October 25, 2010

The Mentality of Marriage in the Middle Ages

Often we look at the Middle Ages through a shimmer of romanticism and see a world of knights in shining armor, chivalry and courtly love. But when it came to marriage, the medieval era was anything but romantic.

Basic human needs and desires don’t change. Love, trust and loyalty are key ingredients in a happy life, as is the security that comes from being warm, safe and well fed. The ease with which you accomplish the latter determines greatly how (or if) you gain the former.

One key to understanding the Middle Ages is to understand the role that land played in determining status, wealth and the likelihood of surviving war, famine and winter. The more land you controlled, the more family members, servants and men-at-arms you could support. The more servants, the more food planted, protected and harvested from your fields. The more men-at-arms, the better able to repel would be invaders and to support the men in power who will be favorable to you.

Hence, land equals power, wealth and security. Consequently, for those with land (whether thousands of hectares or a dozen stripes in a field), marriage was a business arrangement to determine who of the next generation got the land and all that came with it.

Against this background, it was easy to make marriage the romantic conflict in my latest release, ENTHRALLED.

William of Ravenglas has been in love with Ami, a changeling raised as his sister, for as long as he can remember, but she’s been betrothed to an earl’s second son since before she could crawl.

The marriage represents a huge opportunity for the family. It allies them with a politically powerful earl and sets the stage for the family to move from being poor knights with a small holding to major landholders in England and France.

Not having Ami is slowly driving William mad, but he refuses to destroy his family’s future by claiming her. In response, Ami does her best to make it hard for him to live with his choice. She loves him, is frightened of marrying a man she doesn’t know, and is ready to gamble with the family’s fate if it means she gets William.

William fears that he will not be strong enough to give Ami over to her groom when the time comes, and she is terrified that he will be.

Here’s an excerpt that frames William’s mindset when it comes to Ami and marriage:

Ami turned to face William. Her cheeks were flushed with excitement, and her grin crinkled the corners of her eyes. His breath caught. His body tightened. She looked like a bride the morning after the ceremony.

“Do not be a fool, my friend. Keep her.”

Keep her.

Aedan’s beguiling words buzzed in William’s ears, tempting him, but William knew they offered a hollow promise. He had expectations to meet and responsibilities to bear. Land and people to protect. Lords to serve. Whatever his bloodlines, Aedan wasn’t raised among nobility. He had no idea of the sacrifices it required. The strength of his family provided food, clothing, and luxury goods for a hundred families, maybe more by now. Not even his life was his own to spend as he wished. He must wed for Ravenglas, fight for it, die for it.

“I will do as I must.”

Keena Kincaid writes historical romances in which passion, magic and treachery collide to create unforgettable stories. Her books are available from The Wild Rose Press, Amazon, and wherever ebooks are sold. You will also find her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter and visit her blog, Typos and All.


Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

Hi, Keena. What a great post. It's a good thing we can take poetic license with history and make love matches in a time period when such a thing was scoffed at. Great to have you with me today

Keena Kincaid said...

Hi, Anna. Thanks for having me here today. I love poetic license!

Maggie Toussaint said...

Hi Keena,

Don't talk to a southerner about land or you may get your head chopped off. Remember that scene from Gone With the Wind where Scarlet is determined to rebuild Tara? We care fiercely for land.

That's why your books ring true. The truisms in the past are still true today. We like to think we are all above pettiness, but stuff matters. Stuff like land and prestige. Love can easily get overlooked amidst those big pressures.

Mona Risk said...

Hi Keena, there are still places where marriage is a convenience and the bride is expected to obey her father. History is sometimes so real. Nice excerpt.

StephB said...

Keena, what a great excerpt. It really gives you a strong perspective of what to expect from William. I feel his pain, wanting something he can't have. Naughty Aiden, fueling the tempation!

I agree - Land was power and back in medivel (sp?) times it was an agricultural society. It's only been recently that things have changed.

I can't help but ask, is there going to be another book in this series?


Keena Kincaid said...

Hi Maggie,
Oh, I know all about Southerns and land. My family was Southern until my generation, then many moved to the midwest because land was affordable and fertile. As people retire, the family is moving back South, and leaving it to their kids (boys get land, girls get cash).

Keena Kincaid said...

Hi, Mona,
Thanks for dropping by. My mom used to point out the guy she would have set me up with if marriages were still arranged. I like to point out he's bat sh*t crazy now--LOL! Only joking.

I imagine that if the parents really take their child's personality and desires, etc., into account, an arranged marriage might work out as well as (if not better) than a love match. But when it's strictly business, it's got to be horrible.

Keena Kincaid said...

Hi, Steph,
Yes, Aedan is naughty. But he also wants something good for his friend.

I imagine I'll revisit this family again at some point, but I'm working on a new series right now. So it will take precedent over any sequels (although Brigid practically screams for her own book).

liana laverentz said...

Oh, in the end, he will do what he must...what he must to survive :) Love that play on words :)

Keena Kincaid said...

Thanks for stopping by. Yes, William does what he must, and he does eventually figure out what he has to do. :-)

Joyce Elson Moore said...

Keena: Aren't we all glad that our parents don't use us as pawns for prestige. Still, I love reading medievals, and writing them. I imagine (and would hope) that some were also love matches, or grew to be. Your latest book sounds like a good read for sure!

Keena Kincaid said...

Hi, Joyce. Yes, I'm very glad our parents still don't marry us for prestige. In defense of medieval parents, many outside the high nobility did seem to take the child's personality into account, and try to arrange a marriage that was both advantageous and affectionate.