4

I was watching a fictional series situated in XV century France, where a girl (princess) aged 8 married a +18 years old man (prince), through the Catholic Church. I wonder whether that was actually possible.

It seems in the "Middle Ages" (unclear what exactly which years this is to represent) the minimum "legal" (Church?) age for marriage was 12 for girls and 14 for boys (e.g. see here and here). Currently, according to Canon Law, it's 14 and 16 respectively (e.g. see here).

I've been searching for the evolution of this regulation, but haven't found much more than the above. A Wikipedia article about the history of marriage in the Catholic Church has no further information. Anyone know more about this?

  • Is the Catholic Church in the series portrayed as treating this marriage between ages 8 and 18 as a valid marriage (as opposed to the priest being coerced or corrupt or whatever)? I mean, a priest today could theoretically go off the rails and marry a 2 year old with a 60 year old, but that would be blatantly illegal under canon law. – Thunderforge Jan 25 at 1:09
  • @Thunderforge Yes, legal, by the archbishop. – luchonacho Jan 25 at 9:28
3

Minimum age of marriage in the Catholic Church through the ages?

Within the Catholic medieval world marriages would be valid after the age of puberty (12 years of age for girls and 14 years of age for boys). However arranged marriages were permitted at times and with permission of the Church and the parents involved, especially in families of nobility were concerned. The minimum age for a dissoluble bethothal was 7 years of age.

Not being of marriageable age is a not a diriment impediment for a formal contract of betrothal, known as a sponalia de futuro.

Historically within the Catholic Church, prior to the 1917 Code of Canon Law, the minimum age for a dissoluble betrothal (sponsalia de futuro) was 7 years in the contractees. The minimum age for a valid marriage was puberty, or nominally 14 for males and 12 for females. The 1917 Code of Canon Law raised the minimum age for a valid marriage at 16 for males and 14 for females.[43] The 1983 Code of Canon Law maintained the minimum age for a valid marriage at 16 for males and 14 for females. - Child marriage

Although children (boys and girls) could become betrothed as early as the age of 7, the age of consent normally was 12 for girls and 14 for boys.

Canon law following Gratian (12th century) set the lower limit on marriage at 12 for girls, 14 for boys. This didn't actually mean priests never married younger people: in 1364, Alice de Routclif of York was either ten or eleven when she married John Marrays (whose age is not noted). What it did mean, however, was that if a particular partnership came under dispute later--as did Alice and John's union, from one of Alice's male relatives--a Church court (which were in charge of marriage law) would have real grounds to annul the marriage. As a result, 12 and 14 remained frequently observed lower boundaries on marriage age. Although the licit betrothal age of 7 was, shall we say, flexible (with the Church's intention that parents could betrothe their children all they wanted, but when the kid reached the age of consent, he or she could break off the potential marriage if desired. Yes, this was absolutely a power struggle between the Church and secular nobility.)

Beyond the very highest levels of royalty and nobility, typical marriage age was very tied to economic circumstances. The two most important were a woman's dowry and a man's ability to support his family. (Lower and middle class women certainly worked, but typically in support of their husband's occupation and sometimes with work on the side). - What was the average marriage age for people living in the Middle Ages?

Gratian (Decretum Gratiani) has much to say on marriages of the medieval period (generally accepted as the 4th to 15th century):

The Decretum Gratiani, also known as the Concordia discordantium canonum or Concordantia discordantium canonum or simply as the Decretum, is a collection of Canon law compiled and written in the 12th century as a legal textbook by the jurist known as Gratian. It forms the first part of the collection of six legal texts, which together became known as the Corpus Juris Canonici. It was used by canonists of the Roman Catholic Church until Pentecost (May 19) 1918, when a revised Code of Canon Law (Codex Iuris Canonici) promulgated by Pope Benedict XV on 27 May 1917 obtained legal force.

Gratian believed that a valid marriage constituted both consent and consummation. A betrothal is simply an promise or contract for a future marriage.

In the Middle Ages, some linked the sacrament of marriage to the nuptial blessing given by the church, but there were others who insisted that it depended on the physical consummation of the marriage. It seems that many held consummation as essential to the validity of a union, while the church generally maintained that mutual consent of the couple (signified by the blessing) was the only thing necessary to complete a marriage. Evidence for the first opinion can be found in Boccaccio's tale about Sophronia, who weds Giusippus but consummates the marriage with his friend Titus, who thus becomes her "real" husband (X.8) (Brundage, 456). Granted, this story takes place in Greece and not in medieval Italy, but it does seem consistent with the popular view that physical consummation was what determined the validity of a marriage.

In the twelfth century, Gratian had defined the two essential parts for the proper validation of a marriage: spiritual consent and physical consummation. According to him, without either of these components the union was invalid (Richards, 27). However, among the general public it seems that there were two opposing forces, neither of which saw the need for both of these two components. Some canonists actually argued the necessity of physical consummation. Aquinas and Bonaventure both agreed that a man who had a permanent inability to copulate, no matter what the reason, could not marry validly, while Bernard of Montemirato went even further to state that the ability to copulate and specifically to inseminate was crucial to a valid marriage (Brundage, 456). However, as we can see from Bernard's opinion, all three theologians probably had the necessity of procreation (rather than sexual fulfillment) in mind when they insisted that a man must be able to have intercourse with his wife. - The Question of Consummation

The question of dissoluble betrothal (sponsalia de future) before the age of 12 for girls and 14 for boys was permitted by the Church.

  1. “Future Vows” (sponsalia per verba de futuro)

Slightly more complicated were future vows of marriage exchanged between consenting parties (i.e., "I, Margot, promise to take you, Hannes, to be my husband at such-and-such a date"). Future vows were obligating, but did not constitute a marriage for the present.

Therefore they could be dissolved by mutual consent of the parties involved;

  • If one of the two made present vows with somebody else (i.e., took a higher vow);

  • If one of the two moved to a foreign land;

  • If one of the two had sex with somebody else;

  • If one of the two became a heretic or an apostate; or

  • If one of the two became a leper.

In this system, the social dimension of marriage got short shrift: Gratian was no enthusiast for clandestine marriage, but his emphasis on consent and sexual consummation left little room for parental consent or the need for public, ceremonial marriage. Indeed, Gratiann's emphasis on consent grew stronger: Pope Alexander III (1159-1181) ruled that future vows, if they were given freely and consummated sexually, constituted an indissoluable marriage. Neither parental or kin-group consent, nor dowries, nor publicity were needed to complete a marital union. - Canon Law on Marriage: A Primer

Here are some historical cases of Sponsalia de futuro (Arranged marriage) involving children below the standard age of marriage within Catholic culture Consumatiotion was deferred to a later date):

Liturgical Note:

The Extraordinary form of the Mass (EF) celebrates the Feast of the Espousals of the Blessed Virgin Mary on January 23rd.

5

Not being of marriageable age is a diriment impediment,

A condition, circumstance, or situation that makes an action [of marrying] null and void in its intended effects. Thus an existing marital bond nullifies any attempt to enter a second marriage.

The Church has the authority to determine impediments to marriage (cf. Session 24 on Matrimony of the Council of Trent, can. 4), but, according to the commentary of canonist Charles Augustine, O.S.B., D.D., on 1917 can. 1067,

The Code [of Canon Law] does not determine which of these [impediments] belong to the order of the natural and divine law, and which to the order of ecclesiastical law.

However,

pastors of souls should deter from it [i.e., from marriage] young people who have not reached the age at which, according to the custom of the country, marriage is usually contracted.

In this formulation the impediment is of merely ecclesiastical law, which now demands a higher age than was formerly required. The Decretals [an early codification of ecclesiastical law] followed the Roman law in reckoning the age. There was a controversy between the Cassians and the Proculejans, until Justinian adopted the view of Proculejus, who maintained that the number of years, fourteen for boys and twelve for girls, should be decisive in admitting one to marriage. The Cassians, on the other hand, held that not only age but natural capacity for the marital act should be taken into consideration. […] There are pontifical constitutions which forbid marriage to be contracted at the age of six or seven, but they do not state a precise limit.

Thus, your "series situated in XV century France, where a girl (princess) aged 8 married a +18 years old man (prince), through the Catholic Church" seems fictional.

(Also, the Church can give and has given dispensations regarding consanguinity and affinity.)

  • If a Catholic marriage between an 8 year old girl and an 18 year old girl ever did happen, it would almost certainly be invalid for the reasons you cited and would be annulled without much controversy should the matter ever be brought up. – Thunderforge Jan 25 at 1:06
  • @Thunderforge I think you mean an 18 year old boy? There would be even further difficulties re an 8 year old girl and an 18 year old girl! – davidlol Jan 25 at 13:58
  • @davidlol Yes, I did mean an 18 year old boy. There would be even more reasons to annul it if it were between two girls. – Thunderforge Jan 26 at 17:52
5

It was permissible and fully legal for children below the age of consent to marry in the Catholic Church provided they had a papal dispensation. Such dispensations were granted mainly for diplomatic reasons. It is thus entirely plausible that an 8-year-old princess might marry an 18-year-old prince.

On 31 October 1396 Isabella of Valois, daughter of King Charles VI of France married King Richard II of England. She was six and he was 29. Of course, it was fully understood that the marriage would not be consummated until she was 12, by which time she was a widow.

Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, the younger son of Edward IV, who is now best known with his brother Edward V as the Princes in the Tower, married Anne de Mowbray in January 1478. She was 5 and he was 4.

There are many other instances. Consummation was to be deferred until the boy was 14 and the girl 12.

  • Interesting. Excluding Mary and Joseph, what is the view whether a marriage is valid or not, if not consummated? – SLM Jan 26 at 21:08
  • @SLM The marriage could not be annulled on the grounds of non-consummation prior to both parties being of age, or perhaps one being dead.. As Ken Graham explains there were different understandings. With royal marriages the dispensation might specify what would happen in various eventualities, and this would in turn depend on the negotiations between the parties. In the case of Isabella of Valois she was widowed aged 10. France demanded return of her dowry, due to non-consummation, which England refused to pay . – davidlol Jan 27 at 11:35
  • Apparently France, at least, thought no consummation, then no valid marriage. Thanks. – SLM Jan 27 at 18:33

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.