MarriageDuring MarriageDivorce

MarriageBetween the Church laws of the Hibernensis and the native laws of the Cáin Lánamna, there are several differences about what constituted form of marriage or legal union. The Hibernensis only recognized five types of marriage, whereas the Cáin Lánamna listed ten different forms of marriages and legal unions. The first type of marriage the Hibernensis recognized was the marriage of a virgin girl, wedded in a public ceremony with a dowry given. This was the most preferred type of marriage under the Hibernensis. The second and third types of marriage under the Hibernensis both were tied to the event of a girl's rape. If she was raped and her father then consented to the man marrying her, the rapist paid whatever bride-price the father demanded (usually in silver) and it was considered a legal marriage. The third type happened when the father refused consent after a rape. In these cases the rapist still would have paid a bride-price, but the girl would be given in marriage to whomever the father chose. The Hibernensis allowed for two other types of marriage for those who had been married before. If a person's spouse died, they were free to marry again, but on the condition that the new spouse was a virgin/had never been married. The last type of recognized union under the Hibernensis was that of a person whose first spouse had taken holy orders. The spouse who hadn't taken orders was considered free to marry again, but once again, on the condition that the new spouse was "young woman or young man".[1]
The Cáin Lánamna allowed for ten kinds of marriages or unions. The list of legal unions was as follows:
  • common contribution - Lánamnas Comthinchuir
  • man's contribution - Lánamnas for Ferthinchur
  • woman's contribution - Lánamnas for Bantinchur
  • "union of a woman who accepts a man's solicitation"
  • "union of a man who visits the woman, without work, without solicitation, without provision, without material contribution"
  • abduction
  • "union of wandering mercenaries"
  • criminal seduction
  • rape
  • mockery
    Reference - double click to edit
    Reference - double click to edit
Marriages based on contribution (the Lánamnas Comthinchuir, the Lánamnas for Ferthinchur, and the Lánamnas for Bantinchur) were based upon which partner brought more assets into the marriage. In equal contribution marriages, the husband and wife were equal in their rights and responsibilites. The woman was called a "woman of joint dominion"
Reference - double click to edit
Reference - double click to edit

Neither spouse in this type of marriage could make a contract involving the other's portion of the assets or without joint agreement. In woman's or man's contribution, the spouse with the greater contribution was the head of the household and made all the contracts and purchases. The other types of marriages were not regarded as having the same legal rights or standing. Since all of them would have come about by means that weren't considered favorable by the families, the honor and status were accordingly lower. For more information on contribution marriages, visit

During Marriage

As said in the above paragraph, women's status within their marriage is often dependent upon what type of marriage they enter into. However there are other distinctions as well. If a woman is the first or most important wife, she is known as a cétmuinter. If she is a lesser wife, then she is called a ben aititen. When a second wife was brought into the household, the cétmuinter has the right to torture her for three days. Anything short of fatal injury was permissible under the law. In retaliation, the only things a new wife could do was scratch (no eye-gouging), scream, shout obscenities, and pull hair[2] .

A woman's honor-price within her marriage was dependent upon her husband's status and honor-price. The Law of Status or Franchise states that, "Half the dignity of each man to his wife, or to his dutiful son, or to his administrator, or to his prior."[3] This basically means that a woman was worth half of what her husband was. In addition to being worth half of his honor-price, women were excepted to give half as much hospitality as their husbands.[4] There were a couple of exceptions to this rule. The first is marriages on women's contribution. In such marriages, the legal roles were reversed. Not only was the wife the primary contract-maker for the household, but instead of her being worth half of her husband's worth, he was worth half of her honor-price. Another exception was the women who held professional roles outside the home. Women could have certain careers outside the household, such as poet or doctor, that gave them an independent income and honor-price within their community. For more information on these careers, see the Professional Roles page.

According to the Church laws given in the Hibernensis, there was only one reason a man and woman could be divorced. That was if one or both spouses joined the church. In the case of only one of the two partners joining the Church, the other was considered divorced and was free to seek another lawful spouse. This was on the condition that the new spouse be a virgin/had never been married before. It was not permissible to marry a widow(er) or someone else who had been divorced. Even in the case of adultery, divorce was not allowed under Church laws, only separation. This was to allow for penance and absolution. If a woman committed adultery, her husband was supposed to give her time to do penance for her sins and then take her back [5] .

On the other hand, the Divorce Laws, part of the native laws of Ireland gave fourteen different reasons why a woman could divorce her husband and seven reasons why a man could divorce his wife. A woman could divorce her husband for any of the following reasons:

  • Sterility
  • Impotence
  • Entrance into Holy Orders
  • Entrance into the Church
  • Loss of property/Inability to provide
  • Obesity
  • Revealing secrets of the bedroom
  • Spreading slander or lies about her
  • Spreading mocking songs or poems about her
  • Unjust chastisement that leaves a mark
  • Abandonment for another woman
  • Homosexuality
  • Admitting to use of magic or othr means to steal her affections
  • Inability to provide for her daily needs[6]

These reasons can all be summed up in a few key qualities that seem to have been required in Irish marriages: ability to keep a household prosperous/running, loyalty, and ability to provide children. The ability to have children was extremely important in Irish society because much of the status levels and land ownership depended upon having sons to inherit. That is why sterility, impotence, homosexuality, and possibly obesity were on the list of reasons for divorce. If a man couldn't give a woman children, the marriage wasn't fulfilling one of its main purposes. Loyalty was essential in a marriage because of the importance of family groups in Irish society, so spreading gossip, slander, or bedroom secrets would have been looked at as a personal betrayal and hence frowned upon. The ability to provide for a household is fairly self-explanatory as far as its importance. If a man couldn't provide, his family could end up starving and homeless. Irish law gave women a way to avoid such situations by making it grounds for divorce.
It is uncertain if there were only seven reasons why a man could divorce his wife or if at one point there might have been fourteen (similar to the list of reasons why a woman could divorce her husband) and half have simply been lost. A man could divorce his wife if she did any of the following:

  • Betray him to an enemy
  • Persisting in an illicit relationship, even after being asked to stop
  • Abortion
  • Causing him public embarassment
  • Infanticide
  • "Dryness on account of disease"
  • Failure in domestic economy[7]

Once again, the same three basic reasons for divorce can be seen: domestic prosperity, providing children, and loyalty. As far as domestic prosperity, a woman was reasonable for much of the household and its daily running. If she was unable to manage those responsibilities, the whole family would suffer, so it was acceptable to divorce a woman because of that. The only reason that is not completely clear on this list is the sixth reason (dryness). No translation thus far has made this reason understandable, but it is generally thought to refer to barrenness or inability to breastfeed. Many texts will simply translate this reason as 'barrenness due to disease'.
According to the Cáin Lánamna and the Divorce Laws, if a divorce took place, there were specifc laws about how a couple's assets were to be split depending on what type of union they were in. It is impossible to detail all of the divisions for all the types of marriage, so for an example, here's how the butter and cheese would have been divided in an equal contribution marriage:

Thanks to Amber Handy

  1. ^ The Hibernensis. Book 46, Sections 3-5.
  2. ^
    Kelly, Guide to Early Irish Law
  3. ^
    MacNeill, Ancient Irish Law: Law of Status or Franchise. V. 70-28.
  4. ^ Cáin Lánamna. Section 24.
  5. ^
    Hibernensis. Section 5
  6. ^ List from: Divorce, Sections 1-2
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    • ^ List from: Divorce, Section 3.
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