Manuscripts and Special Collections

Marriage Arrangements

Decorative border from LM11 in the Wollaton Library Collection

'When pure and virtuous love are brought together with fidelity, Then the union will be blessed with grace'

People from land-owning families did not normally marry for love. Instead, most such marriages were arranged by their parents or guardians.

Arranged marriages remain an important part of the culture of many societies in the world today, for the same implicit reasons that probably motivated medieval English people: for the creation of stable family units based on respect and duty, in which love can grow; and to protect and increase the family’s wealth and status by association with another family of equal or higher repute.

Peasant women who did not own any land were not exempt from some kind of control over their marriage, as many manorial lords demanded payment of a sum of a money called a ‘merchet’.

Inheritance of property was an important aspect of the negotiations for an aristocratic marriage, since land brought by the bride would pass to the groom. Women who were not heiresses of landed property would bring money instead, as their ‘dowry’. The material goods brought by the bride would be matched by the groom’s family’s obligation to provide ‘dower’ for her should she be widowed. For an example of an agreement relating to dower, see document Ne D 742.

Written marriage settlements are present in most archives of landed families, and by the 18th century could be very complicated. There are examples of marriage settlements in the 'Deeds in Depth' research guidance unit on the Manuscripts and Special Collections website.

The following extracts from literary and historical texts give some insights into marriage arrangements in medieval society.


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