“I will never consent to be wedded with you!”: Coerced Marriage in the Courts of Medieval England
By Sara M. Butler
Canadian Journal of History, Vol.39:2 (2004)
Abstract: This paper asks us to rethink the boundaries between consent and coercion in medieval England. From gentle persuasion to threats and abuse, coercion was a part of the courtship process. Although late medieval society expected parents to play an active, even heavy-handed, role in matchmaking, the English church recognized the possibility that parents might cross the line between influence and force, and consequently permitted annulments on these grounds.
What happened when it was not the parents, but an overly zealous suitor who coerced a marriage? Very few Englishwomen brought suits of force and fear against their husbands. Those few documented cases of coerced marriage that have survived from the York cause papers of the later Middle Ages reveal how the victims perceived their own situations, and the ways litigants used the church courts to address these concerns.
Introduction: By the time Isabel Grene of Yorkshire’s bill of complaint reached the ears of the chancellor’s officials in the later years of the fifteenth century, she had found herself in a position seemingly without remedy by normal procedures of the common law. Adopting the humble tone required of a bill in Chancery, she wrote:
Mekely besechith your pour Oratrice Isabell Grene Wedewe. Where as one Robert Daweson hath taken divers accions of dette and trespas ayenst yor said Oratrice at Kyngeston uppon Hull in which accions the said Robert at all suche tymes when xii men shuld appere he fallith nonnsued and so wrongfully vexeth and troubleth dayly your said Oratrice at her grete costes it is so graceous lord that the said Robert hathe long tyme proposid to marye with your said Oratrice be cause of certayn godes and lyvelode that she hath of her owne and she therto in no wise woll assent nowe late hath taken a newe accion of trespas ayenst her afore the shiref of the said toun and proposeth to have her condempned in the same ayenst all right and gode conscience.