Dowry in the 12th Century

By: Tom Donnelly

Throughout the ages, certain customs have been passed down from generation to generation. We, as a society, learn from our ancestors and immitate what they had done. So, just as one may inherit a common characteristic from a relative, we also follow common guidelines. This also applies to dowry. Focusing on the dowry of the 12th Century, one can obtain knowledge concerning the content of the dowry, the differences according to class, and the changes associated with dowry. By investigating these ideas, one can understand the importance of dowry in the 12th Century.

Dowry was commonly used by women as a form of reward for being choosen as a wife. Men were accustomed to receiving a dowry for taking on the burden of a woman. So, the dowry usually had to be of some significance. Men may not have wed a woman unless she had a sizeable dowry for him. This is why dowry was of such great importance.

In the 12th Century, dowry was of great importance. Dowry consisted of almost anything seen as valuable. "Treasures" such as goats, sheep, pigs, and other farm animals were usually included in the dowry. Also, goods such as clothes, land, and medicine also were included. One may ask, "why medicine?" Well, medicine was part of the dowry as a so called "saftey net" for the man. While bringing a new person with different diseases into the man's home, he had to be assured that he could be cured. So, medicine was sometimes part of the dowry. Another content commonly given as dowry was money, of course. Depending on how rich or poor the woman's family was can give some explanation as to how large the dowry would be. So, just like in today's society, money played a part in marriage.

When one speaks about money, we automatically think of people: rich and poor. So, one should know some of the differences associated with the contents of rich and poor women's dowries. Royal women or high aristocracy usually had large, if not unimaginable, dowry. Usually, women of high rank in society would have money and land as their dowry. These were the items which provided power and prestige to those who had it. So, women who possessed land and money as their dowry usually were courted by high officials and other royalty. On the other hand, there were the poor. These women usually had farm animals as their dowry. Why? These animals were worth so much to those who possessed them that they were as good as money. Poor women had little or no chance of attracting a royal man due to their small, minimal dowries.

During the 12th Century, the proportion of men to women changed in favor of the women. So, the way dowry was to be handled also had to change. Now, with such a high population of women, men were few and far between, about 15% less abundant than women. So, the dowry had to be even larger. Women were faced with changes and had to fight even harder to get a husband.

Simply understanding dowry cannot do it justice. To learn and understand dowry is to know just the beginning. Focusing on the general point gives us a nice basis to work from, guiding us to specific instances and case references.

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