April 27, 2007 10:43 Age: 7 yrs

New Book Tracks Pre-Modern Roots, Routes of Marriage

By: Ginger Pyron

Consider taking a journey through some intriguing, newly accessible territory, under the expert guidance of two seasoned tour directors and a collection of regional specialists. As you travel, peek into—or pore over—carefully preserved archival documents revealing the particulars of sites along the route. That’s the experience a reader can expect from To Have and to Hold: Marrying and Its Documentation in Western Christendom, 400-1600 (Cambridge University Press, 2007), edited by Emory religion professor Philip L. Reynolds and Emory law professor John Witte, Jr.

The work is one of several new volumes emerging from the research project, “Sex, Marriage & Family and the Religions of the Book,” sponsored by the Center for the Study of Law and Religion. Reynolds, Aquinas Professor of Historical Theology, is a CSLR senior fellow. Witte, Jonas Robitscher Professor of Law, is CSLR director.

A book to whet the intellectual wanderlust of scholars from theology, law, history, and social science as well as general readers, To Have and to Hold examines property deeds, marital settlements, dotal charters, church court depositions, and other such official records to understand how, why, and when, pre-modern Europeans documented their marriages.

Right away, the editors establish an appropriate metaphor for this wide-ranging study: “The sequence of chapters takes the reader on a pleasant and instructive journey through the surviving data.” Most of the essays include appended texts of historic documents dating from 400 to 1600, freshly translated (many from their original Latin) into English and peopled by real men and women of the Middle Ages whose relationships, contracts, and disputes offer armchair tourists a fascinating glimpse into the ends and means of pre-modern marriage.

An itinerary of the contributing scholars and their areas of focus illustrates the book’s chronological and geographical range: Judith Evans-Grubbs, later Roman law; David G. Hunter, North Africa from Tertullian to Augustine; Philip L. Reynolds, the Frankish tradition; Laurent Morelle, the regions of Laon and Soissons, 1163-1181; Cynthia Johnson, 12th-century Southern France; R.H. Helmholz, medieval England; Frederik Pedersen, 14th-century England; Art Cosgrove, medieval Ireland; Agnes S. Arnórsdóttir, medieval Iceland; Thomas Kuehn, Renaissance Florence; Martha C. Howell, late-medieval Douai; and John Witte Jr., Reformation Geneva.

Reynolds’ opening chapter launches the exploration: “What agreements were made and who made them? What was the function of such agreements in the process of marrying? Which agreements were documented and which were oral? What other actions did the process of marrying entail, as well as agreements, and what were their functions?” The anthology’s varied answers, springing from the analysis of documents related to Roman marriage law, St. Augustine’s arguments on the tabulae nuptiales, and regional practices all the way up to those so strongly influenced by the legal and theological reforms of John Calvin, comprise multiple perspectives: personal, secular, religious, social, economic, and legal.

The contributors examine customs related to a broad span of topics, including betrothal, marital consent, property rights, brideprices, clandestine marriages, abductions, bridal processions, contingency clauses, and consummation. Along the way, they also inspect fine nuptial nuances such as the difference between vows articulated in present tense versus future tense, and the bonding handclasp as opposed to the kiss. Appended documents offer brief jaunts on such colorful byways as the legitimacy of a marriage proposal voiced only to the lady’s maid rather than to the lady herself; repercussions that follow the post-betrothal revelation of a man’s longstanding concubinage; and the questionable validity of a witness who was merely an eavesdropping friend.

Laying academic groundwork for scholars in many fields, To Have and To Hold is a book first to skim, then to plumb. Like any good tour, it offers travelers a memorable collection of curiosities while sparking broader awareness, new knowledge, and a resolve to come back again. Soon.

The Center for the Study of Law and Religion is home to world-class scholars and forums on the religious foundations of law, politics, and society. It offers first-rank expertise on how the teachings and practices of Christianity, Judaism and Islam have shaped and can continue to transform the fundamental ideas and institutions of our public and private lives. The scholarship of CSLR faculty provides the latest perspectives, while its conferences and public forums foster reasoned and robust public debate.

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