Marriage, but make it Scottish!

Eloise MadiganSource

Hello my wonderful readers,

Since the dawn of humanity, people would choose a partner to spend the rest of their lives with. While the concept of marriage didn’t always exist, there was always something similar. After humans decided to start making it official, marriage, as a ceremony, has changed over and over again. 

But what was it like in Medieval Scotland? Well, let’s find out!

The medieval period spanned from the 5th to the 15th century. In the Middle Ages, marriage was a sacrament and the key element in validity was consent. A very good example of how ‘sacred’ (sarcasm here) the concept of marriage was at that time is the marriage of Malcolm, King of Scotland around 1000AD to the Saxon Princess Margaret of Wessex. Malcolm, of course, was already married to another woman, Ingebiorg, who bore him three sons. But if Malcolm was married to her, how and why did he marry Margaret of Wessex?

Well, some say that his first wife died (…by poison…). But, to be honest, that doesn’t matter. In the 11th century, women could be ‘put aside’ from a marriage at the slightest displeasure. The dissolution of marriage was so lax at the time, the church was not needed to bless and validate the new union!

19th-century painting of a “penny wedding”, one at which the guests contributed money to pay for the cost of the ceremony and to benefit the couple.. Image source.

If that happened during the late medieval era, they could have married by merely affirming their intent to wed. Witnesses were not needed either. Living together was also confirmation of marriage. How weird is that? Two people simply said “we are married now” and everyone accepted it, hahah!

As for a ring…they definitely had one. The use of rings has existed ever since the early medieval ages. The handfasting that was so popular actually represented the betrothal of the couple, not the actual marriage itself. 

The age of the people getting married depended on the societal class they represented. Low-class women married in their twenties, so as to acquire the necessary resources for a marriage – meaning, they had already worked hard and acquired dowry and material things needed to establish a home and family. 

For high-born women though, things weren’t quite as lax. Girls as young as 12 years old and boys as young as 14 years old were thrown into wedlock according to the whims of their parents. Also, a father could have his daughter betrothed to a man from the moment she was born, since aristocrats desired the dowry and wealth that came with a high-born lady. Even if she was but a newborn babe. 

Medieval lovers. Image source.

Scottish women enjoyed better treatment as opposed to their English counterparts. They could retain their surname if they needed, and could ask for an annulment, if the marriage was inconvenient, either politically or economically, for either party. However, there wasn’t exactly what we call today a ‘divorce’. You were legally married until one of you died, or as in the case of Malcolm and Ingebiorg, one of you was ‘put away’ (usually, it was the woman). 

The grounds for annulment could be that either one was too young when they got married, too closely related to each other, the man was impontent, or one of the people involved was insane. 

Divorces became a thing after 1560, meaning after the Reformation in Scotland. 

I certainly wouldn’t want to get married at 12! How awful is that? 

Let me know your thoughts in the comments! 🙂

Until next time…

Written by Eloise Madigan


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