In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Marriage and Dowry

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Bibliographies
  • Journals
  • Primary Sources
  • England
  • France
  • Germany
  • Italy
  • Netherlands
  • Spain
  • Remarriage
  • Wedding Rituals
  • Sex and Marriage
  • Protestantism and Marriage
  • Post-Tridentine Catholicism and Marriage
  • Illegitimacy

Renaissance and Reformation Marriage and Dowry
Alexander Cowan
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 September 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 10 May 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0014


The history of marriage is inseparable from the history of the family as an institution and from the history of the female experience. Thematically, it falls into four linked categories, the making of marriages, the ceremonies surrounding marriage (Marriage Rituals), which were both religious and secular and could span lengthy periods of time, the functioning of marriage within the couple, and the social and economic roles of widows and widowers. Dowries, the sums of money and material goods which were normally transferred to the husband or his family at the time of getting married but later returned to widows, played a central role in all four of these categories. Interest in these issues first emerged in the 1960s and found a place among the historians linked to the journals Annales: Économies, Sociétés, Civilisations in France (see Annales: Histoire, Sciences sociales, cited under Journals), Quaderni Storici in Italy (also cited under Journals), and the Cambridge Group for the Study of Population and Social Structure in the United Kingdom. Multiple studies from all parts of Europe have blossomed as a result.

General Overviews

General histories of marriage in late medieval and early modern Europe are comparatively rare. Goody 1983 and Bonfield 1992 are honorable exceptions. D’Avray 2005 is a useful introduction to the roots of marriage in medieval church law. It is more common to find issues relating to marriage and dowries discussed either in books on the history of the family such as Flandrin 1979 or Burguière 1996, or Fleming 2000, which focuses on medieval England, or in histories of women. In the case of the latter, marriage is often considered as a stage in the life-cycle, as in Fairchilds 2007 and Schutte, et al. 2001. The subject lends itself to interdisciplinary and wide-ranging geographical and chronological approaches in collections of studies, as exemplified by Davis, et al. 2003, which brings together an unusually comprehensive collection on marriage and the family in late medieval Europe.

  • Bonfield, Lloyd, ed. Marriage, Property, and Succession. Berlin: Duncker and Humblot, 1992.

    A collection of key articles in English, French, Italian, and Spanish that ranges chronologically from the later Middle Ages to the end of the 18th century. It permits comparisons of the relationships between marriage, patrimony, and inheritance customs in England, France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Castile. It is part of the publisher’s series: Comparative Studies in Continental and Anglo-American Legal History.

  • Burguière, André, ed. The Impact of Modernity. Vol 2. of A History of the Family. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 1996.

    A translation of a key French text, Histoire de la famille. Le choc des modernités (Paris, France: Armand Colin, 1986). This collective work remains one of the fundamental comparative discussions of the early modern and modern family and marriage across the world. Two key chapters on the “hundred and one families of Europe” and “the prince, the priest and the family” by Andre Burguière and François Le Brun allow students of marriage to place marriage in a broader context.

  • Davis, Isabel, Miriam Miller, and Sarah Jones, eds. Love, Marriage, and Family Ties in the Later Middle Ages. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2003.

    A multidisciplinary collection in English and German of articles on marriage and the family in later medieval Europe originating from a strand on Domus and Familia at the 2001 Leeds medieval history conference. It has the additional virtue that it includes the Balkans and central Europe. Not all the essays focus on marriage as such. Key contributions are by Anna Dronzek on the marriage market in 15th-century England, Martha Howell on commercial wealth and marriage in Europe, and Monique Vleeschouwers-van Melkebeek on incestuous marriage in the Burgundian Netherlands.

  • D’Avray, David. Medieval Marriage. Symbolism and Society. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

    A study of the roots of the laws of the medieval Church on marriage which stretches beyond the starting point of this entry to the Gregorian reforms of the 11th century. It focuses on the three key elements of celibacy outside marriage, monogamy, and the indissolubility of marriage.

  • Fairchilds, Cissie, Women in Early Modern Europe 1500–1700. London: Longman, 2007.

    A reevaluation of the influence of women in early modern Europe. It argues that the period saw a revision of misogynist attitudes toward women. Part two “Women and the Family” is organized around different stages in the female life cycle, before marriage, during marriage, and in widowhood, while distinguishing clearly between a woman’s role as a wife and a mother. This is a useful starting point for readers new to the subject who require a European perspective. Part of the Longman History of European Women series.

  • Flandrin, Jean Louis. Families in Former Times: Kinship, Household and Sexuality. Translated by Richard Southern. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1979.

    Originally published in French as Familles, parenté, maison, sexualité. Paris, France: Hachette, 1976 (2nd edition, 1984). One of the key early syntheses of the history of the family which links the family and marriage as legal institutions with issues of sexuality.

  • Fleming, Peter. Family and Household in Medieval England. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave, 2000.

    A brief introductory survey of the medieval English family in Palgrave’s Social History in Perspective series. Contrary to most histories of the family, it devotes two-thirds of the text to marriage, with two sections on the making of marriage and its dissolution. A clear and recent survey of particular use to undergraduate students.

  • Goody, Jack. The Development of the Family and Marriage in Europe. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

    The Cambridge anthropologist Jack Goody argues in this groundbreaking study that patterns of European marriage and kinship were first established in the 4th century, moving away under the influence of the Christian church from the practice of marital links between close kin to a pattern which has been largely sustained ever since. Rather than moral imperatives, the Church was driven to alter the rules of marriage by its need to transfer property from domestic groups to ecclesiastical control. The book examines the long-term effects of this change up to the later 20th century.

  • Schutte, Anne Jacobson, Thomas Kuehn, and Silvana Seidel Menchi, eds. Time, Space, and Women’s Lives in Early Modern Europe. Vol. 57 of Sixteenth Century Essays & Studies. Kirksville, MO: Truman State University Press, 2001.

    This collection arose from a conference at the Center for Italian-German Historical Studies in Trento. It was first published in Italian under the title of Tempi e spazi di vita femminile tra medioevo ed età moderna (eds. Silvana Seidel Menchi, et al., Bologna, Italy: il Mulino, 1999), before being translated and published as part of the Sixteenth-Century essays and Studies series of Truman State University Press. The essays, which mostly are focused on Italy or Germany but also include contributions on England and Austria, cover aspects of the female life cycle between the 14th and 18th centuries and marriage is one of the five themes under which they have been organized.

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