26 October 2010

Money Matters: What's Love Got to Do With It?

By Amanda McIntyre

The worth of a woman--what establishes it? Is it gold or diamonds? Is it the success of her career or her kindness to others? These days, the worth of a woman can be a compilation of many things and not only comparable, but in many ways equal to that of her betrothed. But a look back into history shows this was not always the case. In many cultures, there was in place the custom of a dowry.

The "dowry" is different from "bride price" in that it is what the woman brings to the marriage. Bride price, in contrast, is the amount of wealth paid to the family of the bride by the groom's family upon marriage. In terms of marketability, "bride price" means the perceived value of the bride to the groom and his family. A custom still practiced, though often despised, in some countries today.

Throughout history there have been many forms of determining the worth of a woman to a marriage arrangement, the operative word being, and "arrangement." As far back as the Babylonian "Code of Hammurabi," the oldest written law known to man, the dowry is accepted as part of many societal systems. Back in the day, the most recognized forms of dowry might range from sheep and cows, to property and gold. In times of war (a constant occurrence) alliances were made to strengthen political alliances, combine armies and land against opposing forces. This often led to a proverbial chess game of sons and daughters being used by their father's to jockey themselves into greater positions of wealth and power.

Dowries served many different purposes, depending on the culture and in some cases, if a woman's family could not produce a suitable dowry for the groom's family, it was possible that she would be forbidden to marry and forced to become a concubine in the household of a wealthy man. Dowries were also seen as a sign of gratitude for accepting another mouth to feed in a household and in most circumstances, the dowry of the bride would be returned if the marriage ended. Very rarely, did the dowry improve or empower the bride other than to ensure her protection from ill treatment by her husband, who would forfeit his newly found wealth if found committing such a crime.

While doing research for my medieval tales for both "WINTER AWAKENING" (in WINTER'S DESIRE) and "SACRED VOWS" (in THE PLEASURE GARDEN), I discovered that the Gaelic countries were one of the few cultures where the daughter was the heir to her father's property as well as his army. Therefore, a marriage to a Gaelic woman was advantageous in terms of her husband receiving the benefit of her inheritance at her father's death. This made marriages between clans a political move in strengthening territories against warring clans.

In Rome, a bride and her dowry (usually money and property) even after marriage might remain under the control of her father. If given to the groom, he assumed full control. As was the case in most dowry agreements, if the marriage ended, the dowry would be returned.

In early England, dowries among nobles were often traded between families in grand public displays of a betrothal of their children, who might only be seven at the time. These engagements acted largely as a promissory note between the two kingdoms showing a solidarity to one another, but which often times fell apart along the way. Upon marriage, the male (sometimes as young as 14) would receive full rights over his bride (who might only be 12!) yet still lose everything should the marriage end, or he showed her harm in any way. Marriages could also be called off entirely if the dowry was not suitable to either kingdom. Dowries given by a noble for his son, might be of substantial gain to the bride's family as they would be losing a part of their lineage while the strengthening the prospect of another.

In rural areas during the middle Ages, the brides were given items to set up their household, while a groom might be given the tools to begin a farm. By the Victorian era, a woman after being educated was presented as marriage material to society and usually a large dowry accompanied her as an enticement for the best possible suitor. Though both parties would disclose their wealth to the inspection of both families, once the marriage took place, the woman no longer had any say over her property or possessions. A woman was not even allowed to draw up a will for her children. Her husband, if he so chose, could leave her property at his discretion to any illegitimate children he might have as opposed to his own.

Even into the American movement west, dowries had a place in cultures, but became more of a preparation of the inevitability of marriage with mothers teaching their daughters to quilt and sew, making things to be placed in keeping until the day of their wedding. This custom later turned to the advent of Hope Chests, which for a time was popular, but died out in the late sixties.

Though the practice of bride pricing still takes place in some countries even today, the custom of dowries given as a form of enticement has given way to pre-nuptial agreements protecting the wealth and properties of both the bride and groom involved. As for me? I like to think that romance is the attraction and passion and hard work to build a lifetime together is the glue that holds a relationship together.

Question to ponder: How do you measure a persons' worth? Is it stature, wealth, character? Share your thoughts!

Researching history, listening to all types of music from classical to Kamelot, spending time with family & friends, and appeasing her strange infatuation with the Great Lakes, Amanda McIntyre to challenge her characters and her readers to look beyond the ordinary to the extraordinary, where anything is possible! Til next time, be well.