Scot-marriage-msg - 10/20/99
Scottish marriage and handfasting.
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.
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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
> 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.
Laura C. Minnick