Friday Lore Post: Arranged Marriages

Not everyone gets to choose their own spouse. Though the Catechism defines marriage as a joining of two people in love in the eyes of God, legally speaking in Dolovai and Kyaine, marriage is a legal contract pertaining to the sharing of wealth, inheritance and status. As such, especially for noble or other wealthy people, marriage is often chosen for them, not by them, their families making matchmaking decisions based on what is best for the house and what will concentrate and/or disperse wealth and power in the most optimal ways.

Roughly three quarters of marriages among the noble classes are arranged by the married parties’ families. Depending on the amount of wealth and power possessed by the two families, this can take a considerable amount of time and be very complex, often involving detailed negotiations about the transfer of lands, titles, privileges, taxation rights and so on. Noble marriage alliances often also involve trade agreements, and the transfer of one child to another family through marriage solidifies everyone’s trust that said agreements won’t be dissolved in a few years. Obviously positive relations between noble houses are generally a benefit of an arranged marriage, and many generations of relative peace are often attributed to the fact that various noble families who might otherwise have started wars against each other are all related to each other quite closely. Some have commented that Kyaine’s occasional civil wars could be forestalled by more active management of marriage alliances between noble houses especially between southern and central Kyaine.

A common misconception about arranged marriages is that they are arranged at very young ages. Stereotypes abound about nobles being betrothed or even married at extremely young ages, sometimes even as infants, which simply never happens. In the early centuries of the ven Sancte monarchy it was thought to be more common to engage or marry children for immediate political gain, but whether this is truth or fiction cannot be discerned. It certainly hardly happens now except in extreme circumstances, and even then, the betrothed or married couples are generally kept with their own families until they reach the age of majority, and certainly marriages involving children are not expected to be consummated, no matter what salacious stories people like to tell. In a similar vein, marriages between much older adults and young children are so rare as to be functionally nonexistent, and mostly exist in the imaginations of those who’d like to believe that nobility are always engaging in scandalous acts.

A key component of the negotiations for arranged marriages is which family the couple is being married into. It is exceptionally rare for a married couple to remain part of both houses, and as such, which house is giving up a member (and the incumbent children) is important. Of course, noble houses who are negotiating marriages for their heirs are going to insist that anyone marry into their house, which, depending on their power and social status, may result in several potential houses vying for the opportunity. Obviously House ven Sancte and the Kyainese House DiGorre are always beset with marriage proposals for their heirs, for example, and there is not a monarch in either nation who has chosen their own spouse in several centuries at least, as the relations a royal family has with other noble houses are critically important and must be maintained meticulously, the most obvious example being that the siblings of reigning monarchs are nearly always married to the heads of other noble houses, to tie them more closely to the crown.

Arranged marriages tend to be highly focused on the production of children, and therefore historically, precedence has been given to couples who can produce a child of their own. That said, because adoption and surrogacy are available options, many families who arrange marriages try to do so with the preferences of their children in mind. Therefore, despite what certain plays may tell us, it is quite uncommon to see an arranged marriage between a man and a woman in which the man must engage in clandestine sexual activities with his wife’s father or brothers.

Most arranged marriages are arranged when or after the children in question have passed the age of majority and are heading for adulthood. In the best circumstances, the children themselves are at least consulted, and sometimes even asked their opinions. More often, the decisions are made above their heads and they are expected to comply for the good of their family. Increasingly, noble families try to match their children with people they’ve fallen in love with on their own, though when that’s not possible they will still default to an arranged marriage.

What the marriage in question looks like depends on the people in it, of course. Many arranged marriages start out loveless and grow into something more meaningful. Many never do. Some nobles maintain side relationships with people to whom they are not married, with or without their partner’s consent. Only a very, very small minority of arranged marriages end in divorce.

Younger children of noble houses frequently have their marriages planned, as they stand to inherit less in any case. They also, however, are freer to pick who they choose, because it is the heir to the house who has the most responsibilities. Stories of nobles falling in love with commoners and running off to own a farm instead of a forest are usually about younger children of noble houses for this reason. Most noble houses are also less likely to object to a commoner being brought into the family if they are being brought in as the spouse of a child with little to inherit. That said, many have suggested that arranged marriages function as a way for noble families to control their offspring, to ensure that they don’t simply go around having sex with whomever they please.

Increasingly, arranged marriages are becoming common among non-noble families as well. Especially among wealthy people, the ability to control where one’s fortunes go is considered invaluable, but even among those who are relatively poor, if one travels through Dolovai, any medium-sized town is likely to have at least two or three couples whose marriage was arranged by the two families in question. The benefits to this for non-nobles are less obvious and seem more to have to do with ensuring that one’s children will settle down in good time. A greater number of non-noble arranged marriages end in divorce than do not.

Many have commented that a critical part of arranged marriages is at least one, if not both, members of the couple in question objecting and insisting that they will never force such a thing on their children. Nonetheless, it is a tradition that continues from ancient times to our own, and seems likely to continue into the future.

Excerpts from “The Social Institutions of Our Time, Modern Edition,” by Moira Marksadder, published at the Academy for Magecraft in Three Hills, DN 1954.

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