Tuesday, June 28, 2011

'The formation and dissolution of marriage in early medieval Ireland was shaped with the aim of maximising reproduction.' Is this a fair assessment?

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The formation and dissolution of marriage in early medieval Ireland was shaped with the aim of maximising reproduction. Is this a fair assessment?


This is a fair assessment, as the reality of medieval Irish society, as represented through the Vernacular legal tracts; strongly indicate that the formation and dissolution of marriage was shaped with the aim of maximising reproduction. Legal tracts from early medieval Ireland provide both the ideal and the reality of marriage during the period. The Collectio Canonum Hibernensis, a collection of Canon Laws, gives the ideal of marriage as seen by the Christian Church, while vernacular laws, namely Cáin Lánamna, the Heptads, and Díre tracts, express the realities of the formation and dissolution of marriage in early Irish society. Tatsuki comments on these opposing legal texts saying that the Hibernensis was the basic guide to church administration as well as being a source of moral direction to churchmen and laymen alike. The Irish laws, on the other hand, presuppose a wider application to all of lay society, with few moral overtones. Marriage as described in vernacular law was clearly shaped with the aim of maximising reproduction with the acceptance of polygamy, separation and divorce. However, for the most part, the opposite can be said of Canon Law, under which many of the actualities of marriage in early medieval Irish society were prohibited. In this essay I will examine the treatment of the formation and dissolution of marriage in both the Hibernensis, which portrays the ideal and vernacular laws, which portray the reality of marriage within society.


Canonical rules about sexual conduct…aimed to encourage everyone who could do so to renounce the pursuit of sexual pleasure, and to embrace, instead, a life of perpetual virginity, unblemished by any sexual experience whatever Brundages assessment of Canon Law strongly argues that reproduction was not central to Christian ideals. Two books within Collectio Canonum Hibernensis deal directly with marriage and sexuality, Liber XLV - De quaestionibus mulierum and Liber XLVI - De ratione matrimonii. Liber XLV opens with the phrase that virginity is to be praised in either sex as virginity is the highest state of spirituality available to mankind, while marriage and therefore are clearly not affiliated with the ideal state. Liber XLVI deals specifically with marriage. Under Canon Law marriage is believed to be monogamous, permanent and mutually consensual. Liber XLVI prohibits adultery, polygamy, the existence of concubines, and consanguinity. In this respect, the Hibernensis is certainly not a document that is promoting a society with the aim of maximising reproduction.


While Canon Law emphasised that marriage was a life long contract and that divorce was not accepted, annulments were granted on rare occasions and on limited grounds. One of the grounds on which an annulment was granted was where impotency within the marriage, which had to be proven in order to achieve an annulment. This suggests that while the Christian Church certainly did not shape marriage with the aim of maximising reproduction, they did however, on rare occasions allow for the annulment of marriage where reproduction could not occur.


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Vernacular law details the actual formation and dissolution of marriage in early medieval society in Ireland. The society represented in vernacular law is a stark contrast to the idealised views represented in the Hibernensis. Cáin Lánamna lists nine various forms of sexual union including those which would have been permanent, semi-permanent and transitory, all of which were recognised as being legitimate unions and contracts, thus demonstrating that this document is a product of a society obsessed with and aimed at maximising reproduction. The first three forms of sexual union listed in Cáin Lánamna are thought to have been the most common in Irish society during the period and were also acceptable under Canon Law. The extensive detail in which Cáin Lánamna enters into in regards to the settling and division of goods following divorce indicates how common divorce was in early medieval Ireland and also as it was so strictly legislated for, this made it easily obtainable. According to �Corráin , the most common form of marriage in early medieval Ireland was lánamnas comthinchur, in which both properties contribute property or goods to the marriage. If the marriage is dissolved, each partner receives back what he or she contributed to the marriage, and any profit form the marriage is divided into thirds, with one-third going to the partner who provided the land, one-third to the partner who provided the cattle and the final third to the partner who provided the labour. If the divorce is fault based, the partner at fault is heavily penalised in the division of the marital profits.


Another element of vernacular law that indicates that the formation and dissolution of marriage in early medieval Ireland was shaped with the aim of maximising reproduction is the presence and acceptance of polygamy in vernacular legal tracts. This is mentioned briefly in Cáin Lánamna and in more detail in the Díre and Heptad law tracts. The Díre lists five forms of wife that were possible under early Irish law. The first of these being the c�tmuinter with sons, who was given the highest legal status and had the closest ties to her husband. After which is a c�tmuinter without sons. Following this there is the ben aititen aranaiscc fine, who is a wife who is accepted and betrothed by her kindred, who is then followed by the ben aititen nad-aurnascar nad-forngarar who is not betrothed and who does not have the permission of her kindred to enter the relationship. The final classification of wife in the Díre is a ben bis for foxul dar apud n-athur no fine, a woman who is abducted against the wishes of her kindred. The Heptads also make reference to the existence of a polygamous society in Ireland in the early medieval period, particularly a commentary to Heptad 6 in which polygamy is fully justified in cases where the c�tmuinter is unable to bear children due to sickness or injury. This again is evident of a society in which the formation and dissolution of multiple marriages was shaped with the aim of maximising reproduction. As Jaski further notes, the Collectio Canonum Hibernensis prohibited polygamy in Irish society however, as the vernacular laws suggests, Canon law did not have that big an influence on society in early medieval Ireland for that prohibition to have an affect.





The dissolution of marriage in early medieval Ireland was also clearly aimed at maximising reproduction. Both the Heptads and Cáin Lánamna list grounds on which fault based divorce could be established, many of which are concerned with sexual or reproductive failings on either party. Cáin Lánamna, for the most part, deals with divorce in terms of the division of property and goods, while the Heptads list the grounds on which either party can sue for divorce. The Heptads state that a woman can divorce her husband if he is impotent, too overweight for sex, homosexual, sterile, and if her husband is a member of holy orders and is therefore unable to reconcile his mutual obligation, namely sexual relations with his wife and his vow of chastity to the Church. Other grounds on which a wife can sue for divorce include if the husband goes on a long journey or pilgrimage whereby he obviously is unable to partake in sexual relations with his wife. Donnacha �Corráin states that A woman may divorce a sexually unsatisfactory husband-one who is sterile, impotent, or homosexual. In the case of the first two the substantive ground for the divorce is that no children can be expected of the marriage. This emphasises the point that the formation and dissolution of marriage was greatly shaped with the aim of maximising reproduction. Similarly many of the grounds on which a man can sue for divorce are based on reproductive failings and provide clear evidence that the dissolution of marriage was shaped with the aim of maximising reproduction. A man could sue for divorce on grounds of infidelity, sterility, abortion, infanticide or if his wife, due to sickness, was unable to produce milk for her offspring. The grounds for fault based divorce in early medieval Ireland indicate that the dissolution of marriage came about largely on the grounds of sexual or reproductive failings, and that the dissolution of marriage was aimed at maximising reproduction.


The provision on temporary separation in the Heptads is yet another example of how the formation and dissolution of marriage was shaped with the aim of maximising reproduction. As with divorce, the majority of grounds for temporary separation were connected with sexual failings within the marriage. Heptad 5 lists eleven circumstances in which temporary separation could occur. Temporary separation could occur in cases where the husband leaves to go on pilgrimage or a long journey, and therefore cannot have sexual relations with his wife and thus reproduce. Also, if either partner is infertile, the other may go to seek child elsewhere. The resulting child is then treated as a child of the marriage. These provisions for temporary separation are examples of how important reproduction was seen to be within both marriage and society.


While marriage and divorce were primarily shaped with the aim of maximising reproduction, there is one common example where reproduction was clearly not the central aim or purpose of the marriage. This is in the case of a female heiress, or banchomarbae, and the form of marriage usually known as lánamnas fir for bantinchur. As Jaski notes, the banchomarbae could only preserve her interest in the land for her children if she married one of her patrilineal relatives, which would usually have been a first or second cousin. In this instance the formation of marriage is shaped with the aim of maintaining inheritance and land rather than reproduction.


In early medieval Ireland, with few exceptions, the formation and dissolution of marriage was shaped with the primary aim of maximising reproduction. The realities of the society are very clearly revealed in vernacular texts such as Cáin Lánamna, the Heptads and Díre law tracts, which detail common practices in regards to the formation and dissolution of marriage, Factors such as polygamy, divorce and temporary separation, for which sexual or reproductive failing provided justification for, allowed for the maximising of reproduction in early Irish society. Canon Law, however, does not place much emphasis on the importance of reproduction. While the annulment of marriage was possible where impotency could be proven, this had more to do with the legal, consensual nature of marriage rather than reproduction and was not a common occurrence . Canon Law emphasised the belief that marriage was an unbreakable, life long, spiritual union. Both the Hibernensis and the various vernacular laws portray the ideal and the reality of early medieval society in Ireland, which in reality was shaped with the aim of maximising reproduction.


BIBLIOGRAPHY


Brundage, J. Sex and Canon Law in Bullough, V & Brundage, J. (eds) Handbook of medieval sexuality (New York & London, 16)


Brundage, J. Law, sex, and Christian society in medieval Europe. (Chicago, 187)


Cosgrove, A. Consent, consummation and indissolubility some evidence from medieval ecclesiastical courts in Documents et Recherch� Bulletin de la soci�t� arch�ologique, historique et g�ographique de Criel, 1075 (11) 4-104


Ginnell, L. The Brehon Laws (nd edition) (Dublin 117)


Jaski, B. Marriage laws in Ireland and on the Continent in the early Middle Ages in C. Meek, M. Simms (eds) The fragility of her sex? Medieval Irish women in their European context (Dublin 16) 16-4


Kelly, F. A guide to early Irish law, Early Irish Law Series (Dublin 188)


�Corráin, D., Women in early Irish society. In D.�Corráin, M. MacCurtáin (eds) Women in Irish Society the historical dimension (Dublin 178) 1-17


�Corráin, D., Marriage in early Ireland in A. Cosgrove (ed) Marriage in Ireland (Dublin 185) 5-4


�Corráin, D., Women and the law in early Ireland in M.ODowd, S. Wichert (eds) Chattel, servant or citizen womens status in the church, state and society (Belfast 15) 45-57.


�Loughlin, T. Marriage and sexuality in the Hibernensis, Peritia 11 (17) 188-06


Tatsuki, A. The early Irish church and marriage an analysis of the Hibernensis Peritia 15 (001) 15-07


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