As far as women were concerned, was 1066 generally a Good Thing, a Bad Thing – or just a Thing? That’s the main item of debate this week, along with a bit about marriage, and a toe-curling piece about how to get out of an unwanted marriage contract by proving your partner failed to live up to their, um, duties.
A duty of sex
According to the teaching of the church, the point about marriage was to have children, and therefore both men and women had a legal responsibility to have sex in marriage unless both decided it was a bad idea. So the easiest way out of an unwanted marriage was to claim that your partner was unable to deliver the goods.
Here, from Henrietta Leyser’s book ‘Medieval Women’ is a quote from a case in York in 1433 when John was accused of just such a thing:
‘The …witness exposed her naked breasts and with her hands, warmed at the said fire, she held and rubbed the penis and testicles of the said John. And she embraced and frequently kissed the said John, and stirred him up in so far as she could to show his virility and potency, admonishing him for shame that he should then prove and render himself a man. And …the said penis was scarcely 3 inches long…remaining without any increase or decrease’
Determined to marry for love – Margery Paston
One of the church’s nicer sides was the teaching that actually no church wedding or oath was required for a couple to get married – a simple agreement between a woman and a man was sufficient. So when 20 year old Margery Paston fell in love with her family’s 30+ bailiff, Richard Calle, Margery was able to claim that she was already married.
You can read some of the letters directly at the Luminarum site by following this link: www.luminarium.org/medlit/pastontext.htm