Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index


  • Record Number: 8423
  • Author(s)/Creator(s): Betzig , Laura.
  • Contributor(s):
  • Title: Medieval Monogamy [polygynous mating and monogamous marriage - inheritance strategies and the influence of the Church].
  • Source: Journal of Family History 20, 2 ( 1995): Pages 181 - 216.
  • Description:
  • Article Type: Journal Article
  • Subject (See Also): Canon Law Celibacy Children Clergy- Sexual Behavior Inheritance Man Woman Relationships Marriage Monogamy Polygyny Primogeniture Servants Sexuality Virginity
  • Geographic Area: General
  • Century: General
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  • Abstract: Was polygyny stopped by the Christian Church? Probably not. In the Middle Ages, as in other ages, powerful men married monogamously, but mated polygynously. Both laymen and church men tended to have sexual access to as many women as they could afford. But first- born sons were allowed a legitimate wife, on whom they got legitimate heirs. And latter- born sons were often celibate- that is ineligible to sire heirs, though not chaste- that is, ineligible to sire bastards. Church men, like laymen, sought wealth to provide for their women and children. To get it, church men used canon law. Authorities like Gratian and Lombard insisted that "mutual consent" made a marriage. That undercut parents' ability to impose celibacy. And church bans against incest, divorce and remarriage, concubinage, wet nursing and maybe even incontinence kept laymen from rearing heirs. That let the men who filled the monastaries come into their fathers' estates by default. In short, both church men and laymen practiced polygynous mating. At the same time, both approved of monogamous marriage. There was no conflict in either case. The conflict came when they tried to sow their seeds on the same finite plot. Neither wanted to get cut out of their inheritance. [Reproduced by permission of Sage Publications.]
  • Author's Affiliation: University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
  • Conference Info: - , -
  • Year of Publication: 1995.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN/ISBN: 03631990
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