Notes on early Anglian marriage.

It must be remembered, in reading these notes that most, if not all of what we know of Anglo-Saxon marriage comes from much later written material.

I have based these notes on what I was able to find from linguistic, legal and saga sources. That said many of the these sources were returned early in the 20th-century and as always contained a bias of culture of the time.

They are many Anglo-Saxon words, which relate to engagement, marriage and weddings. In these notes I concentrated only on the Anglian words. Three particular types of marriage are noted. Hopefully, in due course more information can be added.

Anglian words relating to engagement.

Beweddian (later OE to marry but not earlier)

Anglian words relating to weddings.

Gemung (from to care for/feast- oldest form of wedding brought from continent)

Hoemed (from intercourse, from "ham-home"-as in to "lead home")

feorm (feast)

gereord (feast)

symbel (feast)

Anglian words relating to marriage.



wifding (not a "d" a curly sort of "d" with cross on)

The contract marriage.(marriage by purchase)

In this marriage a contract is made to between two parties, representing the bridegroom and the bride. Generally the bride side of the bargain is represented by her male guardian, head of family group, most often her father. Agreements such as money payments to both the couple, giving them a financially sound basis at the start of marriage, and to the bride in the form of morning gift is decided. This agreement would generally be represented by some form of engagement or betrothal. In Scandinavian cases a maximum period of betrothal would be one year, in Langobardic law two years.

The ceremonial part of this marriage, tends to follow along these lines. The bridegroom goes to the bride's household collectors his bride and takes her to his home( Heimfuhrung- leading home). A feast party and lots of drinking then occurs, and is followed by the wedding night. The wedding night is stressed as being very important and a conclusive part of the ceremony presumably intercourse consummates the marriage.

The morning gift is generally presented to the bride by the bridegroom. This is the brides property and cannot be used by anyone else without her consent. She can also will it to whoever she wishes on her death.

The capture marriage

The earliest form of capture marriage appears to be when the bridegroom simply goes and takes the woman he wishes to marry. The act of capture seals the marriage. Later the capture is followed a by some form of payment contract, and still later capture marriage is not recognised as a form of legal marriage. However that does not occur until much later than our period.

The intercourse marriage.

The word for this kind of marriage has its roots in intercourse of the sexual nature and appears to have little formal ceremony attached to it. It should be noted Hoemed can also be used in illegal cases of intercourse eg adultery and rape. However as the appearance is often in law cases this can be expected. It is most definitely also used for legal marriage referrals too.

Marriage contracts or not

There are several cases where a couple may take part in marriage without any contracts being made by the respective families. These tend to be noted ,as the outraged father stomps off with words to the effect of 'on your own head be it then !' These marriages tend to be between parties who have previously been married by contract. The contract may have ceased through death or divorce. In some of these cases both parties may be materially independent.

Other Words

oewe wife


oewumboren lawfully born

oewbreca Adulterer

oewloete divorced woman

samhiwan married couple

rithiwa spouse

1265 info

Wedlock, matrimony etc are Norman words & only just in common usage by the 13th C, and not common until 1300.

Further reading

FELL Christine Women in Anglo-Saxon England

FISHER Andreas Engagement, Wedding and Marriage in Old English Heidelberg 1986

GRIFFITHS Bill An Introduction to Early English Law Anglo-Saxon books 1985

POLLOCK & MAITLAND The History of English Law Cambridge 1968

CLARK George Complete Sagas of Icelanders Leifur Eiriksson, 1997

Reykjadaela saga