Home Page

Stefan's Florilegium


This document is also available in: text or RTF formats.

Scot-marriage-msg - 10/20/99


Scottish marriage and handfasting.


NOTE: See also the files: p-marriage-msg, Ger-marriage-msg, weddings-msg,  bastards-msg, p-customs-msg, burials-msg, p-weddings-bib, wed-FAQ.





This file is a collection of various messages having a common theme that I  have collected from my reading of the various computer networks. Some messages date back to 1989, some may be as recent as yesterday.


This file is part of a collection of files called Stefan's Florilegium. These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


I  have done  a limited amount  of  editing. Messages having to do  with separate topics  were sometimes split into different files and sometimes extraneous information was removed. For instance, the  message IDs  were removed to save space and remove clutter.


The comments made in these messages are not necessarily my viewpoints. I make  no claims  as  to the accuracy  of  the information  given by the individual authors.


Please  respect the time  and  efforts of  those who have written  these messages. The  copyright status  of these messages  is  unclear at this time. If  information  is  published  from  these  messages, please give credit to the originator(s).


Thank you,

    Mark S. Harris                  AKA:  THLord Stefan li Rous

                                          Stefan at florilegium.org



[Submitted by Brother Cleireac of Inisliath (Hank Harwell <cleireac at juno.com>)]

From: Aidan Carey <ecelt at yahoo.com>

To: PerRel p <perrel at egroups.com>

Date: Wed, 14 Jul 1999 14:37:06 -0700 (PDT)

Subject: [PerRel] Fwd: [celt] Handfasting


>From the Celtic Christianity mailing list.  --Aidan


--- Bryan Maloney <bjm10 at cornell.edu> wrote:

> Date: Tue, 13 Jul 1999 17:39:58 -0400

> To: celt at chersonese.com

> From: Bryan Maloney <bjm10 at cornell.edu>

> Subject: [celt] Handfasting


> Since this question has come up on this list, I present what I've been able

> to glean on the subject.  The following is from Sharon Krossa

> (krossa at alumnae.mtholyoke.edu), who did her PhD Dissertation on Scottish

> marriage customs, history, and law:


> As long ago as 1958 Anton wrote a very thorough article [Anton, AE

> (1958) Handfasting in Scotland. _The Scottish Historical

> Review_ XXXVII.124: 89-102] that carefully examined the origins of

> the myth of "Celtic trial marriage" and clearly demonstrated that

> it derived from modern misunderstanding of historical

> Scottish betrothal and marriage.


> The term "handfasting" comes from the medieval Scottish (and English)

> tradition of joining the hands of the couple as part of the public

> betrothal proceedings.  It is a *late medieval* term (and so what I

> explain below is true for late medieval Scotland.) In Scotland it was

> *not* a kind of marriage, either permanent or temporary. (I emphasise

> this because many people, including myself until I started researching

> the subject, are under the misconception that it was some kind of

> trial/temporary marriage.)  The real medieval practice was that

> handfasting was a synonym for *betrothal*, that is, for getting engaged

> to be married. IT WAS NOT MARRIAGE!  Not _historically_. If modernly the

> term is also used to mean a form of marriage, it is completely unrelated

> to the historical practice.  Anton [in Anton, AE (1958) Handfasting in

> Scotland. _The Scottish Historical Review_ XXXVII.124: 89-102] gives

> some nice primary-source details on the form of marriage ceremonies, and

> references to procedures used. It seems that the major difference

> between a handfasting/betrothal and a marriage ceremony is that, at the

> betrothal, the couple promises to get married in the future while, in

> the marriage ceremony, they consent to marriage in words of the present

> (and thus, well, actually get married). The forms as quoted in Anton are

> remarkably similar, with really only a change in the tense of the

> couple's promises.  Who says words aren't powerful? Make a slip of the

> tongue, and a couple could end up married instead of just betrothed!

> Here is the lowdown on the *historical* practice of handfasting:


> If, in medieval Scotland, a couple consented to marriage in the present

> tense, then they were *married* -- they were not handfasted, they were

> *married*. It did not matter if there were any witnesses or not.

> Witnesses only made it easier to prove. It did not matter if a priest

> was present, or not. It did not matter if the marriage was blessed, or a

> mass followed, or not. It did not even matter if the marriage was

> consumated, or not. (This was true in Scotland until 1940.)


> If, in medieval Scotland, a couple formally became betrothed, that is,

> promised to marry each other sometime in the *future*, with witnesses,

> marriage contract, and ceremony, then they were handfasted, that is,

> they were *engaged* to be married.  They were *not* married.


> -----begin quote-----

> A Scottish protocol narrates that on 24 July 1556, the Vicar of Aberdour

> 'ministrat and execut the office anent the handfasting betwix Robert

> Lawder younger of the Bass and Jane Hepburn docter to Patrick Errl

> Botwell in thir vordis following: "I Robert Lawder take thow Jane

> Hepburne to my spousit wyf as the law of the Haly Kirk schawis

> andthereto I plycht thow my trewht and syklyk I the said Jane Hepburne

> takis you Robert Lawder to my spousit husband as the law of the Haly

> Kirk schaws and therto I plycht to thow my trewth," and execut the

> residew of the said maner of handfasting conforme to the consuetud usit

> and wont in syk casis.' What this 'consuetude' was may be gathered from

> a protocol on the sponsalia of David Boswell of Auchinleck and Janet

> Hamilton, daughter of the Earl of Arran. After the consents had been

> exchanged 'the curate with the consent of both parties with their hands

> joined betrothed the said David and Janet who took oath as is the custom

> of the Church'

> -----end quote-----


> Note that a "protocol" here refers to a protocol book of a notary public

> -- that is, the book that a notary public used to keep a record of all

> the documents he wrote up. Also, in the quotes above "spousit" means

> "bretrothed" (see the Concise Scots Dictionary s.v. "spouse").


> If, in medieval Scotland, a couple had sex after a promise of future

> marriage, whether this promise was made publically at a formal

> handfasting/betrothal ceremony or was made privately with no witnesses

> at all, then the couple was *married*, not handfasted, but *married* --

> _permanently_ married. This is because the act of sex after such a

> promise of future marriage was considered to amount to present consent

> to marriage. And all it took to get married was for the couple to

> consent to it in the present tense. (This was also true in Scotland

> until 1940.)


> If, in medieval Scotland, a couple were married, they were married for

> *life*. There was no such thing as trial marriage. There was no such

> thing as marriage for a year and a day. There was either being married,

> or not being married. Once they did the being married bit, they stayed

> married till the day one of them died. The only way out was to prove

> that they were never legally married in the first place. That means, one

> or both of them were either too young, too closely related to each

> other, impotent at the time of their marriage, or already married to

> someone else at the time of their marriage. Even if they were too young,

> if they didn't stop living together as man and wife the day they became

> of age (12 for women, 14 for men), then they were considered legally

> married from then on (amounts to present consent, again). It is not

> until the Reformation (which occured in Scotland in 1560) that divorce

> and remarriage became a possibility.


> I'll also note that there isn't any evidence for a "year and a day"

> aspect of betrothal/handfasting in the period evidence. (Note also that

> in period, "a year and a day" from 11 July 1528 would be 11 July 1529 --

> they didn't count by 24 hour periods, but by, umm, days -- can't think

> what else to call it -- whole or partial between one date and the other,

> including the start date and end date.) The "year and a day" aspect of

> the _modern_ handfasting myth appears to come from a misunderstanding of

> Scottish property and inheritance law. In late period Scottish

> inheritance law, a widow or widower had the right to a part of their

> late spouse's real property (until they too died -- after which it would

> revert to their spouse's heirs). However, if the couple had not been

> married for a year and a day (that is, in modern terms, a year) when one

> of them died, the surviving spouse did *not* get a share of their late

> spouse's real property. The exception to this was if a child had been

> born to the couple before one of them died, in which case the widow or

> widower *did* get a share.


> You will note that this has nothing to do with betrothal/handfasting,

> and the only parting of the married couple involves one of them dying.

> But this appears to be the source of the "year and a day" aspect of the

> modern misunderstanding of historical handfasting.


> I'll also point out for your amusement that *in period* if a

> betrothed/handfasted couple had sex, they automatically became *married*

> -- permanently married. Something to entertain yourselves with between

> your handfasting and wedding. ;-) [Mind you, the church didn't like

> marriages made in this way, although they recoginized them as legal. The

> church liked to have such couples go through the religious service as

> well, even though they were already legally man and wife. This didn't

> make them any more married, but it did bring them into obediance to the

> church.]


> All of the above is, of course, in a Christian context, because Scotland

> was a Christian kingdom in the Middle Ages. The above forms of marriage

> were recognized by the medieval Christian church. As far as I am aware,

> there is no information whatsoever about marriage practices in Scotland

> prior to its Christianization.  If someone has some primary source

> information about pre-Christian Scottish marriage practices, I'd love to

> know. But note that I'm looking for primary source information -- not

> some secondary source, be it a web page or book, that makes

> unsubstantiated claims based on some other web page or book making

> unsubstantiated claims. (A secondary source that refers to the primary

> sources would, of course, be welcome.)


> PS Scotland was not the only place to practice handfasting. England

> (note that's England, not any "Celtic" culture) also had handfasting. It

> may be that in England that the term handfasting was also used to refer

> to permanent Christian marriage as well as betrothal, but so far I

> haven't found anything that clearly indicates this. Note that the

> marriage law in late medieval England was essentially the same as that

> in Scotland -- all of Roman Catholic Europe had more or less the same

> marriage law because marriage came under the jurisdiction of canon

> rather than civil law.



From: Laura C Minnick <lainie at gladstone.uoregon.edu>

To: PerRel p <perrel at egroups.com>

Date: Wed, 14 Jul 1999 16:01:13 -0700 (PDT)

Subject: [PerRel] Re: Fwd: [celt] Handfasting




        Thank you for posting that- it was quite good. The basic distinctions

are between the tense of the words spoken. Future tense= betrothal.

Present tense= marriage. Future tense+sex= marriage. It's pretty simple.

The canons are pretty clear. Nice stuff.


Father Abelard


Laura C. Minnick


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org