Is the old, traditional marriage vow “Till death do us part” still a viable concept in the year 2015? After all, people are living longer and longer these days, and we all know people change as they grow older, none of us are the same people in middle age as when we first got married….I also ran into a lot of fascinating facts while researching some of my more recent blogs, like “The Midlife Crisis” and the “Empty Nest Syndrome” that have a lot of relevancy to this question…
We know that half of all marriages in the United States end up in divorce anyway, and the rate of divorce is even higher for remarriages…I think a large part of this is due yes, of course, to the increased life spans we all enjoy today, but also to the fact that we are all living more isolated, compartmentalized lives, even within the framework of traditional marriages…This also includes couples living together, because basically it is the same dynamics, just without that piece of paper from the government in the drawer…..
Let’s go back to the beginning of the marriage vows, back to Medieval times when the Church was very influential and urged couples to procreate and check out some facts…According to my Google sources: “From a specifically female point of view, marriage and childbirth were an important aspect in the life of a medieval girl or woman. The risks associated with childbirth, however, were quite high at the time due to a number of factors: age; health and illness; birthing complications; and death.
For many noble-born or royal women, marriage could and often did take place at a young age. There are many instances or very young girls being betrothed and married under the age of 10 years old. This did not necessarily mean that the marriage was consummated. However, there was a perception that once a girl began her period that she was considered to be of marriageable age. And so the male could begin his almighty pursuit for an heir.
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? It is more common for a young woman to have been married early, though not to have had her first child until she was much older. It is agreed that the most common age for a young noble woman to have given birth to her first child is from 16 years old….
While our society is somewhat censorious about the age thing, the medieval mindset on the matter was somewhat different. The medievals would have been shocked to think that we might regard such juvenile marriages as child abuse. A teenage girl getting married in the middle ages was seen as taking a responsible place in adult society. i.e. maturity was placed earlier than it is now.”
But what of young women who were not noble or royal – at what age did they marry and have children?
The consensus is that young women of middle or low status married and gave birth at a much later age for a number of reasons:
They did not need to marry for dynastic reasons.
They tended to contribute to the family income whilst they remained unmarried and still living within the family unit.
Girls were often employed in service for a “fixed” term before being paid out and released from service.
And in some cases, a “fee” was required to be paid upon the marriage.
“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. Thus we can conclude that this young woman would have given birth to her first child before she was 25 years old.”
But at whatever age they married childbirth was fraught with danger in the Medieval ages: “How risky was childbirth in the Middle Ages? Risky enough that expectant mothers were encouraged to confess their sins before they went into labor. Risky enough that midwives were the only laypeople permitted to baptize newborns if the baby was likely to die.
In fact, in medieval times, more than one of every three adult women died during their child-bearing years. With that kind of statistic, it’s easy to imagine that everyone knew someone who died in childbirth or from its complications.
Stephanie Coontz, in her book “A History of Marriage” writes: “For most of history it was inconceivable that people would choose their mates on the basis of something as fragile and irrational as love and then focus all their sexual, intimate, and altruistic desires on the resulting marriage. In fact, many historians, sociologists, and anthropologists used to think romantic love was a recent Western invention. This is not true. People have always fallen in love, and throughout the ages many couples have loved each other deeply.”
So even back in the medieval times, people married for love; it was just that the shockingly inadequate state of medical knowledge produced so many untimely deaths…So when people got married back then, they really believed in “Till death do us part” while still accepting all the inherent risks…It is safe to say that many medieval marriages were short and sweet, and that most men remarried quickly….
But in today’s modern world, medical knowledge has increased greatly and the risk of dying in childbirth is extremely low compared to medieval times…So what then do modern couples do when their children are grown and move out of the house (The Empty Nest Syndrome) while they are simultaneously going through mid-life crisis? What do they do when they look across an empty room and see the now stranger they married 20 or 30 years ago and realize things have changed?
There is a new paradigm, a shift in societal attitudes here in the year 2015, and although we had to explore the beginnings of the concept of love, marriage, and vows like “Till death do us part” in medieval times, when childbirth death was a constant and present danger, to more fully understand the concepts and tradition involved, in today’s world there has been a marked change in attitude toward these vows…
Space precludes me in this blog format from giving justice to this topic today, but tomorrow I will explore the modern concept of marriage in our society, what people expect out of marriage going into it and what they actually do in the middle years, far after most medieval marriages were indeed broken up all too often by the sad, sudden, untimely death of the woman in childbirth…….
You can’t change something in a relationship without a good reason, but in today’s modern society, this is like walking on quicksand….
For more information on Medieval marriages see:womenofhistory.blogspot.com/2007/…/medieval-marriage-childbirth.ht
For more articles by John Whye, click on http://www.johnwhye.com