Skip to content Skip to sidebar Skip to footer

Did Divorce Exist In The Middle Ages?

Did Divorce Exist In The Middle Ages

I recently read a story of a woman called Rebecca, a middle aged woman who is recently divorced. She had been married and lived with her husband for 25 years. Rebecca had actually been unhappy in her marriage for the past few years but did not expect anything like a divorce.

Fortunately or unfortunately, her husband told her that she was in love with another woman and wanted a divorce. She had already gotten used to her unhappy life and its routine. She was really surprised by the divorce announcement and had no idea that her husband had been cheating on her.

She is currently living all alone and uncertain of what will become of her life. It is good that her family and friends are giving her support with her children living close to her. 

Rebecca is working as a part time employee at the same job which she has being doing for seven years. She is financially stable but not as happy or comfortable as when she was married.

Putting the story aside, I would like to major on divorce in the middle ages.

In the middle ages, Church courts dealt with all matters concerning religion including marriage, divorce and the punishment of extramarital affairs.  Even after the Reformation, whereby protestants were leaving the roman Catholic teachings, Church authority over marital conflicts continued until 1857. The current divorce which is in our modern world did not exist in middle age.

The term divorce is used here to mean nullification which is marriage being declared invalid. The number of divorce cases were very small  during this period. Under middle age Church law, there were only a few reasons which allowed a couple to divorce. They included:

a.) If one of the parties had an agreement of marriage with another person.

b.) If there was a blood or spiritual relation between the individuals, for example cousins who do not know each other or even god parents.

c.) Impotence – whereby the man is not able to have an erection or reach orgasm.

d.) If fear or force was used to get permission for marriage.

e.) Crimes such as infidelity.

f.) Marrying a person who is underage.

g.) Marriages that were done secretly – mostly if couples elope.

h.) Marriages in which individuals enter into with behavior intended to deceive others, maybe for personal gain.

Many people did not take their case to church court during the middle age due to lack of sufficient evidence. Without evidence it is difficult to prove that the other party is guilty. In addition to that, insufficient funds was also a hinderance.

Without money you could not be considered. The marital issues among the people belonging to aristocracy were mostly well filed or documented since they had enough money to go through the whole process of divorce which was costly.

It is good to see how much divorce cost during the middle age. For instance, in 1531, the divorce between Elizabeth and Henry Savill accrued fees of £20. In today’s money, this would amount to about £7,000. Since this money was too much for people from humble backgrounds, they would just solve marital conflicts on their own by even choosing to live separately.

Women rights in the middle ages

Lower-class women were bakers, brewers, milkmaids, barmaids, artisans, weavers and, primarily, tenant farmers. They worked alongside their husbands and children in the fields during the middle ages.. The feudal system dictated that the land belonged to the lord. The lord could rent it to his tenants the serfs who had the lowest social class.

After renting land they were bound to that land. The lord controlled every aspect of the serf’s life. He would also control a man’s wife and daughters.

Decisions of who the Lord would marry were decided by the lord, not the girl’s father, because it was assumed that the daughter of a serf basically belonged to the lord, just as her parents were.

Once the girl was married, her husband controlled her interests and was responsible for her actions and, for this reason, women are not mentioned as often as men in legal matters in the Early Middle Ages.

The woman’s husband would be sued if a woman went beyond limits, not the woman herself. The woman’s job was to take care of the home, help her husband at his work, and produce children.

Some research has been done recently on divorce in later adulthood considering the fact that the divorce rate for people aged 50 and above has increased between 1990 and 2010. In 2010 a quarter of the divorces in the United States were among couples who have 50 plus years. Divorce among these people with older age may have implications such as:

a.) Struggling financially

This mostly affects women. It is unfortunate that some of them may be retired or had always been housewives. In addition to this, their education may not be up to date to enable them to get a job quickly. This may really lead to a lot of stress in the lives of these women which is really not good.

b.) Change in the relationship between the parents and their adult- children.

The relationship may change and interaction may decrease especially between fathers and their children. In most cases, children tend to side with the mother after divorce, especially if she is old.

Children may give more support and attention to the mother as compared to the father. Another thing is that children may rely on their children for support in terms of helping them financially and have an extra burden of taking care of them.

One of the parents may have been relying on the ex-spouse for support in walking or when doing his or her regular activities, but since he or she is not there the children will have to find another person to take care of the parent or even do it themselves, which really takes a lot of sacrifice. 

To add up, couples from long term marriages may also have other psychological problems which may affect their social life such as:

1. Depression

This mostly affects those with past histories of depression. Depression may come as a result of fear of the unknown considering the fact that this is an old person. He or she may not be able to acquire employment and probably does not even have the strength to work on their own. If such a person starts over thinking, he or she may be stressed, leading to depression, which is really not a good sign.

2. Hopelessness

A person who is old and divorced may feel like giving up since he or she may feel like they have wasted their life by making the wrong decision, which may not be the case. Life does not always give us what we expect. Even if there is no other chance for you to remarry or even regain energy to work, it is good to psyche yourself that you can make it and focus on yourself since losing hope may lead to a lot of complaining which is unnecessary.

3. Anger

After divorce it is common that the spouses are usually angry at each other and often times blaming each other for what happened. The spouses may be angry for wasting each other’s life or time or even making each other make the wrong decisions. Anger will be there but controlling the anger is really important.

4. Mourning

Divorce may affect one of the ex spouse to the extent that he or she may look as if he or she is not himself or herself. Some may cry continuously for weeks, others may not eat while others just don’t speak to anyone after the divorce.

Many thoughts are crossing their minds at that time and they feel like they cannot bear the pain of being left by their spouse considering the fact that they have spent the better part of their lives together. Most of them feel like they are doomed but at the end of it all there is always light at the end of the tunnel.

Despite the fact that there are many challenges that come as a result of  divorce especially after long term marriages, there are also solutions to those challenges. It is good to first work on yourself by using the tips below:

1. Develop your personality by being open and extroverted

The more you talk about the divorce the faster you let go and the quicker you get over the divorce. Keeping the issue to yourself will not assist – it will in fact kill you from the inside. You should of course be careful on the people who you tell your information but do not keep it to yourself.

Share it with concerned friends and family who will encourage you and make you feel loved. In addition to this they may give you other people’s experiences which may be worse than yours which will enable you to see your divorce as a minor issues and you will be able to get over it. Healing is a process, you should not expect to heal immediately but give yourself time and you will eventually see the results.

2. Engage in activities that encourage personal growth

This is the time to get up from your comfort zone and realize your worth. You may be old but that does not mean that you cannot build yourself. You can join clubs of the elderly where they socialize and empower each other not forgetting engaging in any of the constructive activities that they have.

You can also visit places with your children or friends, exercise more, Buy better clothes to enhance your look and do anything  that you have ever longed to do during this time. This will give you more strength and courage to face this cruel world, not forgetting that it will help build yourself. If you take this into consideration it will work wonders in your life.

3. Be resilient

After a divorce, it is good to cry and do anything that will help you feel better about yourself but it is also good to encourage yourself that you can make it through this situation. It may not be easy to make life changes but try to have a mental attitude, telling you that you are tough and strong.

Look back and see all that you overcame alone and tell yourself that you will also be able to make it through this divorce. It is always said that it all begins with our mindset. Psyche yourself, have a positive mindset and press on.

4. If you blame yourself or have negative thoughts forgive yourself

Your actions may have contributed to the divorce or you may have reacted quickly by initiating the divorce after your ex did something wrong. This is the time to really avoid negative thoughts. Keep yourself occupied so as to be able to overcome the negative thoughts and also forgive yourself if you feel any condemnation within you. With this you will be able to move on.

5. Self- Compassion will assist you

This is the act of extending compassion to yourself especially after failing. This will really help you to cope with the stressful life events. It all begins with loving and accepting who you are. You should accept your past and all your mistakes and tell yourself that you did your level best to make things work out. This is a good remedy for the pain after divorce.

The fact that your marriage ended is not that easy it actually is significant. Divorce can be very stressing regardless of age or the period which you were married. Personal and social interactions are critical as they not only provide support, but also offer an opportunity for others to observe the divorced person’s mental and physical health. If the individual is experiencing weaknesses that are not declining, professional treatment, medical or mental health should be sought with immediate effect.

Divorce Attorney Free Consultation

When you need help with a divorce or child custody issues, please call Ascent Law LLC at (801) 676-5506 for your Free Consultation. We want to help you.

Michael R. Anderson, JD


Ascent Law LLC
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States
Telephone: (801) 676-5506