Manuscripts and Special Collections

Marriage Arrangements: View Documents

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


Document 1 

Mi D 4792: Marriage settlement between Philip Boteler and Isabel Willoughby (6 January 14 Henry VI [1436], English) 
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Philip and Isabel’s marriage was an arranged match, like many other aristocratic weddings. Philip’s father, Sir Philip Boteler of Watton Woodhall, Hertfordshire, died in 1420 when Philip was about 6, according to the Victoria County History, and wardship (temporary control of Philip’s land during his minority) and maritagium (right to arrange Philip’s marriage while he was under age) were granted to his relative John Cokayne, justice. When Cokayne died in 1429, his executors sold the wardship and marriage right to Sir Hugh Willoughby of Wollaton (see Mi D 4791).

Sir Hugh then arranged for a marriage with one of his daughters. This deed, made just after Philip reached the age of 21 and took possession of his land, shows the reciprocal benefits of the match, especially for Sir Hugh. Household goods for the newly-married couple, to the value of 50 marks, were to be given by Sir Hugh. In return, Philip would permit his new father-in-law to recoup any arrears due from Philip’s land up to the time it came out of wardship, without Philip or anyone else hindering him.


Document 2

Ne D 1903: Copy of an agreement made prior to the marriage of Henry Stanhope and Jane Rochford (28 Sep. 1476, English)  
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Henry and Jane’s marriage settlement is a good example of the bride and groom each bringing something tangible to the bargain. Aristocratic marriages were ideally between two people of similar social status, whose resources could be pooled to increase the wealth of future generations.

As shown in this deed, Henry’s father John Stanhope, of Haughton, Nottinghamshire, promised to give him an estate worth £20 a year. Jane would have the right to this estate during her widowhood as her dower, and it was then to pass to their children, whether male or female. Henry would also inherit other estates worth £46 13s 4d per year, after the death of his parents, to pass to his male heirs.

In return Jane, the daughter of Henry Rochford of Stoke Rochford, Lincolnshire, brought a dowry consisting of a cash sum of 300 marks (£200), plus 50 marks worth of plate and household goods, to be paid on her behalf by Dame Jane Thurland, who was possibly her guardian.

A fact missed out from the deed was that Jane also brought the estate at Stoke Rochford, as sole heiress of her late father. Women’s property automatically became the property of their husbands on marriage. The Stoke Rochford estate passed to Henry, then to his son Edmund Stanhope of West Markham, and then to Edmund’s daughter Margaret, who took it, thanks to her own marriage, into the Skeffington family’s ownership. (The Gentleman's magazine , Volume 76 (1794), p.1185)


Document 3

MS 66/1: Extract from an extent of the Manor of Langar and Barnstone in Nottinghamshire (c.1340, Latin) 
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This manorial document gives details of the rents and services owed by Matilda de Herdeby to the lord of the manor of Langar and Barnstone, including the stipulation that she should ‘pay merchet and leyrwite for her daughters’.

Merchet and leyrwite (sometimes spelled lairwite, legerwite or lecherwite) were fines. The lord’s ‘permission’ for the marriage of a female bond tenant to a man from another manor was symbolised by the payment of a merchet, in compensation for the fact that her children would live elsewhere and not be able to give him service. If she lost her virginity, committed fornication, or cohabited with a man without marrying him, she could be charged with the payment of leyrwite in the manor court. Merchet and leyrwite payments declined after the Black Death in the mid-14th century.

The church also had a right to punish moral transgressions by the means of Penance.


Document 4

WLC/LM/6, f.191v, f.193v and f.194v: Heldris de Cornuälle, ‘Le Roman de Silence’, lines 739-759, 1090-1102 and 1261-1274 (early 13th century, French)  
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These three extracts are concerned with the growing love between Cador and Eufemie. King Ebain has promised Cador that he can have the wife of his choice as a reward for killing a dragon. He has also promised Eufemie the husband of her choice as a reward for nursing Cador back to health from his injuries. Unknown to Ebain, the pair have already fallen in love, declared their love to each other, and made a pact to request the other as their choice.

The first passage describes how love grows between two people who spend a lot of time together. The second describes their first kiss, and the difference between a lover’s kiss and that of family. In the third, Ebain explains why a marriage arrangement between them would be a good match. Seeking their equal in noble birth, beauty and age has drawn them together, and out of this equality they will love each other in equal measure.


Document 5

MS 250, f. 135r: Service for Easter Sunday, with heraldic decoration, from the Wollaton Antiphonal (first half of the 15th century, c.1430, Latin)
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This magnificent Antiphonal was made for Thomas Chaworth (d 1459) of Wiverton, Nottinghamshire, and his second wife Isabella Aylesbury (d 1458). It is decorated with the arms of both their families. This page focuses on their female ancestors. The red and gold shield at the bottom of the page, on its side, is the shield of Thomas’s maternal grandmother, Katherine Brett, daughter of Sir John Brett of Wiverton. In the centre of the right border are the striped arms of Isabella’s ancestor Joan Bassett. The Aylesbury family shield (silver cross on blue) is at the top right corner. The marriage of Thomas Aylesbury and the heiress Joan Bassett is represented by a shield showing both arms ‘quartered’, at the bottom right of the page. 


Next page: Mistreatment of women

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