Wedding Shoes

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Will You Marry Me?

Will You Marry Me?
Seven Centuries of Love

by Helene Scheu-Riesz

Letter writing did not become a general practice before the discovery of America.
Not that the art of writing is new! The tombs of Egypt yield bronze pens of the best workmanship, but the Pharaohs have left no private correspondence. The parchments found in the pyramids are bills and accounts of household matters.
The earliest letter of proposal that can be traced was probably the epistle King David sent to his general Joab, when Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, had taken the royal fancy.
It is a grim proposal by proxy.

David to Joab, sent by the hand of Uriah the Hittite
1035 BC
Set ye Uriah in the forefront of the hottest battle, and retire ye from him that he may be smitten, and die.

Seeing that such use was made of the technique of writing, it is not astonishing that the Greeks, when it was introduced into their country about that time, looked upon it as something evilthe way alchemy and astrology were looked upon later in history. Many of the early letters pertaining to royal marriages bear out the sinister meaning of the word runic. Archives of the courts still reveal cartloads of information illuminating the dark ages when kingdoms could only be acquired by war or marriageequally crueland when it was customary to get rid of enemies, wives, or husbands by poison.
One of these letters, though not a proposal in the strict sense, throws so much light upon the way marriages were proposed and settled at the time that it seems to belong here to paint the background.
Isabella of Angoulme, as a young child, had been engaged to Hugh de Lusignan, a Norman nobleman, and given into his custody. When shewas twelve, King John of England demanded her hand in marriage, and her father, preferring a king as a son-in-law, took her away from Lusignan. To appease his fury, the first daughter of John and Isabella was, from the cradle, engaged to him.
King John was not easy to live with. Far from faithful himself, he was jealous and had a habit of hanging his wifes admirers at the head of her bed. When he diedpoisoned by a monk for trying to rape the abbots sisterIsabella quickly robbed her infant daughter of her fianc and married him herself. Her letter to her young son Henry III neatly explains how she did it all in pure, unselfish, motherly devotion.

Isabella of Angoulme, Queen Dowager and Countess of March and Angoulme, to King Henry of England
AD 1220
We hereby signify to you that when the Earls of March and Eu departed this life, the Lord Hugh de Lusignan remained alone and without heirs in Poictou, and his friends would not permit that our daughter should be united to him by marriage, because her age is so tender, but counseled him to take a wife from whom he might speedily hope for an heir; and it was proposed that he should take a wife in France, which if he had done, all your land in Poictou and Gascony should be lost. We therefore, seeing the great peril that might accrue to you if that marriage took place, married the said Hugh Earl of March ourselves; and God knows that we rather did it for your benefit than our own. Wherefore we entreat you, as our dear son, that this thing may be pleasing to you, seeing that it conduces greatly to the profit of you and yours; and we earnestly pray that you restore to him his lawful right, that is Niort, the castles of Exeter and Rockingham, and 3,500 marks which your father, our former husband, bequeathed to us; and so, if it please you, deal with him who is so powerful, that he may not remain against you, since he can serve you well...and if it shall please you, you may send for our daughter, your sister, by a trusty messenger and letters patent, and we will send her to you.

Isabella was beautiful and mischievous. She did not send her daughter but kept her as a sort of hostage, to put pressure on the king, her son. She intrigued against him and put all sorts of difficulties in his way.
The plight in which Margery Brews, who later became Mrs. John Paston, found herself when she wrote the following letter is an example of what marriages mostly were concerned with in the fifteenth century, among wealthy commoners as among royalty.

Unto my right well-beloved Valentine, John Paston Esqu., be this bill delivered:
Right reverend and worshipful and right-beloved Valentine, I recommend me to you full heartily, desiring to hear of your welfare, which I beseech the Almighty God long for to preserve.... And if it please you to hear of my welfare, I am not in good health of body nor heart nor shall be till I hear from you.
And my lady my mother hath belabored the matter to my father full diligently, but she can no more get than ye know of; for which God knoweth I am full sorry. But if ye love me as I trust verily that ye do, ye will not leave me therefore. For if ye had not half the livelihood that ye have for to do the greatest labor that any woman alive might, I would not forsake you.
No more to you at this time, but the Holy Trinity have you in keeping. And I beseech you that this bill be not seen by none earthly creature save yourself.
And this letter was indited at Topcroft, with full heavy heart

Margery Brews

Arthur, Prince of Wales, eldest son of Henry VII, was engaged to the Spanish princess Catherine of Aragon. Her parents, Ferdinand and Isabella, postponed the marriage for two years, till the bridegroom had completed his fourteenth year and the bride was fifteen.
They were married in November 1501, and five months later Catherine was a widow. Henry VII was so afraid that he would have to pay back Catherines dowry and would lose the alliance with Spain that he urged the engagement of his second son, Henry, to the young widow. That the boy was only eleven at the time and Catherine seventeen did not hinder the father and Catherines friends both in England and in Spain from campaigning for a speedy celebration of the marriage. Special permission had to be obtained from the pope, who was glad to give it because he hoped the union would strengthen the Roman Church in England. Young Henry resisted for a while and registered doubts about the validity of such a marriage, but he married Catherine in the end.

Arthur, Prince of Wales, to Catherine of Aragon
Most illustrious and excellent lady, my dearest spouse,
I wish you very much health.... I have read the sweet letters of your Highness, from which I have easily perceived your entire love for me. Truly your letters traced by your own hand have so delighted me and have rendered me so cheerful and jocund that I fancied I beheld your Highness and conversed with and beheld my dearest wife. I cannot tell you what an earnest desire I feel to see your Highness, and how vexatious is to me this procrastination of your coming...let it be hastened that instead of absent we may be present with each other, and the loves conceived between us may reap their proper fruit....
From our castle of Ludlow, 5th of October 1499

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