This is the third part of my little historical miniseries regarding Norse women of the 9th Century. Part one, on the childhood of a Norwegian girl, can be found here. Part two deals with her young womanhood and the courtship of a young woman of Nordweg.
A betrothal was considered a binding relationship.
For me, this might have been problematic (I was engaged…a few times…before I met my husband), but for the Norse, it was necessary because the couple were likely to be parted if the suitor were to be involved in warfare or raiding before the marriage took place. Both parties needed to be assured of the commitment of the other.
There was, of course, a monetary settlement arranged on both sides. The groom and his family would agree to pay a bride price (called the mundr) for the woman he wanted. Then, the groom himself was responsible for the morning-after gift. This gift was given to a bride for different reasons ranging from gratitude to compensation for her loss of virginity. In later years, the gift would be given even to widows who were remarrying. The bride’s family would promise to pay a dowry (heimangerö) at the wedding. There were several witnesses present at this agreement and a date for the wedding was agreed upon. This would usually take place within a year, to give the families time to gather the money and/or property promised as well as to give the bride and groom time to make arrangements.
Basically, the betrothal was a business arrangement, and the bride herself was largely left out of it. She was busy preparing herself for being a wife.
Part of this preparation was to make it clear to all and sundry that she remained a virgin (if she was unmarried and not a widow). Our Gerda, even if she found her suitor appealing, would not be wanting to spend time alone with him even if she wanted to spend time alone with him. Ahem. Her reputation—and that of her family—was vested in her decorous behavior during this time. (Things might be different after she was married and had produced an heir, however.)
There was a lot of sewing to do, certainly, and cheese to make while she waited for her husband to claim her. 🙂
I know—not terribly romantic, eh?
Though there is more information regarding Icelandic relationships, the resources on the Norse are much less communicative. This was due to a couple of things. One, as I mentioned in the first article, Norse society wasn’t centrally-governed, so information wasn’t disseminated as broadly. Two, the population of Norway was much less than that of the rest of Scandinavia. Iceland, for example, likely had twice as many people, and a lower mortality rate to boot. Additionally sagas (what many use for information about the era) were written hundreds of years after the period with which I am mostly familiar.