How vastly courting rituals have changed through the ages. . .
In the 1950s, women stayed home to raise their families. A wife going to work outside the house was a slur against her husband. What’s wrong, can he not support her? At the turn of the previous century, women seldom went out to live on their own. They remained with their families until they were properly courted and wed, going from father’s to husband’s control without ever knowing how to live life on her own. The further you go back into history, the tighter control you see of women, what they could and couldn't do. Few could own property. They had no control over money they might inherit, and were often considered nothing more than property of their husband. In the 19th century, women didn't go out for dates. In fact, if she danced with the same man more than twice at a ball of the ton, society would expect him to offer for her hand in marriage the next morning, or she would be ruined!
Shed all your knowledge of how women live today, and take that step back to consider obstacles women faced in finding a husband in Medieval times. The average commoner rarely traveled outside his own village. They were born, lived and died, literally tied to the land, chained there because they were mere vassals of the local lord. Consequently, a woman of low birth was forced to find a mate amongst the slim pickings of local lads, or possibly a cousin not too far away. It’s estimated they rarely traveled farther than the nearest village, even fewer went over fifty miles away. Women of higher birth were not quite as limited. They generally were sent to other castles or keeps at a young age to be fostered, much in the same manner sons were sent away to serve as pages and squires. Therefore, they did have the opportunity to meet young men outside their own fiefdom. Such a move was intentional, this “farming out” of daughters at young ages. They gained strength in facing a new situation, new people, and saw how others thought and lived. More importantly, the exchange of children was a forging of bonds between different lords. If she were of some import, she might even travel to court, widening her circle of acquaintances even more. Still, there was little chance of dating as we might consider it. Young women served under the tutelage of the lady of the manor. She spent a lot of time learning courtly ways and to manage the household, possibly she might even be instructed in the healing arts. A young woman would spend time sewing, spinning and weaving ― an endless chore, because people had to have clothing, and everything from sheering the sheep, carding the wool and spinning it had to be done by hand.
Even if she were lucky enough to catch the eye of a handsome young squire, attachments wouldn't have been encouraged. A daughter was not just a child to be reared, she was an asset. Fathers that didn't have sons would use his daughters to make alliances. Lord’s with sons saw the chance of obtaining a large dowry to bolster his standing. The young girl would have little say in if she wanted to marry a man. These marriage contracts were set up, signed and sealed when she was but a child. Love, though much sung about by troubadours, rarely came into play in the making of a match during this period. Sometimes, fathers had little say in the matter, too. If the liege lord or king decided to marry off a daughter to a knight or another lord for a reward, there was no recourse. Their liege lord’s decision on such matters was final.
If on the rare occasion, a young woman might fall for a young man, the obstacles preventing them from getting to know each other were endless. In a castle, people were always about. Privacy was scarce as those proverbial hen’s teeth. There were no places to go for walks, no parks, and strolling outside the castle curtain was dangerous. The first time a couple had the time to truly come to know each other was after they were married.
So the next time you read a historical romance don’t be too quick to judge people of the past and how they lived by your own life experiences.
Author of Internationally Published series
Dragons of Challon ™
Dragons of Challon ™