148 Women and 1066, and Marriage

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.

148 Women 1066 and Marriage


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 Paston lettersrequired 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





10 thoughts on “148 Women and 1066, and Marriage

  1. Oh man. I feel so bad for my medieval namesake. Fortunately I do not resemble him in other ways. And now it will be remembered by history forever.

  2. Thanks for another enjoyable podcast. Am I mistaken or did I hear a reference to the 1982 tv version of The Scarlet Pimpernel starting Anthony Andrews? “Sink me!” If so, I would like to add “Odd’s fish, my dear!”

  3. I love the pop culture references and am always listening for them. Keep them coming!
    “We seek him here. We seek him there.
    Those Frenchies seek him everywhere!
    Is he in heaven? Or is he in hell?
    That damned Elusive Pimpernel!”

  4. First, my husband and I enjoy your podcasts immeasurably – even though I do not always agree with everything. On the question of women’s literacy in the middle ages, may I suggest Conrad-O’Briain, Helen, ‘Were women Able to Read in the Middle Ages’ in Misconceptions about the Middle ages ed. by Stephen J. Harris and Bryon L. Grigsby (Routledge: New York and London, 2008)
    And yes, I freely admit I am Helen Conrad-O’Briain
    Adjunct Associate Professor Old English and Old Norse
    PS It is quite a fun little book – and I understand it has even been translated into French. You might like to look at the work of Helen Damico and Christine Fell – although you probably have. I also hope you have read Garret Mattingly’s Armada.

  5. Hello Helen, and thanks; but also there’s a bit of ooh dear, so a proper historian who might have listened to the hideousness that are my early podcasts? Not good.So bad I am re-doing them.
    Um, I had a look for ‘Misconceptions’ which sounds like the perfect thing for a podcast!

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