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As you know, in Odin’s End, our Viking hero Rorik captures Adele’s ship, killing the crew and taking her and her monk buddies captive. Obviously, not the most successful of blind dates.
Needless to say, these actions present some serious challenges to Rorik’s and Adele’s later romantic relationship. But there’s also another big challenge. OOPS – Rorik is betrothed. (He must have forgotten to mention it.)
So in researching betrothals, weddings, etc., I came across more wicked cool factoids about marriage in Viking society. Here you go:
- The potential suitor had to start the negotiations; the father of the girl could never initiate his daughter’s marriage.
- The woman was totally absent from the negotiations; in fact, frequently marriages were negotiated without the woman’s knowledge. Rarely did the couple meet before the wedding. And as for her approval? Irrelevant.
- There were two levels of engagement, where the woman was either an “engaged woman” (festarkona) or a “promised woman” (heitkona). The promised woman had to wait for the suitor for 3 years, but after that she’d be available for other suitors.
- A father couldn’t force his daughter to marry if she wanted to become a nun (OK – so if she can’t stand the guy, she can either marry him or become a nun. That’s one helluva choice!)
- The marriage was considered legal if 6 witnesses saw the husband go to bed with the wife. (Think of all the weddings you’ve been to – is this something you’d REALLY want to see?)
- However, this was preceded (thankfully) by a lavish banquet, and the partying lasted for days.
- Divorce was easy to obtain, and this, combined with men being killed at sea or in battle, and women dying in childbirth, meant that a whole lot of weddings took place. (Wow – the Lifetime Channel could have a whole lot of those “Platinum Wedding” shows.)
- Another little bit of trivia? The last Catholic bishop in Iceland, Jon Arason, had 6 known children with his acknowledge mistress. (I won’t bother to comment on this one.)
So yeah, Rorik has a problem. He’s betrothed. There are some real consequences if he breaks the engagement. (My, my. He’s offended a family’s honor. And what’re the consequences for that, in Viking culture?) And he’s considering it because of Adele, our heroine who really can’t stand him.
Hmmm….. what’s your average Viking guy going to do?
In the course of researching Odin’s End, I’ve had to review countless texts on Viking (read “pagan”) marriage.
Now, lots of romance novelists have dealt with this, in scenes of heaving bosoms and manly “battle” equipment. And I just LUV them all.
But, in Odin’s End, I can’t deal with Rorik and Adele this way – their circumstances require a heavier dose of reality. So while these reads are a tremendous source of entertainment for me (not to mention my healthy dose of Barbarian Hotness), I had to look elsewhere to help out Rorik and Adele – especially since each of them comes with a unique set of personal challenges. And since (not to give away the ending) they don’t end up exactly married….
So, the real skinny on Viking marriages? Here’s the low-down:
- Marriage wasn’t necessarily monogamous (though I fail to see how this differs from the 21st century), and kings and other powerful men were allowed multiple wives (and this differs from the Playboy Mansion or Stringfellows how?)
- The primary function of pagan marriage was to ensure the orderly passage of property from one generation to the next. (Barbarian Hotness notwithstanding, it seems.)
- In the north, and especially in Iceland, property belonged to the individual only for the duration of his or her lifetime. After this, it reverted back to the clan. (Kind of like a leasehold?)
- Marriage was prohibited for poor people, since their offspring would be a burden on the community. (Whew! I’m not touching this one!)
- If a young girl with physical flaws became engaged, no decision was made until she turned 16, giving her a chance to outgrow the impediments (Today, women with “flaws” can use makeup; men with flaws can use Corvettes.)
- There was no minimum age for either bride or groom (Kind of like the whack-jobs in the religious compounds of sleepy Texas towns.) and finally,
- Permission was given to castrate beggars. People undertaking this task were not punished, even if they seriously wounded or even killed the victim in the process. (Now how would they handle this in all the courtroom reality shows???)
So yep, Rorik and Adele have some problems. He’s betrothed (though she doesn’t know it) and she’s assumed to have the gift of prophecy (though, in a mild misunderstanding, the Christians label her a witch and trick her to a pyre in front of Nidaros Cathedral).
But they’ve got the marriage thing sorted, at least – and on some days, I prefer the romance fantasy and versions containing Barbarian Hotness!