The Tudor Society

Marriage in Tudor times: brides marrying young

In today's Claire Chats, I talk about the age of brides in the medieval and Tudor periods and discuss the accusations of paedophilia that are often flung at Henry VIII, Charles Brandon and Edmund Tudor on social media.

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  1. C

    It would definitely be anachronistic, even ahistorical, to label the likes of Henry VIII and Charles Brandon paedophiles. That’s not how aristocratic marriage worked in the sixteenth-century. Females could marry at twelve and males at fourteen, but consummation was sometimes delayed until a later point if the couple were still in their teenage years when they married. I would like to point out, however, from my own studies that marriages where there was a notable discrepancy in age between the spouses could be criticised, ridiculed, or mocked. Contemporary authors believed that there should be compatibility between the spouses and this extended to similarity in age.

    Undoubtedly, the choice of Katherine Howard was somewhat unusual for Henry, who had generally preferred women in their early to mid twenties. The youth of Katherine, who was in her mid teens when she married the king, was noticed and commented on by her contemporaries. It seems bizarre that Charles Brandon married Katherine Willoughby when he was forty-nine and she was fourteen, but from the available evidence they seem to have been happy together.

  2. C

    Thank you so much for doing this video! As I mentioned to you recently, on my page I have often had people say that men were pedophiles back then if they married someone under 16 or 18, to the point where they won’t listen to anything to the contrary. Edmund Tudor and Henry VIII are the frequent ones, mainly due to their marriages being more well-known to the public than the likes of Brandon, but he is mentioned sometimes too. I do think they learnt from Margaret Beaufort’s marriage to Edmund Tudor, she certainly was very strict with her granddaughters marriage to James IV and trying to prevent consummation until she was older, but even she would not have seen the marriage/relationship itself as wrong.

    1. C - Post Author

      That’s ok, it’s an interesting subject. Yes, Margaret would not have seen the marriage as wrong, she just wanted to keep Margaret safe by holding off on consummation for a little while.

  3. R

    People need to really get off social media and get an education. As you said, the world is very different and we are glad that children are now regarded as adults much later, but we live a lot longer. It was only in the 1860s that the sexual age of consent was raised until sixteen. Before that it was fourteen, although in Tudor times this varied. It was pubity or a year or two later and many marriages were not consummated for some time. Edmund Tudor is unusual in that he didn’t wait for his wife who was only twelve and Margaret Beaufort had Henry Tudor when she was thirteen. The marriage of young girls and older men had benefits and often they were second marriages. The men may be in their twenties or thirty which is not that old or later marriage may be fourty or fifty. However, there are many women who married at this age much earlier, such as Charlemagne who married his second wife when he was twenty six and she was thirteen. They had eight children and she died aged twenty eight but they were a love match. As you said also a number of these ladies married boys their own age so boys were also very much pawns of the age as well. Prince Arthur was also sixteen when he married fifteen years old Katherine of Aragon. Jane Grey and Guildford Dudley were both about sixteen or seventeen, no more.

    A boy was considered a man at fourteen as late as the twentieth century and my grandmother and her brothers left school at fourteen. Men went down the pit at fourteen. We only changed things in the last 70 or 80 years or so. Then we went to twenty one and then backwards to eighteen. Ages of majority and sexual consent have swung back and forth. It varies from country to country and in America it can even vary in some states. Other cultures or sub cultures have different ages at which a woman can marry. Gypsy culture (some at least) allow marriage at 15 for girls and it appears to be fairly common. Jewish society continued to celebrate marriage early even into modern times and many Ancient societies married early and very close relatives.

    Conor is right concerning Henry Viii and Katherine Howard as it was unusual for him to have such a young wife and his first wife was six years older than him. His youngest mistress was possibly nineteen or more and all of his other wives were at least in their twenties. Henry was technically, by modern standards a child when he married Katherine of Aragon as he was seventeen. In the U.S.A. in the majority of states this is just about the age of consent. There is some confusion over the age of KH but she was between fifteen and eighteen when she married Henry and this was well and truly old enough to marry and consent to sex. Indeed she had consented to the latter before with an older man, Francis Dereham even if she did not consent to the advantage taken by Mannox. Neither Henry or Charles Brandon can be called a paedophile, although of course marriage to a girl under the legal age of consent would not be accepted today.

    Marriage was and is, according to the laws of traditional belief for the procreation of children. Yes, we now have a much wider view of marriage but this was it’s first ideal reason. It was also for companionship and mutual benefit. It was in the upper classes about property and wealth and land and furthering your family name and status. Marriage was a sacrament and a contract. Two families came together in a business agreement and the union of their young fertile children, sealed the deal. People could die young so the sooner the couple began their marriage and had children the better. If a woman died in childbirth a man may marry again, either to have another son or to get a mother for his children. If an older man didn’t have an heir only girls, there was not much point in him marrying a lady close to his age. He needed a young fertile woman in her teens to guarantee him a few years of childbirth. If he had many children like Thomas More he may marry a widow older than him to care for his children. Charles Brandon had four wives and children by them, an adopted daughter and two illegitimate children. However, from three wives he had four daughters and his son and heir had died. His wife, Mary, the King’s sister also died. He now had no wives, no heir and no money. However, he did have a ward, fourteen year old Katherine Willoughby, his son’s betrothed, but his son died in March 1534 and was ill and only eleven. Brandon needed money and he came to an arrangement and married Katherine himself, gaining wealth and more land and two sons by her. She didn’t have their first son until they were married two years and it was a successful and beneficial marriage. You could also get married very easily by consenting and declaring you are man and wife and then having sexual relations. This was how most people probably did marry or at least simply, but you had a hard time getting out of marriage. A number of young noble adolescent men and women married this way also, causing chaos in the family and Church courts. The records make interesting reading and there are several hundreds of cases in every town in every century back to the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Marriage also gave people mutural comfort and support and in centuries before a social security service, a means of survival. For many it was more profitable and more practical to marry someone with whom you may not be in love but who brought skills and tools and a trade in order to gain protection and a modest living. Shelter and protection from the loss of a home or because a woman had been orphaned young as in Claire’s example or as part of a property deal if you were a young orphaned heiress were also aspects of Tudor and marriage over many centuries.

    We now know that such young people getting married is not good as they are not mature mentally but this was not the case in Tudor England. Nobody could do a catscan of the brain and say it is different as a young person. Of course they knew young people have different attitudes and act differently, as evidenced by writing calling them wilful shows but you had to grow up and take responsibility once you reached pubity. That’s just how it was and we can’t judge them out of our time. Thankfully we do live longer and have better health care and don’t need to have children early. Now our children can be children. If we did find ourselves suffering a catastrophic collapse of society via disease or something, affecting older women, would we not revert to the need for young women of fifteen to have children, in order to rebuild our society?

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Marriage in Tudor times: brides marrying young