The Visigothic Code: (Forum judicum)

ed. S. P. Scott

Book III: Concerning Marriage

Title I: Concerning Nuptial Contracts

I. Marriage shall not be Entered into without a Dowry.
II. It shall be as Lawful for a Roman Woman to Marry a Goth, as for a Gothic Woman to Marry a Roman.
III. Where a Girl Marries against the Will of her Father, while she is Betrothed to another.
IV. When a Gift is made by way of Pledge, a Nuptial Contract cannot he Rescinded.
V. Women Advanced in Years shall not Marry Young Men.
VI. What Property the Dowry shall consist of.
VII. The Father shall Exact, and Keep, the Dowry of his Daughter.
VIII. In case of the Death of the Father, the Disposition of the Children, of both Sexes, in Marriage, shall belong to the Mother.
IX. Where Brothers Defer the Marriage of their Sister, or Where a Girl Marries Beneath her Station.
X. Where the items of a Dowry, relating to any kind of Property, are reduced to Writing, it shall not be Contested.

I. Marriage shall not be Entered Into without a Dowry.

Marriage is recognized to have greater dignity and honor, where the dowry is given before the nuptial contract has been entered into in writing. For where the dowry has been neither [76] given, nor stated in writing, what expectation can there be of future conjugal dignity, when propriety does not confirm the celebration of the marriage, nor the honorable obligation of the written contract accompany it?

II. It shall be as Lawful for a Roman Woman to Marry a Goth, as for a Gothic Woman to Marry a Roman.

The zealous care of the prince is recognized, when, for the sake of future utility, the benefit of the people is provided for; and it should be a source of no little congratulation, if the ancient law, which sought improperly to prevent the marriage of persons equal in dignity and lineage, should be abrogated. For this reason, we hereby sanction a better law; and, declaring the ancient one to be void, we decree that if any Goth wishes to marry a Roman woman, or any Roman a Gothic woman, permission being first requested, they shall be permitted to marry. And any freeman shall have the right to marry any free woman; permission of the Council and of her family having been previously obtained.

III. Where a Girl Marries against the Will of her Father, while she is Betrothed to Another.

Where anyone is betrothed to a girl, either by the consent of her father, or of any near relative in whom authority in these matters is vested by all, and the girl, in defiance of the wishes of her father, desires to marry another than him to whom she has been betrothed; this we decree shall under no circumstances be permitted. But if the girl, against the will of her father, should have fled to him who was her choice, and should have married him, both shall be delivered into the power of him to whom, with her father's consent, she had previously been betrothed. And if her mother, or brothers, or other relatives, should grant her wishes, and give her to him whom she has chosen, against the will of her father, those who have plotted this shall pay a pound of gold to whomever the king may direct. Nor shall the act of the parties be valid, but both of them, as has hereinbefore been stated, shall be [77] delivered up, with all their property, to him to whom the girl had already been betrothed. And we decree that this law shall be observed where the father shall have made arrangements concerning the marriage of his daughter, and the amount of the dowry has been agreed upon, and her father dies before the marriage has been concluded; in such a case the girl shall be given to him to whom she had been contracted by either her father or her mother.

IV. Where a Gift is made by way of Pledge, a Nuptial Contract cannot be Rescinded.

Since we have treated of things that are past, we consider it, eminently proper to discuss and determine those that are to come. For the reason that there are many who, disregarding the betrothal, fail to complete the nuptial contract we deem it proper to abolish this abuse, that no one may delay a marriage according to his will. Therefore, we decree, from this day, that when the ceremony of betrothal has been performed, either between the parents or relatives of the parties, or in the presence of witnesses, and the ring shall have been given or accepted as a pledge, although nothing may have been committed to writing, the promise shall, under no circumstances, be broken. Nor shall it be lawful for either party to change his or her mind, if the other is unwilling to consent; but if all the provisions relating to the dowry have been carried out according to law, then the marriage shall be celebrated.

V. Women Advanced in Years shall not Marry Young Men.

The law of nature is framed in the direct hope of progeny when the nuptial contract is entered into with all due solemnity For if a marriage takes place between persons who are incompetent, either through age or some personal defect, to properly perform their marital duties, how can their offspring be [78] other than dwarfed or deformed? For that cannot be perfect whose origin is defective. We sometimes see persons who, not observing the laws of nature, but induced by avarice, dispose of their children in marriage so improperly, that neither the age, rank, or morals of the parties concerned, are considered by them. For though men have received their name from the fact that they control women by their superior strength; some, in violation of the laws of nature, give the priority to women, when they unite females of advanced age with boys who are little more than children; and thus, for the sake of gain, and through unwise delay, encourage the commission of vice by the former. Therefore, that an end may be put to practices whose results are unfavorable to future generations, we now decree, that, hereafter, women shall always marry men who are older than themselves, and a marriage under other circumstances shall not be valid, if either of the parties should object. A space of time, not longer than two years, shall be permitted to elapse from the day of betrothal to the day of marriage; unless a longer period shall be agreed upon by the parents or relations, or by the parties themselves, if they are of age. But if, after the contract has been made, it is determined by common consent to defer the date of the nuptials; or if one of the persons should fail to be present, through necessity, this may be done; but the marriage shall not then be deferred longer than two years more. And if a second time, or several times, it may be desirable to prolong the interval, it shall only be for a period of two years; otherwise, the marriage contract, though made in writing, and accompanied with the delivery of the dowry, shall not be valid. If any one unnecessarily or arbitrarily should protract the time, and violate the marriage contract, he shall be liable to the penalty which is contained in it, and the contract shall still remain in force. Any woman who has had one or more husbands, shall after the death of those husbands, be permitted to marry any man of proper age who has never been married before, or who has had one or more wives already deceased.

VI. What Property the Dowry shall consist of.

As disputes concerning the dowry often arise between parties contemplating marriage, it is a matter of common advantage that no doubt should hereafter be possible under this our law. Therefore, we decree and declare, that the following law shall be perpetually observed hereafter, to wit: that if any one of the nobles of our palace, or of the principal personages of the Gothic nation, should demand in marriage for his son either the daughter of another, or the widow of any one; or if any one should choose for himself a wife, of the aforesaid rank; no person shall pay, or bind himself to pay, as the dowry of the girl or woman, more than the tenth part, of his property. But if it should happen that a parent should wish to give the dowry for the benefit of his daughter-in-law, he can then give as said dowry, the tenth part of the property which his son would inherit from him in case of his death; and, in addition, he must give ten young men and ten young girls, and twenty horses: or, in ornaments, as much as would amount in value to a thousand solidi. And the wife shall have absolute liberty to dispose of this property if she should not leave any sons, and if she should die intestate, this donation shall go to the nearest heirs of the husband.

It shall not be lawful for the parents of the girl, or for the girl herself, or for any woman, to ask more as a dowry from the bridegroom, than is provided for by this law, and, as was permitted by the Roman laws, the girl, or the woman, may give to the bridegroom as much out of her own property as she herself has demanded of him, should she desire to do so. If the bridegroom should promise in writing, or bind himself by oath, at the time of the marriage, to give a larger sum than is permitted by this law, he is hereby fully authorized to take possession of all over and above said sum, whenever he chooses. But if it should happen that, through reverence for his oath, or, as often is the case, through negligence, he should be unwilling to revoke or appropriate the surplus amount which be had given to his bride, or should refuse to [80] do so, as it is not proper that, through the carelessness of one, injury should be inflicted upon the many: therefore, when the parents of the bridegroom, or his relations, shall become aware of the facts, they may deprive the bride of all over and above the sum above mentioned as legal; and this they may do as a matter of right, and without prejudice. If, however, the husband, when a year has passed since the marriage, should wish, through affection for his wife, to make her a present of any kind, he shall have full liberty to do so. But not within the space of a year shall the husband give to the wife, or the wife to the husband, any present whatever, except the dowry hereinbefore mentioned; unless either of them should be attacked by grievous illness, and be in imminent danger of death.

In regard to others who desire to make marriage contracts, we deem it proper, and so decree; that whoever is known to possess ten thousand solidi, shall give to his bride as a dowry, as much as a thousand solidi out of all his possessions. And he who has only a thousand solidi shall, in the same proportion, give a hundred as a dowry.

This law relating to the dowry shall be observed, without controversy, in all matters great and small. Given and confirmed on the second day of the Ides of January, and the third year of our reign.

VII. The Father shall Exact and Keep the Dowry of his Daughter.

The father shall have the right to demand and keep the dowry of his daughter. If the father or mother should not be present, then the brothers, or the nearest relatives, shall receive the dowry, and deliver untouched to their sister.

VIII. In case of the Death of the Father, the Disposition of the Children, of Both Sexes, in Marriage, shall belong to the Mother.

If the father should be dead, the right to dispose of the children of both sexes in marriage shall belong to the mother. If the mother also should be dead, or if she should have married a second time, the brothers shall have the right to select the husbands or wives for the other children. But if any of the brothers should not be of age, which is indispensable when their brother or sister is to be disposed of in marriage; then the paternal uncles shall have that authority. Where a brother is of full age, and declines the advice of his relatives, he shall have the power to marry without their consent. But if a suitor, equal to a sister in rank, should seek her in marriage, then her uncle or her brother should consult with the other relative as to whether said suitor shall be accepted, or rejected, by common consent.

IX. Where Brothers Defer the Marriage of their Sister, or Where a Girl Marries beneath her Station.

If the brothers of the girl should put off her marriage, with the expectation that she, taking refuge with her intended husband, may lose what she would have inherited from her father according to law; and they should repulse her suitor two or three times; the girl, as soon as the deceit of her brothers becomes evident, should she deem that her suitor is her equal in birth, shall then receive from her brother whatever property she is entitled to inherit from her parents. But if, on the other hand, her brothers should do nothing to affect the rights of their sister, but only cause delay in order to provide her with a husband more worthy of her; and she, forgetful of her modesty, and disregarding her rank, should marry a man inferior to her in station; she shall lose what she would have inherited from her parents, whether that inheritance has been divided or not, but she shall still have the right to inherit from her brothers and her sisters, and from any other relatives.

X. Where the Items of a Dowry, relating to any kind of Property, are reduced to Writing, it shall not be Contested.

When any one is desirous of contracting marriage, either in his own behalf, or in behalf of his son, or of any other relative; he shall have a right to dispose of, as a dowry, any of his own property; or any given him by the king; or any he has acquired legally, in any way whatsoever. And whatever has lawfully been stated in writing to be a dowry, by any person. shall be valid, as such, in every respect.