The medieval era spanned the period from the 5th through the 15th centuries and marriage in many places, including Scotland, changed over the course of the centuries.
My newest medieval novel, Rebel Warrior, is set in Scotland in the late 11th century. When Malcolm, King of Scotland, met the beautiful Saxon Princess Margaret of Wessex, sometime around 1068-1070, he had already been married to Ingebiorg, the widow of Thorfinn Sigurdsson (“Thorfinn the Mighty”), Jarl of the Orkneys.
It is generally assumed that Ingebiorg, who bore Malcolm three sons, died sometime before 1070. History does not tell us what happened to Ingebiorg. Some accounts hint at the possibility of poisoning. However, Malcolm would not have needed to dispose of her that way if he was of a mind to be free. In the 11th century, wives in Scotland were “put away” on the slightest pretense. The dissolution of marriage being a lax affair at the time, it could be that Malcolm merely put away his first wife to marry Margaret. We may never know.
In any event, King Malcolm was smitten and he and Margaret were married before the chapel at Dunfermline, the Culdee Bishop of St. Andrews presiding. Margaret was a devout believer who was raised in Hungary and England and followed a routine of prayer and confession such that she would have wanted the church to bless her marriage though it was not essential to make the marriage valid. (The hero and heroine in Rebel Warrior are married on the steps of the same chapel, which is generally where a couple would wed if a church was involved.)
There would have been a ring. The exchange of the rings was a main feature in Scottish wedding ceremonies from ancient times.
By the late medieval era, they could have married by merely affirming their intent to wed. Witnesses were not needed either. Such an affirmation would suffice per the Roman Catholic Church, which by then had a hold on Scotland. The Culdees (the Scottish clerics) after the 12th century were folded into the Roman church.
In the medieval era, handfasting represented the betrothal of the intended couple, not the actual marriage itself. Handfasting as a “trial marriage” is first referred to in the 19th century and, though romance writers love it, some scholars doubt it was used for marriages.
Women could marry from the age of 12 (for boys it was from 14) and, while many girls from the upper ranks of society married in their teens, by the end of the medieval period most in the Lowlands married in their twenties. This allowed them to acquire the resources needed to form a household.
Of course, if you were noble born, your father might have betrothed you to your future husband when you were quite young. Women of the aristocracy were desired for their dowries. Their land and wealth was a means of securing greater wealth and political power for the combined families. However, in all levels of society, an economic agreement between the two families would be reached before the marriage.
Unlike in England, where kinship was derived through both males and females, in Scotland, women retained their original surname at their marriage. The extensive marriage bars for kinship meant that most noble marriages required a papal dispensation, which could later be used as grounds for annulment if the marriage proved politically or personally inconvenient, although in this period in Scotland’s history, there was no divorce. You were married until one of you died or, in the earlier centuries, you were just “put away”.
The only way out was to prove you were never legally married, that is to have the marriage annulled. The grounds would be that one or both of them were either too young, they were too closely related to each other, the man was impotent at the time of their marriage, one party was insane at the time of marriage, or already married (or betrothed) to someone else at the time of their marriage. Even if you married too young, if you continued to live together as man and wife when you came of age (12 for women, 14 for men), then you were considered legally married (continuing to live together was considered to be an affirmation of intent to marry, much like our Common Law marriage). It was not until the Reformation (which officially occurred in Scotland in 1560) that divorce and remarriage became a possibility. So one had to make a good decision.
“Master storytelling transports you to medieval Scotland!”
Paula Quinn, NY Times Bestselling Author
When your destiny lies far from where you began …
The Norman Conqueror robbed Steinar of Talisand of his noble father and his lands, forcing him to flee to Scotland while still recovering from a devastating wound. At the royal court, Steinar becomes scribe to the unlettered King of Scots while secretly regaining his skill with a sword.
The first time Steinar glimpses the flame-haired maiden, Catrìona of the Vale of Leven, he is drawn to her spirited beauty. She does not fit among the ladies who serve the devout queen. Not pious, not obedient and not given to stitchery, the firebrand flies a falcon! Though Catrìona captures Steinar’s attention, he is only a scribe and she is promised to another.
Catrìona has come to Malcolm’s court wounded in spirit from the vicious attack on her home by Northmen who slayed her parents and her people. But that is not all she will suffer. The man she thought to wed will soon betray her.
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