

I vividly remember the first draft of the wedding scene I wrote for Jen and Jack as they walked down the aisle of the village church toward their village priest –  not going to happen – as I found out later in my research and had to re-write the scene.


a couple actually did have a wedding service, it would have taken place

outside the church door. Porches were added later

to accommodate this practice. (Rain was common).


there was a shortage of priests, some villages had to wait until a priest visited. Sometimes that was once a year and he might catch up on all of the weddings, christenings and funerals which had gone ahead without him.


Reality Check…

Although the church controlled – or tried to control – marriage, couples did not need to marry in a church. Legal records show people getting married on the road, down the pub, round at friends’ houses or even in bed. All that was required for a valid, binding marriage was the consent of the two people involved.


No witnesses, no certificate. How then did the couple prove they were married? The answer is they couldn’t.

The church said sex could only happen in the marriage bed so Christians were allowed to marry young – boys at 14, girls at 12.

If a couple agreed they would marry in the future and co-habited, this was seen as ‘agreed consent’.



I love this one…

Another way of giving consent was by giving and receiving a ‘wed’. This be a gift, often a ring and in my story, Jack gives Jen half of a coin; he has the other half. Now we know where ‘wedding comes from!

This could lead to misunderstandings, or worse, so the church, in 1217 issued the following:

 that no man should “place a ring of reeds or another material, vile or precious, on a young woman’s hands in jest, so that he might more easily fornicate with them, lest, while he thinks himself to be joking, he pledge himself to the burdens of matrimony”.

The vast majority of marriage cases that came up before the courts were to enforce or prove that a marriage had taken place.

Land Owners.

Rules changed completely if a family owned land. Land – the most important commodity and to be kept in the family at all costs.

So… sons and daughters became pawns in the marriage game, romance had nothing to do with it.

The English dowry system permitted most noble families to marry off their daughters and thereby gain extended kin and patronage ties. Marriageable daughters were a valuable commodity to ambitious fathers, and the English aristocracy sent few of their eligible daughters to convents.


Courtly Love.

Courtly love is a French concept that found its way into the English world and is based on gallantry and chivalry. It is the love between a knight and the married noblewoman he serves.

Tournaments were a way for a young knight to show off his prowess to the ladies (or a particular lady) in the hope of a tribute  (a scarf?) in return that he could display.

Courtly love supposedly excludes lust. But don’t forget most of the marriages were based on property, not love. In King Arthur stories, Lancelot and Guinevere engage in courtly love, in fact, all of the Knights of the Round table sing love ballads to her and we know how that one ends.  In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Romeo says,” She doth teach the torches to burn bright!”  and we know how that one ends. Perhaps ‘Courtly Love’ as a romantic ideal doesn’t work!


Homosexual Love…

male and female – apparently did not exist in medieval times: banned by the church. Of course, it did exist, just wasn’t talked or written about.

Well, that’s all folks!

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Tangle of Time, my first story featuring Annie Thornton, midwife and fledgling witch, who travels through time to 1500, becoming a medieval sleuth, is available through my website:

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