Gaelic Marriage Law


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Highlighting Historical Romance with Ashley York who writes about marriage in medieval Ireland.

Marriage being performed in a church is, historically speaking, a pretty recent development. It wasn’t until the late middle ages (1300-1500) that marriage itself became one of the Seven Sacraments within the church. In Éire (Ireland) 1095, where my story takes place, marriages were covered by Gaelic “secular” law. All that was required for a marriage was an agreement.

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The agreement would include the all important coibche, or bride price, agreed upon between the man responsible for the woman, usually the father, and the suitor. Any dowries would also be considered so that if the marriage was to end, the woman could not only get her dowry returned but could get part of the coibche paid for her. Her value could be a milch cow, land, or even silver. In the first book of my Warrior King series, Curse of the Healer, my hero Diarmuid, settles the price with the cousin of my heroine, Aednat. It was handled this way because her cousin, Sean, had taken her in, or fostered her, and negotiated the price the same as her father would have if he’d been alive.

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A person’s worth was very important in this social order. Established by their standing within both their family and society, the position could be improved but it would be over generations rather than within a life time in most cases. Slaves had minimal value because it was not a culture dependent on slaves. Each person’s honour price was used to establish the amount they would receive for a wrong done to them. These wrongs could vary from a strike on the cheek to a wound that drew blood. This amount also helped establish the bride price.

Depending on the source, divorce was acceptable. In the church sources, Hibernensis, or the Irish Collection of Canon (church) Law circa 8th century, a couple could divorce only if the husband or wife joined the church and the other did not, they could then be considered divorced. Within Gaelic law, if a couple decided to divorce, it could be done for a number of reasons or no reason at all. These reasons included impotence, loss of property, obesity, homosexuality, and not providing for his wife’s needs. Remarriage was expected and accepted so that men having several wives throughout his life was not unusual.

According to the Cáin Lánamna, a seventh century source for Irish Law, men having more than one wife at a time was not unheard of. He could have his primary wife, or cétmuinter, who had the highest legal standing, as well as a lesser wife, or ben aititen, which translates as “recognized concubine” which doesn’t sound very honorable a position to have. I’m thinking I would not want to be that second wife! How about you?

About the Book

Curse of the Healer

Fated to be a healer…

Aednat has spent her entire life training to be the Great healer and is more than willing to remain alone and untouched to attain that goal. When she meets Diarmuid, the intense attraction she feels toward him shakes her resolve to believe in such a legend. If she gives in to the passion he ignites in her, can she settle for being less?

Destined to be his…

Diarmuid of Clonascra is renowned for his bravery in battle. Only one thing daunts him: the prospect of taking a wife. The wisest course would be to keep his distance from Aednat, the bold, headstrong healer who’s far too tempting for his peace of mind. But his overlord orders him to protect her from a group of craven warriors intent on kidnapping her to steal her power.

What starts as duty for Diarmuid quickly transforms into something more. Aednat’s power might be at risk, but so is his closed-off heart.

Buy HERE

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About the Author

Award-winning author Ashley York writes historical romance full of passion and intrigue set in 11th and 12th century Ireland, Scotland, and England where life was wild and survival was never guaranteed. 

Whether it’s in the mysterious ring forts of Ireland, the romantic Scottish Highlands, or the battle fields of Hastings, her characters fight hard and play hard. Good or evil, primary or secondary, they’ll yank at your emotions and make it hard to put her books down.

Passionate about history and research, York may tweak some historical facts (like the location of the Baron’s Rebellion) but the flavor of the time is undeniable. With heroes and heroines you’ll want to read about again and again, her stories are fresh and unpredictable but still finish with a satisfying HEA.

Where History Takes a Passionate Turn

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