Marriage Laws of Celtic Britain
Cyfarchion! I am very pleased to be here with you today and want to thank Jennifer, first and foremost, for giving me this opportunity to share with you some tidbits about the history of marriage in Celtic times.
As some of you may know, I write Welsh Medieval Romance and have recently published the first of a five-book series, titled Pendyffryn: The Conquerors. In the first book, Invasion, I have used several of the forms of marriage to unite various characters in this book. These laws also play a significant role in my first novel, Traitor’s Daughter. Before I go into any details of my latest novel, here is a brief description of Welsh and Irish laws.
Depending on the country, there are nine laws that governed the marital status of a couple. Many of them are not allowed these days but were acceptable in the early Celtic civilizations. My sources for this information are Melville Richards’s Cyfreithiau Hywel Dda (Laws of Hywel Dda), Peter Berresford Ellis’s book, Celtic Women, and Henrietta Leyser’s Medieval Women. These nine forms are also to be found in the eight types of marriage in Hindu law.
Polygamy was a commonplace occurrence in the earliest, war-torn times: a practicality, to provide for the many widows who otherwise would have starved to death along with their children. A warrior with many wives served the social needs of his tribe by taking responsibility for the families of his dead soldiers. Though polygamy was not acceptable, the practice of marrying a brother’s widow was also common in Judaic society – for the same reasons.
The Celts were known for their vociferous sexual appetites. According to (at least) one Celtic woman, when chastised for her lack of chastity, “Why should we not enjoy the best of men. Roman women comingle with the worst.”
As necessity waned, polygamy in Celtic society disappeared and, with the conversion to Christianity in Celtic countries by the 6th-7th centuries, was no longer acceptable. In Cymru, some monastic Celtic Church clergy continued to marry until the late 12th century. In Ireland, polygamy continued for some time after the conversion to the Christian church.
Marriage in antiquity was predominately a contract merger of property for the establishment of a family and household. Marrying for love was not necessarily unknown, as you will see below.
The first degree of marriage was priodas (pree-O-das) – the partnership of a man and woman of equal financial position. This is how Heledd and Garmon are wed (eventually) in Traitor’s Daughter. In this form of marriage, a catalogue of goods is made and shared between the partners for the good of the household. I have also used this form in the marriage of minor characters in Invasion.
2nd form is agwedi (aG-WED-ee). The woman brings a lesser amount or no property to the partnership.
3rd form of marriage is caradas (car-A-das), from the word caru (cahr-ee) to love. In Cymru, this is when a man lives with a woman with her kin’s consent. In Ireland, the third form is when the man has nothing to offer to the wealth of the household. (She must love him very much!) As it happens, this is the foundation of Gwennan’s relationship to Jehan (Invasion).
4th form of marriage in Cymru, deu lysuab (day lees-EE-ab), having no equivalent in Irish marriage law, is the union of two persons related only by the marriage of their respective parents, i.e., stepbrother and stepsister. The word llys (ll [an aspirated l] = llees) refers to a court of law; a legal relationship). In Ireland, the fourth form is lánamnas fir thathigthe (sorry, my limited Gaelic won’t help with this pronunciation) – a man is given permission to live with a woman with her kin’s consent. This is the same as the third form in Cymru.
5th type of marital union is called llathlut goleu (llAHth-leet go-lay) means ‘open connection’ – two people chose to live together openly without the consent of the woman’s kin. Jehan confesses his ‘open connection’ to Gwennan to her father (Invasion).
6th on the Celtic wedding hit parade is llathlut twyll (llATth-leet tOO-eell [aspirated l]). An independent-minded woman allows herself to be abducted by a man or is visited by a man in secret without the knowledge of her kin. (Wait for this one to appear in Redemption, one of the books in the forthcoming series, Pendyffryn: The Inheritors.)
7th is beichogi twyll gwraig lwyn a pherth (bay-CHO[hard CH as in loch]-ee too-eell gur-eyeg loo-een ah phair-th), literally “to impregnate a woman between loins and hedge”. This is a double entendre as llwyn also means hedge and ‘hedge’ is a euphemism for a woman’s reproductive organs. This phrase can also be taken to mean “to make love in the hedgerows”.
8th form, cynnywedi ar liw ac ar oleu (cun-ee-WED-ee ahr loo ahk ahr O-lay), rough literal translation: “to join by color and by light”, a union by abduction of a woman without her consent. (This is saved for Virtue in the forthcoming, Pendyffryn: The Inheritors.)
9th form of marriage is twyll morwyn (tOO-eell MOR-ooeen), leading on from the eighth, a marriage by rape. In Ireland, there was a different ninth form: lánamnas genaige – a union of two insane people. Both the 8th and 9th degrees are employed in Traitor’s Daughter, in an attempt made by Heledd’s cousin.
As you can see, marriage is a fruitful area for background material for Celtic historical romance. My particular interest in Welsh history, language and culture has given me a wealth of ideas to develop and there is always more to find. For instance, did you know that a fundamental principle of Celtic Law was reparation, not punishment? This principle also makes an appearance in Invasion and the second book in this series, Salvation, to be published in January 2013. (Cover Sneak Preview - just for you.)
Once again, thank you for joining me today and especial appreciation to Jennifer for generously offering me a spot in her blogging calendar.