Posts Tagged ‘marriage’

A friend and long-time aficionado of Vikings and Druids pointed me to “the Viking Answer Lady” yesterday. He said I might find part of the information interesting. I won’t be using it in the book but I DO find it fascinating – especially since our pre-Rollo Norman/Viking generations ran on for many, many years.

Rollo accepting Christian baptism.

Rollo accepting Christian baptism.

COURTSHIP: In Viking times courtship was fairly creepy. “The most important, unwritten rule of courtship was that the less a hopeful groom saw of his intended bride before entering into formal marriage negotiations with her family, the better his chances were of staying alive.”

MARRIAGE: Marriages had little to do with love and a lot to do with keeping people from killing each other.

A marriage “meant a chance for the bride’s family to make an alliance with one of the most important families… and thus be assured of powerful support in its dealings at the local thing and Alþingi“(Jacobsen, Position of Women, p. 40).Another very important function of marriages was not just the promise of economic gain or political advantage: often the Scandinavian wife served as a “peace-pledge,” bartered in marriage to guarantee the reconciliation between formerly feuding parties (Jenny Jochens, “The Medieval Icelandic Heroine: Fact or Fiction?” Viator 17 [1986]: p. 37). Anglo-Saxon literature in particular records this Germanic theme, identifying wives and queens as “peace-weavers,” who through childbearing wove together the blood of warring tribes, acted as a hostage for her family within the enemy camp, and sought to cool hatreds within her new family (Jane Chance, Woman as Hero in Old English Literature. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1986. pp. 1-3).

ARRANGED MARRIAGES weren’t a problem for men because they had a lot of options. “Bed slaves” were available for purchase. (That wasn’t necessarily a good thing for the slave, who might be forced to join her “master” in death.)

Concubines were also perfectly acceptable. They were usually women of lower class than the men; as a result, they didn’t mind. And the wives didn’t seem to mind so much because the concubine was never allowed to marry the man due to difference in class.

Apparently the woman’s consent WAS an important factor in the arrangement. “While the law did not require that a woman consent to her marriage, it seems to have been a very good idea to get her approval, for in the sagas, ‘all five marriages made contrary to the stated will of the girl are unmitigated disasters, ending with the death, maiming, or divorce of the husband’”.

TRUE LOVE: Those who were truly in love were sometimes serious about until death do us part. “Saxo Grammaticus records the moving last speech of a man about to be hanged, as he speaks of his beloved:

‘There shall be one end for us both; one bond after our vows; nor shall our first love aimlessly perish. Happy am I to have won the joy of such a consort; I shall not go down basely in loneliness to the gods of Tartarus. So let the encircling bonds grip my throat in the midst; the final anguish shall bring with it pleasure only, since the certain hope remains of renewed love, and death shall prove to have its own delights. Each world holds joy, and in the twin regions shall the repose of our united souls win fame, our equal faithfulness in love ‘”(Saxo Grammaticus. Gesta Danorum. cited in Hilda R. Ellis-Davidson. The Road to Hel. Westport CT: Greenwood Press, 1943. pp. 53-54).

DIVORCES: Those who weren’t in love could easily end things. “The Arabic poet al-Gazal reported that he was told by a Danish queen that ‘jealousy was unknown in that country, and that women stayed with men of their own free will, and left them whenever they wanted to’ (Jacobsen, Sexual Irregularities, pp. 78-79). While this is not a completely accurate statement, examination of the sagas shows that women were often the ones who initiated a divorce.” (Frank, p. 478).

The Icelandic law code granted divorce on three conditions – in those cases where the couple gave each other “large wounds” of brain, body cavity of marrow; if one of the two was too poor to support themselves; and if the husband attempted to take his wife out of the country against her will.

SPOUSE ABUSE was not acceptable. “Slapping a spouse, especially in front of witnesses, was considered extremely humiliating (Williams, p. 106). The Gulaþing Law of Norway made special provisions against a husband slapping his wife: if a man struck his wife in front of witnesses, she could not only claim monetary compensation for the blows equal to what he would have received had another man struck him, the wife had the right to divorce the husband on top of the fine after the third slap (Jacobsen, Position of Women, p. 116). Slapping a wife is the most common reason given for a divorce in the sagas (Jochens, Icelandic Heroine, p. 39). Occasionally a woman did not feel that divorce was sufficient retaliation for the insult of a slap: Hallgerd in Njals saga was involved in the deaths of two husbands who made the fatal mistake of slapping her “(Magnusson and Palsspn. Njal’s Saga. pp. 59 and 123).

Cool stuff; check it all out here:


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