Manuscripts and Special Collections

Marriage: View Documents

Click on the links to view images of the original document, alongside transcripts and translations where available.

Transcripts and translations for manuscript items are also available for download:


Document 1

WLC/LM/8, ff. 201r-v: John Gower, ‘Traitié...pour essampler les amantz marietz’ (composed late 14th century, French) 
View image with transcript/translation

This short poem, written in the courtly French language by the English poet John Gower, deals with the sacrament of marriage and the damage that infidelity and deception will do to the union. In this extract Gower explains that when love and virtue are the reasons for the marriage, rather than avarice, then faithfulness is the 'by-product' of the union. Conversely, when a deceiver contracts a marriage, the appearance of the union and the reality of the relationship are deceptive and it is doomed from the start to be unhappy.

He uses the imagery of a single strand being quite different from the same material when it is worked at and made into a stronger cord. The word ‘girded' in the second verse may be following this notion.

The ‘thought’ or ‘intention’ which a person brought to church was considered very important in order to make a true or meaningful sacrament, and was much debated theologically. This concept is also discussed in relation to the sacrament of Penance.


Document 2

WLC/LM/9, ff. 169r-v: ‘Speculum Vitae’, lines 10991-11032 (composed mid-14th century, English) 
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Marriage is described and explained in this devotional poem as a holy sacrament, invented by God, and necessary in order to prevent men from being sinful. It is also important as a symbol of the relationship between man and God.


Document 3

WLC/LM/4, ff. 71v-72r: Robert of Gretham, 'Mirur', lines 2474-2517 (composed c.1250, Anglo-Norman) 
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All of Robert’s teaching was based on the Gospels. Each sermon consisted of three parts:

  1. The Gospel text for that day, which was a translation from the Latin Vulgate Bible.
  2. An explanation of the underlying meaning or the deep sense hidden behind the text.
  3. A practical teaching, drawn from his explanation.

Robert did not allow himself to 'wander into the realms of fantasy' when choosing the material for his sermons. Passages from the Gospels formed the basis of a unified corpus of material used by preachers at the time. However, other writers, such as the author of ‘Le Manuel des Péchés’, also sourced their tales from elsewhere.

This sermon deals with the idea that marriage is for the ‘cure’ or salvation of fleshly corruption. Virginity was considered desirable, but it was recognised that not all could keep to a vow of chastity. In fact, it was believed that some women would suffer ill health through lack of sexual activity. To avoid these problems, God made the sacrament of marriage, which was endorsed by Jesus through his presence at the wedding at Cana.


Document 4

WLC/LM/4, f. 34v: William of Waddington, ‘Le Manuel des Péchés’ (composed c.1220-1240, Anglo-Norman)   
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Marriage in the late twelfth century was defined as a union which was 'made with the consent of the two contracting parties'. However, by the thirteenth century church authorities were becoming increasingly involved in marriage practices. Symbolising this changing view and 'take-over' by the church was the move to have marriages made openly and publicly. Before this period people traditionally got married in the domestic space of houses, but increasingly from the end of the twelfth century marriages took place at the door of the church. This open declaration outside the church was then followed by a priest's blessing and nuptial mass inside the church. ‘Secret’ or ‘clandestine’ marriages were still looked upon as legally valid and binding, even without this public event and subsequent blessing, but those partaking were warned about the danger to their soul.

This text was written during a time of change, and emphasises both the importance of free will and consent, and an open marriage at the church.


Next page: Marriage arrangements

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