Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Tudor Marriage: Scandal - Owen Tudor and Catherine Valois


Few couples broke through as many barriers and changed the course of history more than Owen Tudor and Catherine Valois. They were unequally matched, married for love, and broke the law with their union. Because they dared to do so, England boasts the history of the Tudor dynasty.

Details of the marriage of Owen Tudor and Catherine Valois are lost to history. However, since there was no attempt made to declare their children illegitimate, we can quite safely assume that it took place sometime before their first child was born in 1430. This was long before the time prescribed by the king’s council for Catherine to consider another match. They had ordered the dowager queen to wait until King Henry VI, Catherine’s son, was old enough to approve any marriage that she might make. Since he was less than a year old when his illustrious father, Henry V, died, the council intended that Catherine have a rather long wait.

She had been a widow for approximately six years when she decided that she had waited long enough. The council had already thwarted her efforts to make a match with Edmund Beaufort, so Catherine was more clandestine in her plans with Owen. The king was only six years old, potentially a decade away from being deemed of age and able to approve his mother’s marriage, so Catherine took charge of her own future.

Marriage of Henry V and Catherine Valois
Owen’s ancestors, once a prosperous and prominent family in Wales, had been ruined due to their role in Welsh rebellions against King Henry IV, placing him far below his bride in both social and economic standing. No negotiations or betrothal are known to have taken place between Owen and Catherine or any representatives for them, and they certainly did not have anyone’s approval. They did what few others of Catherine’s station dared, they married for love.

While Catherine may have been encouraged by the fact that Owen was of low enough status to not pose a threat to her son or his council, evidence indicates that she married him primarily because of mutual attraction. The couple quickly produced four children and several disapproving accounts note Catherine’s lust for her handsome new husband. In fact, rumors of how their relationship began include stories of her discovering him naked as he bathed and another that he caught her eye by falling into her lap when dancing.

Women of this era were expected to be pillars of virtue, and no one more so than the queen. Therefore, the fact that Catherine had failed to control her urges in her defiance of the law brought down the wrath of the council upon her. If she thought Owen’s lowly status would protect him, she had lost that gamble. Worse, they thought even less of him because he was Welsh.

Not quite sure how to proceed against the mother of the king, the council bided their time until Catherine died on January 3, 1437. Did Owen ever regret that he had married the beautiful French princess as he sat in his cell at Newgate? He would have had no inkling that one of he and Catherine’s sons would become the father of a king of England.

The line of succession would not typically go through a queen consort, and even Owen’s oldest son’s marriage to Margaret Beaufort did not place them in line for the throne. Margaret, after all, was from a bloodline that had been legitimized but not included in the succession. Were it not for the Wars of the Roses, which so thoroughly pruned the branches of England’s royal families, the sprig of the Tudors would likely never have flourished.


Don't miss the rest of the Tudor Marriage Blog Series!

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Additional Reading:

De Lisle, Leanda. Tudor: Passion. Manipulation. Murder. The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family. New York: PublicAffairs, 2013.

Penn, Thomas. Winter King: Henry VII and the Dawn of Tudor England. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2011.

Bacon, Francis. The History of the Reign of King Henry VII. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1850.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Tudor Marriage: Barriers



The need for so much planning and negotiation in making a marriage in Tudor England was due to the greater barriers to marriage that existed during that time. Modern couples come to marriage for no more profound reason than because they have decided that they love each other. They need not obtain any approval or negotiate any contract; they simply do as they please. The Tudor couple had a more difficult journey ahead of them.

Not only was the wherewithal to survive of paramount importance, but couples usually were made up of two people from families of relatively similar means. If one of them did not bring their fair share to the union, it was expected that they have something else to offer that was desired by their potential spouse. For example, a daughter of a poor but titled family may make a good match with a rich merchant.

The Money Changer and His Wife by Matsys
As long as the couple could come together and, between the two of them, make a good life together, this issue could be overcome. What you would not often see is two people of little means getting married. Not only would their union be doomed to poverty and hunger, but they could likely not afford the church wedding.

Poor people were much more likely to live as man and wife without an official wedding. Because of the cost of the ceremony, many were content to make their promises to one another and live as handfasted spouses. While this was technically frowned upon by the church, it was a common enough of an occurrence when money was a problem. Since the church also recognized consummated betrothals as marriages, the handfasted couples could legitimately consider themselves married.

Of course, those with enough money could use it to maneuver around many of the remaining barriers that might be blocking the way to their desired match.

One did not often find a titled man marrying a woman of a common family. That was one of the factors that made Edward IV’s choice of Elizabeth Woodville so scandalous. Of course, the fact that he kept the marriage a secret while the Earl of Warwick negotiated a match with a French princess was another good reason. While kings could more often do what they choose, others were constrained by the expectation that they marry someone of a similar status.

It was not that there were any particular laws or rules restricting this, but a marriage was meant to be a match between equals. Each person was expected to bring their fair share into the union. This was scarcely possible if a laundress was to marry an earl.

Marrying one of equal status ensured a steady household and quality bloodline. However, a few lovers were willing to accept the lower status of their spouse in return for more intangible benefits. One such was a princess of France and queen of England, Catherine Valois, who married a servant of her household after King Henry V died.

On the other hand, if both parties were of particularly high status, their match had potential to gain unwanted royal attention. Catherine Grey, daughter of the Duchess of Suffolk, and Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford, learned that the hard way during Elizabeth I’s reign. Equal status was just fine, as long as your status did not rival that of the queen.

Consanguinity is a challenging word that few people today can pronounce, let alone define. However, it was a solid barrier to marriage in Tudor times. Rules regarding consanguinity were designed to prevent people from marrying someone with whom they shared too close of a mutual ancestor. Although the risks of genetic defects caused by these relationships was at that time unknown, the church did not allow marriages between kin of certain degrees for Biblical reasons.

Degree of kinship depends upon common ancestry. For example, parents and siblings are within the first degree of consanguinity. First cousins are third degree. Modern canon law disallows marriages within any direct line of kinship and within the fourth degree for collateral lines, which are the branches of a family tree extended by siblings. This is ecclesiastical law, as opposed to divine law, which indicates that it can be altered. In the sixteenth century, breaking these rules left your marriage open to invalidation. If you are wondering why these types of regulations were a challenge, remember those tight-knit villages that people did not travel far beyond.

Not that the concept of consanguinity was solely a problem for common folk. It was actually rather common for the higher echelons of society to require papal dispensation to get around a consanguinity barrier. As families arranged marriages between cousins in order to retain titles and estates within a select circle, consanguinity could easily become a problem. Like many problems, it was more easily solved if one had the money to equip an envoy to visit the Pope and acquire the required dispensation.

Rules and accepted practices regarding consanguinity have changed throughout history. In some times and cultures, it has been acceptable to marry relatives as close as one’s sibling. Today, it is frowned upon to consider even distant cousins. This is more due to social stigma than genetic risk. Risks of genetic problems in children born to first cousins is approximately 1-4% higher than the general population due to shared genes. In Tudor times, people often were married to cousins, even first cousins, but it was important to receive papal approval first.

If a marriage took place within the boundaries of disallowed consanguinity, that bond could more easily be disavowed at a later date. This was this tactic selected by Henry VIII when he decided to set aside his wife of two decades, Katherine of Aragon. Pointing to the fact that she had first been married to his brother, he claimed that God did not bless their marriage due to this previous relationship. He ignored the fact that they had obtained the required papal dispensation allowing their marriage once it became inconvenient to him. King Henry was far from the only man to take advantage of the barriers created by consanguinity to rid himself of a wife he had decided he no longer desired.

Queen Elizabeth I of England, 1592
The need for royal approval was a barrier that common people in Tudor times need not concern themselves with. This was an extra step required of those with royal blood. It was a touchy topic under the Tudor regime to create a union that may be perceived as being more deserving of the crown than the one who wore it. Therefore, matches between the upper strata of noble men and women required the approval of their monarch.

Tudor kings and queens were not always eager to provide their blessing to a marriage that could be seen as a threat. Henry VII, the first Tudor king, set the example of marrying members of the York remnant to those he could trust. Katherine Woodville was married to Henry’s most trusted advisor and uncle, Jasper Tudor. Margaret Plantagenet, the daughter of George of Clarence, was paired with Sir Richard Pole, a man her father would never have considered for her but who was fervently loyal and distantly related to Henry Tudor.

Because these monarchs were so sensitive to which family trees became connected, some decided to marry without their approval. Invoking the age old adage that it is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, couples would elope and hope for mercy. Some received it, such as Charles Brandon and Mary Tudor, who scandalously wed after Princess Mary’s first husband, the king of France, had died. Others did not. When Cecily of York married a squire after the death of her second husband, Henry VII took hold of her estates and left the former York princess destitute.

The tradition begun by the first Henry Tudor continued under his successors. Henry VIII was initially confident and unthreatened by his extended family making their matches and growing their families. That is, until he had been married for twenty years and had no son to show for it. Yet it was his daughter, Elizabeth, who would show the greatest anger toward those who married without her approval.

Choosing never to marry herself, Elizabeth I was stingy with her approval for those closely enough related to her to require it. She was bothered not one bit by breaking up couples who had pledged their love to one another and insisting that they marry elsewhere. Given her cruel reluctance to approve marriages, there are several examples of those who chose to be married in secret. Unfortunately, with Elizabeth, it was not advisable to need to ask for forgiveness either.

Both of the sisters of Lady Jane Grey bore their queen’s wrath for this form of disobedience. Their marriages were broken up and the participants imprisoned. Neither cousin of the queen was allowed to live with their husbands or raise families that might threaten Elizabeth’s hold on her kingdom. While not required for most marriages, those who attempted to thwart the royal approval they needed often faced harsh penalties.

A precontract or betrothal agreement was necessary for a marriage to take place, but it could also become a barrier if one was attempting to make a match after turning down a previous offer. If a betrothal had taken place, especially if the union had been consummated, the consequences to a subsequent marriage could be severe.

A preexisting betrothal is just one of the arguments used by the frequently remarried Henry VIII. The precontract could dash the hopes of a couple or help an eager partner hold on to one who may have become disenchanted. Tudor betrothals were not as simply broken as our modern day engagements.

A consummated union was difficult to dissolve. Anyone who has heard about Katherine of Aragon’s unceasing insistence that her marriage to Arthur Tudor was never consummated cannot doubt the importance of this act. A marriage that had not been consummated was often considered not to be a marriage at all. Therefore, though Katherine and Henry had a papal dispensation absolving them from any sin of consanguinity, Katherine insisted that her first marriage had never been validated to create the familial link.

Henry later used this argument to successfully obtain an annulment from his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves. She wisely went along with his wishes and agreed to the dissolution of her marriage, admitting that it had never been consummated.

In short, precontract and consummation, especially if it occurred before the wedding vows, were the ideal way to solidify a desired union, but they could create a solid barrier to one who was attempting to make another match.


Don't miss the rest of the Tudor Marriage Blog Series!

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Additional Reading:

Ingram, Martin. Church Courts, Sex and Marriage in England. 1570-1640. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

O'Hara, Diana.  Courtship and Constraint: Rethinking the Making of Marriage in Tudor England. Manchester and New York: St Martin’s Press, 2000.  

Cressy, David. Birth, Marriage, and Death: Ritual, Religion, and the Life-Cycle in Tudor and Stuart England. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Swinburne, Henry. Treatise of Spousals or Matrimonial Contracts. London: 1686.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Cleopatra Reimagined

If you follow my blog, you probably know that I tend to have a soft spot for those remembered less than kindly by history. Helen Davis is my kindred spirit in this, and she is my guest today with a post on Cleopatra. Helen wanted Cleopatra to have her 'happily ever after ending' to such an extent that she wrote one for her. Welcome, Helen!

~ Samantha

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Guest Post by Helen Davis

Cleopatra is, like Queen Mary Tudor and Anne Boleyn, one of history's most maligned women. She is seen as a woman who ruined two great Roman men, Julius Caesar and Marc Antony, and whose suicide was the only redeeming act in an otherwise worthless life spent daring to oppose Rome and keep Egypt independent.

Queen Mary I has suffered from Elizabethan propaganda, but Elizabeth was almost angelic in her treatment of her sister as opposed to Augustus Caesar's maligning of Egypt's last ruler. This was a queen who spoke nine languages, wrote tomes on science and perfumery that have sadly been lost, and took the throne of Egypt at 18 and held it for 2 decades.

Cleopatra has come down to us as the most famous member of her dynasty, the Ptolemies. But the Ptolemies were not a native dynasty, but rather, began ruling Egypt in the late 4th century B.C. Alexander the Great, when he died, had to have his empire split up among four generals. Ptolemy, a Macedonian Greek, took Egypt and they would become the last dynasty of Egypt before its annexation in 30 B.C. by Augustus Caesar. Our Cleopatra was actually Cleopatra VII of a long dynasty of Cleopatras. Many of her predecessors who likely served as examples to her, were all illustrious, ambitious women, each with stories as interesting as hers, but have been eclipsed by their more illustrious descendant.

Cleopatra was born in 69 B.C. For all her fame, we don't know the identity of her mother. There is speculation this woman was Queen Cleopatra V, a sister of Cleopatra's father, or an unnamed concubine. For my novel, I chose Cleopatra V, but this is still not known. We do know Cleopatra VII grew up in Alexandria, a great city founded in 324 B.C. by Ptolemy I, the progenitor of her dynasty. She grew up in a world that was simultaneously luxurious and hostile. As a princess, she had all she could dream of- servants, fine clothes, and jewelry. But she also grew up in an atmosphere of palace politics in which her siblings and her—she had three sisters and two brothers--tried to outshine each other in a race to win the throne. Although Cleopatra's father, Ptolemy XII, was the ruler of Egypt, he was despised by his people and many in his family. Cleopatra is alleged to have been his favorite child. In a patriarchal era, Auletes declared Cleopatra his successor even though he had two sons, later her co-rulers. Quite a contrast to the infamous Henry VIII.

If you are a fan of the Tudors and enjoy reading about the intrigue growing up between Edward VI, Elizabeth I and Mary I, then the story of Cleopatra's childhood and siblings will intrigue you too. Cleopatra's three sisters were Cleopatra VI (yes, there were two Cleopatras in her family), who briefly ruled Egypt from 58 to 57 B.C. after her father, Auletes went into exile, Berenice IV, who likely killed Cleopatra VI and ruled from 57 to 55 B.C. upon her father's return, and Arsinoƫ IV, who later rivaled Cleopatra as queen of Egypt during the first decade of her reign. Cleopatra's brothers were Ptolemy XIII and Ptolemy XIV, with whom she would share brief co-reigns.

Ptolemy XII died in 51 B.C., leaving behind an enormous debt to his successor and daughter, Cleopatra VII. Per Egyptian custom, Cleopatra married her brother, Ptolemy XIII, and the two ruled Egypt until 48 B.C., when Cleopatra was expelled from Alexandria by her brother, who was jealous of her popularity. She fled to modern day Jordan, where she snuck back into Alexandria and met Julius Caesar, who had come to Egypt fleeing his rival and former friend, Pompey the Great, who sought shelter among the Ptolemies, who owed him great debt. Legend maintains Cleopatra had been smuggled into a rug and delivered personally to Caesar, and she and Caesar became lovers that very night.

Caesar restored Cleopatra to her throne after a long battle with her sister and brother and took quite some time with her, even following her on a voyage down the Nile, where the two were married . When he returned to Rome, Cleopatra was pregnant with their son. Cleopatra was summoned to Rome the following year, where she and Caesar hoped to hatch a joint Egypto-Roman empire. Cleopatra had an enormous positive influence on Caesar, and the Julian calendar, which is still somewhat in use today, is alleged to have been Cleopatra's idea.

Sadly, this dream was not to be fulfilled. Caesar was killed on the Ides of March in 44 B.C., and Cleopatra returned to Egypt. If you have seen any movies about Cleopatra, you may know of the Battle of Actium, which spelled the end of her life and Egypt, and in many movies, it seems to go from Caesar's death to Actium. However, this is not the case. There was a 13 year period in between these two events in which Cleopatra continued to rule Egypt and expand her ambitions and empire. It must be remembered that she almost won during this time, and I have taken advantage of many of the situations in which Cleopatra and her second husband, Marc Antony, could have won in this 13 year gap.

Cleopatra's second husband was Marc Antony, a Roman general. He has suffered from a propaganda campaign almost as bad as his beloved wife. The truth is, Antony, though flawed, was a close friend of Julius Caesar, an intelligent and capable general, and a man who loved Rome just as much as his opponent. Antony and Cleopatra met in 40 B.C. in Tarsus, near Turkey, and fell in love.Cleopatra became pregnant with his twins, but the two were not to meet again until 37 B.C. This is an example where I decided to make some changes to make Antony and Cleopatra's victory possible. In the true history, Antony abandoned Cleopatra and returned to Rome and married Augustus's sister, Octavia. However, in my alternate timeline, I have had Antony and Cleopatra remain together after meeting in Tarsus and return to Rome together, and have also eliminated the marriage to Octavia.

In any case, Cleopatra's twins were born sometime between 40 and 39 B.C. She bore a girl and a boy. The girl would become Cleopatra Selene, the only child of Cleopatra's to go on to have descendants and continue the Ptolemy line, and the son, Alexander Helios, who was likely killed in Rome by Augustus sometime between 25 and 24 B.C.

In 37 B.C., Antony reunited with Cleopatra. By now, her son by Julius Caesar was ten years old and considered to be Cleopatra's co-ruler. Cleopatra and Antony met and did marry by Egyptian rites, under the understanding that it was Caesarion, not Antony, who would be Cleopatra's Egyptian co-ruler. For the next five years, until Octavian declared war on the couple, it appeared as if Antony and Cleopatra would and could win. Antony's campaign against Parthia (modern day Iran and Iraq), however, hurt his reputation. In 34 B.C., Cleopatra and Antony acquired vast amounts of lands for their three children as well as Caesarion (Cleopatra had borne a son, Ptolemy Philadelphos, in 36. B.C). This was known as the Donations of Alexandria, and all of their children were given kingdoms outside of Egypt and Rome to rule. The civil war known as Actium began in 32. B.C and ended in 31 B.C. with the defeat of Antony and Cleopatra. The lovers are alleged to have committed suicide the following year.

Fans of Queen Mary I will understand that she was blackened by Elizabeth I and later Protestant rulers of England. Cleopatra suffered a similar fate. Since Augustus won, he controlled the narrative. The brave, intellectual queen became a succubus and sorceress who had brought Antony and Caesar to ruin. Antony, the brave general, became known as a weak and emasculated man. Caesar’s reputation remained intact, as Augustus was his nephew, but he did downplay much of the significance of the queen’s role in Caesar’s life.

However, it must be remembered Cleopatra's supporters, and those of Antony, did not see them this way. Cleopatra was seen by many Egyptians as their greatest queen, and the priests of Egypt begged Augustus not to destroy her statues. Antony was seen as the 'new Dionysus' by his followers. Ironically, in spite of Augustus, many of Antony and Cleopatra's ideas triumphed in the end- such as that of divine monarchy, and Antony, not Augustus, was the ancestor of many prominent Roman emperors. Cleopatra's children were all brought up in Augustus's household, except for Caesarion, who was killed. But only her daughter survived, as her sons disappear from the record, likely having been killed.

But what if Cleopatra had won? This is my question, and my question to you is to be careful what you read, and hear, and see. Propaganda is no stranger to our world. My Cleopatra Re-Imagined Series the world if Cleopatra and Antony had won. Many things Roman still exist, but so do many things Egyptian. In some ways, the world I have imagined is better. In other ways, it could have been worse. But what can we learn about who we are now by imagining what we might have become?

Another intriguing question is what Christianity may have looked like had it been born in an Egypto-Roman, rather than purely Roman, culture. Later novels in my series will move the center of Christianity from Rome to Alexandria.


Available now are CLEOPATRA UNCONQUERED and CLEOPATRA VICTORIOUS, the first two novels. I am currently writing the third novel, CLEOPATRA'S GRANDDAUGHTER, which will explore the fictional life of Cleopatra IX and her cooperation with Rome and interactions with Jesus. The fourth and fifth novels, CLEOPATRA MAGNIFICA and CLEOPATRA TRIUMPHANT will explore the life of a fictional great-granddaughter, Cleopatra X, and the rise of a tyrant in Rome and this Cleopatra's defiance of him along with the rise of the early church in an alternate timeline.

CLEOPATRA UNCONQUERED is available through Amazon, and CLEOPATRA VICTORIOUS is available through Savant Books.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Tudor Marriage: Ceremony



A Tudor public church wedding ceremony began with the reading of the banns. Think of this as that movie moment when the priest asks if anyone knows of any reason why this couple should not be wed. The reading of banns was the moment to speak up if there was an objection or impediment to the couple’s marriage, such as a precontract with another, consanguinity, or vows to the church. Hopefully, this portion of the ceremony went off without a hitch or the rest of it would not take place.

Once the presiding clergy was satisfied that there was no barrier to the marriage, the bride was presented by her father or other male relative. In front of friends, family, and God, she would join hands with her soon to be husband. This “handfasting” was a remnant of medieval times when a ceremony outside of the church could create a handfasted marriage that was considered inferior to a church marriage.

Westminster Abby - author's photo
As we do today, the Tudor couple exchanged marriage vows. Portions of those vows were strikingly similar to our own. It was during the reign of young Tudor king Edward VI that vows were updated from a promise to be “bonny and buxom in bed and at the board” to “love, cherish and obey.” Edward’s reformation of the Church of England also added the phrases, “for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health till death do us part.” When Queen Mary I married Philip of Spain, she pledged to be obedient, “as much in mind as in body” though she was queen regnant of England.

The exchanging of rings came next. As the reformation surged in waves through Tudor England, this portion of the ceremony varied between the Catholic tradition and a simpler Protestant ritual. Early in the Tudor age, a man would place the ring first upon his wife’s thumb and move it to consecutive fingers until it rested on the middle finger while reciting, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Those who were married according to King Edward VI’s reforms would have simply placed the ring on the index finger and said, “With this ring, I thee wed.”

At this point in the ceremony, dowries and gifts were pledged to one another. Queen Mary I pledged, “This gold and silver I thee give. With my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow.” Hers was a generous gift compared to her husband, Philip, who pledged his own “moveable goods.”

All that had taken place thus far would happen just outside the church or at the church door before the couple approached the altar for the nuptial mass. A veil would then be spread over the couple, who would kneel or prostrate themselves before the altar. By the end of the Tudor age, with the Reformation firmly entrenched, the veiling was omitted from the ceremony and many weddings took place inside churches as the tradition of beginning outside was abandoned.

Philip and Mary I of England
Finally, the officiant would bless the couple, and, in the case of royal marriages, declare their new titles. At the wedding of England’s first queen regnant, the king of arms introduced them as, “Philip and Mary by the grace of God King and Queen of England, France, Naples, Jerusalem, and Ireland; Defenders of the Faith; Princes of Spain and Sicily; Archdukes of Austria; Dukes of Milan, Burgundy, and Brabant; Counts of Habsburg, Flanders and Tyrol.” Thankfully, not all Tudor couples were such a challenge to announce.

The Tudor wedding was not so different than we experience today. It was the process of choosing a spouse that is at odds with our modern sensibilities. The constraints around Tudor couples caused them to have different expectations and desires for marriage than we have today. At least, most of them did. A few Tudor couples scandalously broke through the barriers around marriage in their day, some with happier results than others.

Catch up on the entire Tudor Marriage Blog Series!

~~~~~~~~~~~~


Additional Reading:
Cummings, Brian (ed). The Book of Common Prayer: The Texts of 1549, 1559, and 1662. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Swinburne, Henry. Treatise of Spousals or Matrimonial Contracts. London: 1686.

Nichols, J.G. (ed) The Chronicle of Queen Jane and Two Years of Queen Mary, and Especially of the Rebellion of Sir Thomas Wyat. London: Camden Society 1st series, 53, 1850.

Whitelock, Anna. Mary Tudor: Princess, Bastard, Queen. New York: Random House, 2009.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Tudor Marriage: Courtship



Those living in Tudor times would scarcely recognize our image of courtship, love, and marriage. Where the modern mind is concerned with inflamed passion above all else, the primary concern in a Tudor marriage was the wherewithal to support a family. Instead of searching for a partner whom one finds attractive and entertaining, the Tudor mind was trained with different expectations. They did not feel constrained necessarily, as we might imagine, but they had reasons for marrying that went beyond our dream of true love.

Call to Arms by Leighton
How this was managed could vary depending upon one’s station in life. Whether one was of common, noble, or royal blood had great impact on what one could expect from marriage. It is interesting to consider that a royal marriage often offered less opportunity for romance than any other with princes and princesses becoming betrothed to worthy suitors whom they had never laid eyes on. That being said, a noble or royal person at least had the means to marry for love if the opportunity arose, while common people would be forced to consider the financial aspect of any relationship. As unromantic as this sounds, it led to a greater proportion of stable marriages than we see in our modern society.

Factors such as geography and distance took on much greater importance than they do today. We might bemoan the difficulties of a long distance relationship, but they were almost unheard of in Tudor times. One would rarely even know people who lived more than a day’s travel from their own village, let alone consider marrying into a family so distant from one’s own. The village atmosphere, where everyone not only knows each other but is related in some way, was quite common.

Regardless of social standing or status, a relationship began with some form of courtship with the hopes of that evolving into a betrothal, which would lead to marriage. These stages could vary depending upon the challenges encountered by any particular couple. The Tudor romance faced greater barriers than those of more modern times. Besides money, the couple had to be concerned with issues such as consanguinity, obtaining royal approval, and having their union recognized by the church.

Tudor courtship often began with the rather unromantic notion of prearrangement. Parents or guardians would consider a match and go through what could be lengthy negotiations before even mentioning the potential engagement to their son or daughter. What would each young person bring to the marriage? A daughter would be expected to bring a dowry to contribute to the couple’s joint estate, and the husband would be required to demonstrate that he could support a family. What would happen if one of them died? Parents would negotiate whether or not the dowry would be returned to them if a daughter died without giving her husband a child. Many of the constraints and considerations of a Tudor marriage are scarcely thought of when planning modern weddings.

Once the parents had come to an agreement, they would recommend the match to their children and have the potential couple spend time together. This courtship period was intended to determine if the young couple liked each other enough to make a life together. Friendship, mutual respect, and fondness for each other was enough. Love was expected to grow as they lived, worked, and struggled in the adventure of life together.

These couples were often older than we tend to imagine. While the legal age of consent for marriage was young, twelve for girls and fourteen for boys, few were married that young. Because of the need to have obtained a set of skills, many people waited until their mid-twenties before partnering with a spouse. By that time, each had considerable talents and abilities to offer the other.

If a couple found that they were unable to meet on common ground, their parents often broke off negotiations. We tend to envision young women being compelled to marry harsh, ugly men as their true love looks on in anguish. Did this happen? Certainly, but not with the frequency that we might imagine. Parents, while looking for an arrangement that would provide for their children’s future, did also wish for them to be relatively happy and would not often force a couple into marriage. On the other hand, most young people understood the need to go into marriage with more practical ideas than romantic notions. There might be another who heated their blood, but they would accept the one their parents had determined was the better choice for their future.

A Marriage Feast at Bermondsey by Hoefnagel
Few accused their parents of tyranny when a match was suggested. For a commoner, this match could be based upon complementary skills or potential inheritances. Today, we might simply hope that a potential partner brings home a large enough paycheck. The reality of supporting a household was a more complicated question than that in the sixteenth century with businesses to run, daily tasks to complete, and a household to manage.

A man whose wife had died may take on another in order to care for his children and keep his household running. Daily obligations made it impossible for him to wait until he was ready to fall in love again. A grieving spouse did not always have the freedom to spend a lengthy mourning period on their own. Life went on, and a partner was often needed for the hard work of daily life. A marriage was more than a love match between two people, having effects upon extended family and the economics of the town in which they lived.

Another man might betroth his daughter to his apprentice in order to keep a business in the family in the absence of sons. In fact, that same daughter may be trained in the business herself to a much greater extent than if her parents had been blessed with sons. Necessity is the foundation of many a nontraditional arrangement, and Tudor women sometimes filled roles that may surprise us, whether they did so because they had no brothers or a husband died unexpectedly young.

Whatever the reason a betrothal was considered, the courtship period would determine whether or not it would take place. Young people understood the importance of the practical preparations of their parents and did not frequently rebel against them. More often than not, the couple respected their parents’ wishes enough to go along with the plan or at least spend time considering it.

The courtship period was carefully controlled for several reasons. A young couple did not spend time alone together for fear of them getting along somewhat too well. Even if the relationship was not taken too far, rumors could be dangerous for their future. If the couple did not end up getting married, unsupervised time together could bring a woman’s virtue into question when another match was proposed.

Sexual relations during this time could qualify as consummation of a marriage, and a couple might find themselves in a more serious commitment than they intended. Of course, a woman could also end up pregnant during this transitional state, which could be disastrous for her if the man argued that there had been no marriage agreement. To avoid this problem, courtships were carried out under watchful eyes.

The Wedding Feast by Brueghel
This was a time of conversation and spending time together. Couples would share meals, offer each other small gifts, play games, and get to know one another better. They might enjoy playing music or dancing, strolling through town or wooded lanes, or attending church together. Since group activities were preferred, hunting was a good choice that also allowed each person to show off their riding skill. For those without the means for these noble activities, attending a local market or fair was a common entertainment.

The amount of time spent in the courtship stage could vary wildly. Some couples spent years getting to know each other, especially if they were particularly young when their parents negotiated the match. Others, especially royal couples, met only days before their planned wedding, as was the case for Mary I and Philip of Spain in 1554. In most cases, the courtship would move on at a slower pace to the formal betrothal stage.

Not to say that all conformed to their parents’ wishes. Some things never change, and young people of the Tudor age also fell in love. The father of Tudor marriage scandal, Henry VIII, married six times in his search for love (and a male heir). However, most Tudor contemporaries expected love to grow between spouses after the wedding had taken place. As a couple experienced life together, with all its hardships and triumphs, they would forge a bond that one might argue was often stronger than one built on fading passions.

How much of a choice a young person might be given would significantly depend upon their social and economic status. Ironically, being of more common blood could mean more power over your marriage. Those of noble blood were often married as part of quests to strengthen bloodlines or increase estates. Royal marriages were part of treaties, often created long before a prince or princess was of an age to consider marriage on their own. Those lower on the socioeconomic ladder may have had more paths that could lead them to their goal of a steady, productive household.

Once a couple agreed to the proposed match, they became betrothed. A Tudor betrothal has many similarities to the modern engagement with one vital difference. Under the right circumstances, a betrothal was considered, by the law and the church, to be a binding marriage. This could lead to significant consequences if the marriage was never carried out or one of the parties changed their mind.

A betrothal included a promise to marry, a pledge that was sometimes made as part of a public ceremony. Just like today, a ring was often given as a symbol of that promise. Because a betrothal was considered binding, many couples considered themselves married at this point. The large percentage of babies born within the first eight months of Tudor marriages attests to this fact.

Unfortunately, some people did wish to free themselves of betrothals, and that could make for messy business. A broken betrothal could mean heartache for the couple and difficulties in making any future match. A woman might be viewed as less than pure if she is made newly single. A man might find that his heirs are made illegitimate based on an earlier betrothal.

This was the underlying problem that paved the way for the beginning of the Tudor dynasty. When Edward IV died unexpectedly in 1483, most believed that his twelve-year-old son would succeed him. His succession was quickly opposed by those who believed that Edward had been precontracted to another before his scandalous marriage to Elizabeth Woodville. Edward’s brother, Richard, was crowned in place of the young prince, and the rest is history.

While these betrothal scandals occurred, the majority of couples smoothly transitioned from courtship, to betrothal, and on to married life together. The structure of a Tudor wedding was similar for all couples, regardless of status, though ceremonies for the rich and titled were often surrounded by greater pomp, dazzling jewels, and rich fabrics.


More to come in the ongoing Tudor Marriage Blog Series!

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Additional Reading:

Cressy, David. Birth, Marriage, and Death: Ritual, Religion, and the Life-Cycle in Tudor and Stuart England. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Ingram, Martin. Church Courts, Sex and Marriage in England. 1570-1640. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

O'Hara, Diana.  Courtship and Constraint: Rethinking the Making of Marriage in Tudor England. Manchester and New York: St Martin’s Press, 2000.  

All images in the public domain.