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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.









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5 thoughts on “The advantages of marrying young

  1. amma19542019 on said:

    I love these kind of posts, details! Quick question, somewhere I read the reason Margaret Beaufort’s marriage to Edmund Tudor was consummated when she was so young (12?) and seemingly as soon as Tudor (26?) had access to his wife (especially in contrast to her cousin Cecily Neville) was that under law HE did not have access to HER estates and properties until he produced a child with MB. Of course I can’t find that info now, does this sound plausible to you?

    (York had his own inherited wealth and estates etc, he would not have needed to use such tactics with Cecily, at least, I am surmising that motivation).


  2. sighthound6 on said:

    There might be two motives:

    1. Consummation pretty much ensured the marriage could not be annulled. Margaret already had at least one annulled marriage behind her. Maybe two, I forget. It was easy to annul a marriage that had not been consummated.

    2. If Edmund had a child by her that lived even for a short time, he could hold her lands for life – even if she died – by a principle known as “The courtesy of England.” This was – for example – how Richard III held on to the Neville lands after his wife’s death. (There were many other cases – John of Gaunt springs to mind.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • amma19542019 on said:

      Thank you, both good explanations (especially in light of MB’s earlier annulment to John de la Pole, which she denied as a marriage her whole life) AND very likely the best reason Richard duke of York was kept at a distance from Cecily – I’m sure his father’s execution haunted Joan Beaufort’s plans for her youngest child and if she needed to extricate Cecily from whatever political entanglements York found himself implicated in annulment was her option – never would have considered that avenue – thank you!

      As to R3’s retention of the Neville lordships etc, even after Anne’s death, I may be wrong, but weren’t they entailed male? I think they had already ‘passed’ to Richard Latimer, heir to George Neville, recently deceased himself, and Latimer was not – to my knowledge, R’s ward. Then again, once he became king the lordships of Middleham et al may not have been as crucial to his financial needs?


  3. sighthound6 on said:

    Richard’s Neville holdings were in two pots. One the tail-male element which you mention, these were effectively held by statute. They were more or less a forfeit of Montagu’s treason. The other was Anne’s share of her mother’s Beauchamp-Despenser inheritance which was, in effect, given to Anne by the statute that declared her mother legally dead. They were however Anne’s lawful inheritance (once her mother was dead) and I *think* Richard held them by the Courtesy of England. But there may have been statutory underpinning. The whole point of depriving Anne’s mother was so that Anne could hold the lands by inheritance rather than royal grant, as inheritance was much harder to revoke.

    Liked by 1 person

    • amma19542019 on said:

      I have tried to follow the complications of the Warwick inheritance – it’s worse than the US tax code. In 1471 neither Neville or Montagu were attainted, it is assumed that was done to make it possible for both Clarence and Richard to gain the properties etc by way of their wives via inheritance and not royal grant or gift- and Anne Beauchamp was rendered ‘legally dead’ to eliminate her as an impediment (she tried to regain her inheritance rights under H7, got nowhere, ist in the Jones and Underwood book, but I think MB ended up with whatever lordships/properties she desired) – the other hurdle were Montagu’s heirs, George died without heirs in 1483 so the trifecta of Middleham, Sheriff Hutton, Penrith all went – or would go – to Richard Latimer. Had E4 lived past 1483 presumably R would have had to do something about this, and that would have required E4, probably an arrangement to gain Latimer’s wardship?

      What R actually had by way of properties that he gained or held directly from Anne Beauchamp I don’t know – they never seem to be discussed, it’s always the Neville lordships – but it must have been significant for Margaret Beaufort to want them and deny her ‘cousin’ her inheritance.


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