Silvia Moreno-Garcia | Jewish Medieval Marriages
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Jewish Medieval Marriages

Some more stuff on marriages in the Middle Ages.

I wrote two previous posts, which you can find here and here.

And here’s a table with some data.

Some quotes:

  • “Marriages in the early Middle Ages seem closely to resemble the barbarian model described by Tacitus. Men and women were roughly equal in ages at first marriage, and they married in their middle or late twenties” (Herlihy, Medieval Households).
  • From the same book “a study based on marriage contracts from Toulouse, in southern France, in the 14th and 15th centuries, concludes that brides were typically age 16.”
  • In Christian Europe, child marriage was relatively rare, but much more common in Jewish society. However, some sources advised against marrying daugthers too young (“Even though the father has the right to betroth his daughter when she is a minor or when she is a maiden [na‘arah; i.e., ages 12 to 12.5] to whomever he wishes, it is not fitting that he should do so.”). In a number of cases, a lengthy delay elapsed between betrothal and marriage because of the betrothal of minors. (Pious and Rebellious : Jewish Women in Medieval Europe)
  • Because of this practice amongst Jewish families: “One consequence was the absolute dependence of the young couple on the parents for a considerable period, including total involvement of the parents in their personal life.” (Pious and Rebellious : Jewish Women in Medieval Europe)
  • From the same book: When child marriages did take place in Christian Europe, cohabitation could be delayed so married life really began at a later age.
  • It was Alexander III (1159-1181) who resolved that marriage required consent and consummation, otherwise it could be dissolved. A number of child marriages were set aside because the young party challenged the marriage, saying they had been unable to consent being too young. (“He Would Never Consent in His Heart”: Child Marriages in Early Modern England”)
  • High rates of divorce, often taken to be a modern and western phenomenon, were also typical of medieval Islamic societies, according to Marriage, Money and Divorce in Medieval Islamic Society. The same book also indicates a pattern similar to Jewish marriages, with brides in their early or mid-teens.
  • And here’s the famous paper by Hajnal on European marriage patterns. The EMP has several characteristic, among them high age at marriage for both men and women and similar age of spouses. Hajnal’s paper seems to indicate this pattern begins in the Late Middle Ages, but we don’t understand exactly why; religion, labour changes and urbanization have all been suggested as explanations.

These are blog posts, so don’t expect a long essay on this subject matter. I assume you will use these as pointers to find more information, right? I originally posted about this because there are many people who assume that marriage portrayals in Game of Thrones are realistic and based on Medieval scholarship. In the last argument I heard, Juliet was also mentioned as proof that most 13 year olds were getting married and having sex (both things at the same time, not just a pledge of marriage). And then someone said a 16 year old would have been an old maid in Regency England.

So: this is but a brief series of posts that I hope will show the ages of marriage you assume for women may be erroneous.