While we may believe that marriage in the Middle Ages was full of stories of child brides and arranged marriage, this wasn’t always the case. The records that we have suggest that an agony aunt may have been in need in some cases.
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A Pickle of a Proposal
I am afraid that I am in need of your help. I need to know if I am in fact married. You see I gave a small trinket to a girl that I have known all my life in my village and she immediately went to her parents and declared that we were married. My problem Agnes, I didn’t intend this as a proposal.
Please advise me, I do not know what I should do.
I was sorry to read that you have found yourself in what is, for lack of a better word, a pickle.
As you know the Church requires only one of three ways to exchange consent.
- Words of present consent, such as “I do take you as my wife.”
- Words of future consent (“I will take you as my wife”) and intercourse.
- A Wed, a gift exchange when a man offers a woman a symbol of marriage which is accepted by a woman. Most often the wed is a ring.
I would ask if your trinket was something that could have been mistaken as a proposal of marriage? If you are sending gifts to this woman, are you sure that you did not intend to make her your wife in the future? If you are sure that you do not wish to marry her then perhaps you should discuss the misunderstanding with the lady and if it must be taken further, then take it to a Church court.
I hope that you find your resolution
The Runaway Bride
I am in need of your advice.
I wish desperately to take the veil. My father has decreed that I should marry a man whom I do not know and I simply will not agree to it. He had planned to send my sister to the convent as he has “too many daughters and not enough sons.”
I have spoken to an Abbess (whom I shall not name for fear she will be in trouble) but I have made my intention to join her convent.
My question Agnes, does this make me safe from my father’s demands that I marry a stranger?
Thank you for your letter. To have to read that your father would attempt to force you into a holy union saddened me.
As you must well know, the act of marriage allows us all to make bonds with others and such bonds can be used to create ties between families which may in some cases bring peace. However, in order to marry the two individuals must freely consent to the union, not only this but both of you should be free to marry and to me it sounds as though you have entered into a bond with the Church through your meeting with the Abbess which would make any marriage you then entered into null and void.
The Church makes a very good vocation for those women that do not wish to marry, but do not take entering into the life of a nun lightly, it is a vocation for life.
May god keep you,
I need your advice. My wife and I have tried for several years to have a son, however we seemed to have been cursed to only have daughters. I need sons to pass my property to when I die. I wish to apply for an annulment from the Church court but my aunt has advised me against it and I would very much like your opinion.
Is the lack of a son the only reason that you wish to nullify your sacred bond with your wife? Instead of warning you against such an action I will remind you of the story of Louis VII and Elanor of Aquitaine. Louis found grounds to annul his marriage after 15 years as he wished to gain a son but Eleanor went on to marry Henry II of England and the couple had 8 children, 5 of which were sons. Perhaps before looking to seek a loophole within your marriage you should consider this.
The Medieval Podcast- Medieval Marriage with Ruth Mazo Karras
History Extra Podcast- Medieval Love and Marriage with Sally Dixon-Smith
Eileen Edna Power- The Project Gutenberg EBook of Medieval English Nunneries c. 1275 to 1535: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/39537/39537-h/39537-h.htm#Page_25