The advantages of marrying young
Although the medieval practice of child marriage seems strange to us, if not repulsive, there were advantages that arose from it, particularly for the bride.
For example, Anne of Gloucester, Richard II’s cousin and daughter of Thomas of Woodstock married the Earl of Stafford at a very early age. He died while she was still far too young for the marriage to be consummated. Nevertheless, she was granted dower, one third of his lands for life.
You might have thought that with the marriage not being consummated it would have been classed as null and void. After all, any Church court was ready to void an unconsummated marriage between adults. However, this is one of those areas where the English Common Law took a hand, and it took the view that even so young a “wife” as Anne was entitled to her marital dower lands in the event of her husband’s death.
The advantages of child marriage, where substantial lands were concerned, are therefore quite obvious from the point of view of the bride’s parents. Of course the snag was that she had no say in the choice of bridegroom, but then again, at this level of society in this era she rarely would have done anyway. (Fond parents did sometimes allow a girl to reject a marriage she found repulsive, but this is not at all the same as having free choice.) It is worth pointing out – for this is sometimes forgotten – that the male partner, if under age, had no choice either.
Anne subsequently married her first husband’s brother, who did grow up to young manhood. Their marriage was duly consummated. When he died, still only young, at the battle of Shrewsbury in 1403, Anne received in compensation yet another third of the Stafford lands in dower. As she was also her father’s sole heiress (her surviving sisters having become nuns) she had inherited his lands too, as well as those of those of her mother, co-heiress of the Bohun family.
In 1405 Anne married (presumably her own choice this time) William Bourchier, later Count of Eu.) When he died in 1420 she received dower from him too.
Anne herself lived into 1438, and died a very wealthy woman indeed.