In this we look at the next five centuries (the dark ages) we will see an entirely different model. The notion of sex as a repulsive animalistic activity lowering the spiritual state of everyone involved disappears. Sex is natural, child birth is highly desirable and marriage is considered the Christian norm. In many ways we see that the patriarchal view of marriage is being practiced by the population. However we shall discover, that its a nightmare which while bad for men is simply horrific for woman. The church far from supporting patriarchy is opposed to this nightmare, and works actively to soften things up. The society (with support and encouragement of the church) create a parallel institution (concubinage) to allow for the existence of a long term consensual loving relationship with a sexual component.
To be specific in the period, we look at the period after the sacking of Rome and before the Gregorian Reform, that is the late 5th through mid 11th centuries, and we treat the Carolingian dynasty, as or point of reference. That is after Rome has long since fallen but before feudalism has stabilized the economic system.
The dark ages is characterized by the low level of economic production. The economic system of the Roman empire based on slavery had been destroyed. At the same time feudalism had not yet formed. The net result was the economic projects that required complex organization of large quantities of labor were very difficult if not impossible to achieve. Those people capable of that sort of organization took on the most profitable uses: war and plunder. The irrigation system and the road system of the empire had collapsed and trade was infrequent and a minor part of the economy. Individuals had moderate amounts of wealth and were able to farm. Government was little more than a protection racket, so taxes were tolerable. The peasant farmer had been born.
Because most wealth was tied up in the farm inheritance became key for most people and not just the aristocracy. Sons were willing to work on the farm to create wealth (savings) which would later be split between them. Wives carried with them a dowry (which was often quite large) and thus marriage was very profitable for the small land owner. After marriage the wife became tied to her husband until death (however see below) and thus provided a source of labor. If she died the husband could remarry and thus acquire another dowry. Conversely if the wife outlasted the husband and he did not yet have heirs, she inherited the farm minus anything owed. Thus parties in the marriage had a strong financial interest in their spouse's death.
The results were predictable. Husbands burned out their wives quickly forcing them to have children and then return to intense labor. Authors at the time commented about how woman (whose death was profitable to the head of household) were treated much worse than livestock (whose death was quite costly), The situation resulted in very short life expectancies for woman:
Both mother and child were in serious jeopardy during the birth and the following crucial years. Infant mortality rate is know to be appallingly high throughout the Middle Ages. The physical strain of childbearing, coupled with the intense labor and poor sanitary conditions made life harsh, cruel, and short for mast women. Where most men during this time died between the ages of forty and sixty, most women died between the ages of twenty and forty (Cipolla, Carlo M. Ed. The Fontana Economic History of Europe page 45).Reading this entirely bleak picture one might wonder why any woman would choose to marry ever. The reason was avoidance of poverty and starvation on which the whole system depended. A concubine lived at the pleasure of her mate and had no claim on him. A woman who lost her looks could be cast out of her home to starve. A wife by contrast could lay claim to the house she lived in. She was entitled to food and shelter.
Even better was marrying a man without any heirs a quite older man. Since many husbands were so much older we see teachings that "the wife's two main goals were the salvation of her soul and the comfort of her husband" (Power 99). "Though many conflicts arose from the vast age difference between husband and wife, the chief duty of a wife was to make the last years of her husband's life good ones" (Power 97). In the treatises and manuals of the high middle ages describing the duties of a wife in detail we see reference to traditions, which must date back to this period.
We have here many of the very aspects of marriages the patriarchal preach for put into practice (see Tenants of Biblical Patriarchy )
- Woman owe absolute obedience to their husbands and the state does not interfere in a man governing his home (#5)
- The church, the family and the state existed in parallel and tried to limit their interference with one another (#8)
- Non membership in the church often deprived one of their civil rights (like title to their property) and thus virtually everyone belonged to and supported their local church (#9)
- Church and state were governed by men (#11)
- To her husband her primary role was a helper and a bearer of children (heirs) (#13)
- Procreation was practiced widely and wives were expected to produce children (#15)
- Children were home educated and taught skills by their parents (#16-21)
- A woman serves her father and then her husband (#22)
- Marriages formed by parents, or at least men negotiating with the girl's parents (#23)
- Men worked hard to make sure their families sacrificed for the good of the farm and individualism was not practiced or preached (#25)
- Strong financial incentives for men to marry
- No prenuptial agreements. All property is family property and a woman was entitled to a husband's property on his death (assuming no heir).
- Divorce does not exist under any circumstances and remarriage is possible only after the death of one of the parties
- Marriages outside the church are not recognized as marriages
- Excommunication often carried with it real penalties (like loss of all property)
We first need to define some terms as they were used for the reader. There are four classes of woman a man might have sexual relations with:
- A wife is a woman legal married in a church approved ceremony who lives with a man and shares his bed
- A concubine is a woman who voluntarily lives with a man in a consensual sexual relationship. This relationship can be dissolved at any time by either party (i.e. "shacking up")
- A prostitute is a woman who maintains a separate residence and trades sex for money on a per incident basis.
- A mistress is a long term sex partner and companion that maintains a residence separate from her lover.
The church has always held that relations of types 3-4 were prohibited under the laws against fornication and sometimes adultery -- with the possible exception of 4 between a widow and a widower which many churches looked leniently upon . The church however given the depressing state of marriage was supportive of concubinage. They interpreted Genesis 21:9-14 allowing for a sexual relationship with no claim to property.
In the year 400 Council of Toledo ruled that having no wife but a concubine instead of a wife is not grounds for excommunication. However having wife and a concubine was an excommunicating offense. That is they recognized the two as an "either or" choice. This worked to protect wives and concubines individually in the same way that the prohibition against polygamy worked. Further, the church was so strong on this protection for wives and concubines, that it was willing to enforce these rules. The most famous case being enforced when Pope Adrian II forced King Lothar of Lorraine not to have intercourse with his concubine.
The church has up until this point recognized the rights of woman to remain virgins and join a convent, and continued to do so (again not supporting the patriarchal view regarding the relationship between a girl and her father). This right to essentially dissolve a marriage had existed for men (monks) but it was extended to woman (nuns), that is rights of a woman (even a married woman) to take a vow of chastity and enter a convent was secured. The Life of Mary ten Neas (Mary the Younger) (written 903 C.E) details the story of a woman who flees her husband and abandons her children to him, to become a nun. Multiple church officials assist her in this endever and the writer (and the church) consider her a saint (additional information in Holy Woman of Byzantium). The introduction refers to her as "the wonder of our generation", which cannot be confused with condemnation of her actions. As another example from almost the start of the dark ages we have Saint Matrone de Perge who escapes her husband to flee to a convent....
The church went even further with the standardization around the promotion of celibacy, and a shift from virginity for men and woman.
- A virgin is a person who has never had sex
- A chaste person is one who has sworn not to have sex, though they may have in the past
- A celibate is one who is sworn not to marry
Additional rules to protect woman were classifying clandestine marriages as concubinage. That is that the church held that a marriage contracted outside the presence of a priest had no force in law and thus the state could not require the woman to remain with her "husband". This put teeth behind the church's doctrine that a woman's consent was needed for her to marry, regardless of her father's wishes (site).
The church also supported consent in the opposite direction. Pope Callixtus I had in the time of the empire permitted slaves to marry without their master's consent. He had also allowed for church marriages between slaves and woman of noble birth. The church while not being able to declare persons married without a girl's father consent, did take the strongest action they could. They reapplied the ruling of Callixtus to the modern situation and recognized the holiness of lifelong commitments (that is a promise to maintain a relation of concubinage throughout life), even though without a father's consent this promise had no legal weight. In all but terminology, the church had adopted the doctrine "It is consent, not law, which defines sacramental marriage". Again, we see another example of the church giving official sanction to acts which undermine patriarchy and supporting the development of the parallel institution of concubinage. Moreover we see the church equating the status of woman under patriarchy with slavery, much as modern critics do.
The church also supported concubinage by reversing their earlier hostility towards the marital product. That is the church recognized 3 not 2 grades of children
- uxor -- This was the child of a wife and had full legal rights
- spurii -- Literally spurious or bastard children that had no legal claim on the father. For example the product from a man's relations with a prostitute
- naturales -- This was the child of a concubine and the father and they had moral claim and if the father so choose at any point legal claim. Note such a child could never reach the status of full heir but for example might be able to claim the right to remain even if his father and mother had dissolved their relationship or require enough money to sustain his mother's household (analogous to paying child support)
- For more information on woman in the middle ages there is a very good online essay by Steven Conway, Silent Voices: Women in the Middle Ages
The high middle ages presents us with "the romantic age". Love flourishes, men and woman strive for a godly noble love, of humility, charity, kindness, temperance and purity. Love poetry thrives, education and economics both improve. The church is at its height, and the Pope is the greatest king in all Europe. The court of love is governed by woman who teach the men how to politely treat woman (which today is remembered with the word courtship). Men are governed by a code of chivalry, and yet from the court of love they learn to love wives as Christ loves his church, questing to be worthy of their beloved. The modern woman can only envy the woman of that period, the height of beauty and romance is not the virgin girl but the married woman. While there are far more protections for woman the most important shift is that now a husband's and wife's economic interests correlate. This will allow for something almost as strong and with many of the aspects of patriarchal marriage of this section but without the cruelty.
I can see the patriarch smiling, "yes finally here is the test, case". Oh, so then let us close with a line from the greatest poem of the romantic age:
I know not if thou understand; I speak
Of Beatrice; her shalt thou see above,
Smiling and happy, on this mountain's top.