Wednesday, February 6, 2013

How marriage has been redefined over the past 500 years.

Its interesting how marriage has been redefined a number of times in the past, not just in 2013 with our equal marriage legislation:

Prior to 1856 boys could get married at the age of 14 and girls at 12 (in Scotland at least).

Prior to 1907 a man could not marry his deceased wives sister. This was changed by the Deceased Wife's Sister's Marriage Act 1907.

Prior to 2006 (in Scotland) it was still possible to form a  marriage by "cohabitation with repute". Some of the rules for defining this in law were odd things like whether your clothes were washed together at the same time, whether you ate together etc.

Prior to 1967 in the USA interracial marriage was illegal in many states.

Prior to 1857 in England divorce was not commonly available. This was changed by the 1857 the Matrimonial Causes Act.

In 1836 the marriage laws in the UK were changed to allow non religious marriages in registry offices.

In any case, prior to 1560 (in Scotland) it was almost unheard of for people to get married formally in church unless they were people of land and title.

Oh and Mary and Joseph were not married at the time of Jesus birth. They were "betrothed". In Scotland we had a similar thing called handfasting which was a trial marriage that lasted for one year:
"It was an ancient custom in the Isles that a man take a maid as his wife and keep her for the space of a year without marrying her; and if she pleased him all the while, he married her at the end of the year and legitimatised her children; but if he did not love her, he returned her to her parents." (MĂ rtainn MacGilleMhĂ rtainn, A Description of the Western Isles of Scotland, 1703)

Oh how the times have changed!


  1. Good morning Gordon,

    I haven't checked out the veracity of all your dates and details etc. Though I don't doubt them. I don't believe that a studious man like you is going to add to all the lies and misinformation
    that is in abundance on the internet?

    I am Edinburgh born and bred, the product of a broken marriage.
    Scottish law has always been independent of English law, and my parents couldn't get divorced for over 10 years or more after the acrimonious parting! Yes! How times have changed! I only have a brief recollection of these things, being a minor at the time. Today is it not possible to get engaged, married, and divorced within a week? And soon possibly to an ape? As some would have us believe that they are our relatives!

    The Western Isles, so I understand were not 'Christianised' until after 1703? Maybe you have some more knowledge on this? It was previously a pagan place.
    Regards Mary and Joseph, as you rightly say they were 'betrothed' or engaged to each other, and of course the marriage would only be 'rubber stamped' or completed after the Jewish Marriage Feast, which was quite an occasion; lasting seven days. Cultures and customs were different in the Holy Land, and other places too, no doubt? Though as you probably know, orthodox Jewry still have these elaborate occasions, and keep to their old customs.
    Of course the consummation of the marriage would only be complete after sexual intercourse, when obviously the bride would no longer be a virgin? Without going through chapter and verse etc, you are obviously aware that Joseph was 'minded to put Mary away', because he must have thought she had been with another man? And of course, the 'Angel of the Lord' confirmed this was not the case.

    We must remember that according to Jewish law, boys became adults at 13, and girls at 12, which may, or may not be directly related to what you say in regards to boys marrying at 14, and girls at 12? It is interesting that according to Scripture, that one day you were a child, the next an adult? If children were bought up correctly, I suppose this wasn't a problem. The teenage concept didn't exist, it is a modern western tradition. Though no doubt for economic and a host of other reasons, people will delay getting married....

  2. Hello Colin,
    I am a member of the National Library of Scotland so I had a look through the newspaper archive for 1856 when the changes to the age for marriage were being made. There was significant opposition to this by the church, especially the Free Church. Yet, if anyone suggested reducing the age to 12 and 14 today this would be seen as pandering to paedophiles.

    My overall point is that whatever marriage is now, it has changed continuously since biblical times and will continue to do so.