Courtship and the Making of Marriage in Early Middle English Romance Public Deposited

Downloadable Content

Download PDF
Last Modified
  • March 20, 2019
  • Swezey, Margaret F.
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of English and Comparative Literature
  • The earliest romances in English were especially concerned with questions of courtship and marriage, and explore a variety of issues and themes relating to the making of marriage. This study focuses on three early Middle English romances composed c. 1250-c.1310: Havelok the Dane, King Horn, and Sir Beves of Hamtoun. I employ close readings with careful attention to language and draw on the canon law and historical studies of marriage practices in medieval England to illuminate references to law, the marriage liturgy, and custom in these early romances. These romances not only reflect law and custom, however, but they also sent messages to their audience of rural gentry and urban merchants. Some of these messages reinforce the status quo, such as the ideas that one should marry someone wealthy and socially suitable, that love and free consent to marriage should lead to an appropriate marriage, and the importance of establishing a dynasty. On the other hand, the romances also include subversive messages, depicting strong heroines exercising agency and showing heroes and heroines resisting arranged marriages. Above all, these romances wholeheartedly embrace the consensual theory of marriage, in which only the free consent of the couple is necessary to create a marriage, and consequently promote love matches over arranged marriages and individual choice over larger social pressures.
Date of publication
Resource type
Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Wittig, Joseph S.
  • Open access

This work has no parents.