Culture of child marriage in medieval Europe

Some 'uncomfortable' facts.  Child and teenage marriages in medieval Europe - common as a cup of tea.

John McLaughlin writes in his article MEDIEVAL CHILD MARRIAGE: ABUSE OF WARDSHIP?

" .. in 1396, Richard II of England was joined in marriage to young Isabel of France, who had been 7 years old when their engagement was announced the previous year in Paris. Not only was there no uproar; there was considerable happiness expressed over the assumed probability that this marriage would end the Hundred Years War then in one of its periodic states of truce between the two kingdoms. Peace was to be ensured by joining together this man and this little girl in marriage.

"A social practice which entered the written record in the 12th century, but which seems to have had roots in the barbaric past, that extended from the royal abattoirs down to the lives of neighboring fishmongers and shop-keepers in medieval London, yet that seems to have received little more than passing notice in canon law beyond exhortation to limit it to age seven and ensure mutual consent of the parties ..... But still it is not even indexed in most contemporary discussions of medieval marriage and family life, from Barbara Hanawalt to James Brundage, GL Brooke to Frances & Joseph Giese, Ian MacFarlane to Georges Duby. It is not exactly passed over in their texts, when you read closely

" .... there is not a single book, not a single article, on the separate topic of medieval child marriage in contemporary scholarship, even where there are passing references in the middle of other discussions of medieval childhood, as in problems of medieval wardship.

"By 'child' in this context is meant a male or female human being above the age of 7 -- for either gender -- and below the age of 14 for males, and 12 for females. This follows medieval canon law, in recognizing these as the limits of infancy and puberty

"Thus, for example, when the Wife of Bath boasts of having had five husbands since the age of 12, she is not casting herself in the role of child bride, technically speaking, at least not in medieval terms. Lee Patterson's discussion of child marriage in Peter Beidler's lovely new edition of The Wife of Bath, is thus irrelevant to the present discussion, except as it relates to Richard and Isabel; Christine de Pisan, for example, was already aged 15 when she was 'given' to her husband, and therefore according to medieval definition an adult woman."

Rachelle Carter writes in Marriage in Medieval Times

"In the Middle Ages children were married at a young age. Girls were as young as 12 when they married, and boys as young as 17. The arrangement of the marriage was based on monetary worth. The family of the girl who was to be married gives a dowry,or donation, to the boy she is to marry. The dowry goes with her at the time of the marriage and stays with the boy forever (Renolds).   After the marriage was arranged a wedding notice was posted on the door of the church. The notice was put up to ensure that there were no grounds for prohibiting the marriage."

In 'Juana the Mad of Castille' J.N.W. Bos writes:

"Queen Juana I of Castile (1479-1555) .... was born on November 6, 1479, as the second daughter of Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon.   At the age of 16, Juana was betrothed to Philip the Handsome of Austria (1478-1506), only son of the Emperor Maximilian I.  For Philip the attraction to the beautiful, dark haired Juana (to the left) was carnal and little more, but Juana became totally infatuated with her husband ..... his life mainly consisted of feasting, drinking and chasing women - and he had no intention to change his philandering ways. For Juana, however, only absolute togetherness would do. She was too young and inexperienced to realise that she expected too much from a politically arranged marriage."

Now, here's an interesting piece form a 'historian' blogger.

This blogger then tries to justify the child marriages by saying that this practice existed only among royals and other elites and not among middle or lower classes, a point already refuted by John McLaughlin.  The blog author writes "Church law forbade child marriage and allowed young brides and grooms to repudiate the marriage once they reached the age of puberty, which was officially set at 12 for girls and 14 for boys.   So, the most common age for a young woman of middle or low status to marry was from the age of 22 years old."   In the process the author acknowledges that rulers and aristocrats of medieval Europe did not respect the rule of law.  This is what happens when writers try to use a lie as a cover-up .... it simply brings up some other serious contradiction.

Now, marriages of noble and royal women were usually for political and dynastic consideration. So, at what age did a young noblewoman enter into marriage.  In Italy the average age for marriage was 17; in France it is 16 ; and in England and Germany 18 yo was the average age - all for first marriages. (Source: “Medieval Households” by David Herlihy, Harvard University Press, 1985).  However, the following examples are exceptions:

Bianca of Savoy, Duchess of Milan was married aged 13 (1350), and aged 14 when she gave birth to her eldest son, Giangaleazzo (1351).

Theodora Comnena was aged 13 when she was married King Baldwin III of Jerusalem (1158).

Agnes of France was 12 when, widowed, she was married to Andronicus Comnenus, Byzantine Emperor (1182).

St Elizabeth of Portugal was aged 12 when she was married to King Denis of Portugal and gave birth to three children shortly thereafter.

Caterina Sforza was betrothed aged 9, married aged 14, and gave birth aged 15.

Lucrezia Borgia was married to her first husband aged 13 and bore a son within a few years.

Beatrice d'Este was betrothed aged 5 and married aged 15.

The LiveJournal writes

"When the Austrian-born Archduchess Marie Antoinette was married off at age fourteen to France's future king -- crowned Louis XVI in 1774 -- her overriding duty was to give the kingdom an heir."

And finally, as Wikipedia mentions, tracing the history of marriage in ancient Greece

"For most of European history, marriage was more or less a business agreement between two families who arranged the marriages of their children. Romantic love rarely, and even simple affection was not considered essential.  In fact at some times, too much affection in a marriage was considered a sin.

"In Ancient Greece .... Men usually married when they were in their 20s or 30s  and expected their wives to be in their early teens.

"Married Greek women had few rights in ancient Greek society and were expected to take care of the house and children.

"In the 12th century, aristocrats believed love was incompatible with marriage and seeked romance in adultery."

The above are just a few examples of the culture of child marriage in Europe.  As we keep rummaging through the history of that region, we come across plenty more.