History

Norse Women – Courtship

This is part two of my series on the women of 9th Century Norway. For the first part on childhood, click here. For the sake of the series, we’re calling the sample young Norse woman Gerda

YOUNG WOMANHOOD

medieval cheeseAs Gerda grew older, she would come to know that she was expected to marry and have her own family. A woman was considered to be “good wife material” if she could weave and make good clothes, and if she could make good cheese. http://ribevikingecenter.dk/en/learn-more/food-cheese.aspx These, you see, were what would be needed by her future family to live. The husband would give her a house to live in and meat for her table, as well as protection, but the wife had the domestic responsibilities once all was set before her. She was expected to use her resources well.

medieval spinningIt is possible that she might learn some of these skills away from her birth family. Fostering was not uncommon and was indeed considered a compliment to the families involved. Gerda would have perfected her needlework and cooking skills and learned new ways of doing things which might make her more desirable as a wife for the future. 

It is possible that this time of “young womanhood” was very short. Some records show that a girl would be considered an adult as early as her twelfth year. In any event, virtually all women were married by the age of twenty, so Gerda’s childhood would have become a time of marital preparations quite early.

COURTSHIP of the VIKING WOMAN

Gerda would not have been expecting to be swept off her feet as she contemplated her future as a wife. Marriages were, in general, business transactions between the families of the bride and groom. 

Image courtesy of York Archaeological Trust

Image courtesy of York Archaeological Trust

Gerda would not have been courted in and of herself, but she might expect to see interested young men visiting her family more often. The suitor would approach her father, seemingly without reference to Gerda at all, in order to contract a marriage. He would have spoken with her, naturally, to make sure she was agreeable to him. 

And, if her suitor were very bold and daring, he might have flouted the laws and written a poem in her honor. It didn’t always reflect well on all parties, but men were known for having done so; the law must have been ignored on a regular basis.

The mother, if she were still living, would have had input into the marriage contract. It is likely that she represented Gerda’s interests and perhaps interjected the young woman’s opinions in a socially acceptable manner. It in unlikely Gerda would have protested much with the arrangements; she would be getting a husband who had proven his worth to her family and who had singled her out as desirable. And as a married woman, she would accrue additional respect.

Credit to knighterrantjr.blogspot.com

Credit to knighterrantjr.blogspot.com

If the match were considered to be especially advantageous, a family might employ mild coercion to get the prospective bride to agree. She might be granted more money for her bridal morning, or extra gifting from her family.

The marriage, remember, was a financial arrangement and was done largely to mingle family fortunes. It is likely that wealth was displayed and used prominently. Gerda would have gained honor by marrying into a wealthy family, and her own family would increase in status thereby. This was all seen as perfectly proper and questioning tradition did not happen often.

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