Skip to main content Accessibility help

Wretched girls, wretched boys and the European Marriage Pattern in England (c. 1250–1350)

  • Judith M. Bennett (a1)


Following on from ‘Married and not: Weston's grown children in 1268–1269’, this article places the Lincolnshire village of Weston within a realm-wide context to demonstrate that, as the rural economy stumbled after c. 1250, many young women and men either delayed marriage or could not marry at all. The European Marriage Pattern (late marriage for some and no marriage for others) can be discerned in England long before the socio-economic adjustments that followed the Black Death, and it grew mainly from poverty, not prosperity.

Faisant suite à un article précédent intitulé ‘Married and not: Weston's grown children in 1268–1269’, cette contribution replace le village de Weston, Lincolnshire, dans le contexte général du royaume anglais, et montre que, l’économie rurale trébuchant après 1250 environ, beaucoup de jeunes gens, hommes et femmes, ont différé leur mariage, ou bien ne purent jamais se marier. Le ‘modèle de mariage européen’ (mariage tardif pour certains et, pour d'autres, absence de mariage) peut être discerné en Angleterre bien avant ces ajustements socio-économiques qui ont suivi la peste noire, et il fut principalement engendré par la pauvreté et non par la prospérité.

Im Anschluss an den Aufsatz ‘Married and not: Weston's grown children in 1268–1269’ ordnet dieser Beitrag das Dorf Weston (Lincolnshire) in den Kontext des gesamten Königreiches ein, um zu zeigen, dass, während die ländliche Wirtschaft ab etwa 1250 strauchelte, viele junge Frauen und Männer entweder die Heirat verzögerten oder gar nicht heirateten. Das europäische Heiratsmuster (späte Heirat für die einen, keine Heirat für die anderen) ist in England bereits lange vor den sozial-ökonomischen Anpassungen in Folge des Schwarzen Todes erkennbar, und es entsprang hauptsächlich der Armut, nicht dem Wohlstand.


Corresponding author

*Corresponding author. Email:


Hide All


1 This is the second of a pair of articles. The first article (Bennett, Judith M., ‘Married and not: Weston's grown children in 1268–1269’, Continuity and Change 34, 2 (2019), 151–82), explored the evidence of marriage and non-marriage in a Spalding Priory inventory of serfs on its manor in Weston, Lincolnshire. The present article considers further evidence of the presence in England before 1350 of a distinctive pattern of late marriage and non-marriage.

2 Hajnal, J., ‘European marriage patterns in perspective’, in Glass, D. V. and Eversley, D. E. C. eds., Population in history: essays in historical demography (London, 1965), 101–43. In the last half-century, European marriage has lost importance (more than 40 per cent of European births now occur outside of marriage) and become more available (including for gay and lesbian couples). Hajnal's definition of marriage as a ‘union which is regarded as appropriate for the bearing and rearing of children’ (p. 105) could incorporate these changes in the institution, but his data do not. For the purposes of this article, marriage will be treated as a heterosexual union.

3 de Moor, Tine and van Zanden, Jan Luiten, ‘Girl power: the European marriage pattern and labour markets in the North Sea region in the late medieval and early modern period’, Economic History Review 63, 1 (2009), 133.

4 This second essay on ‘Two kinds of preindustrial household formation system’ was published in two formats: Population and Development Review 8, 3 (1982), 449–94, and a shorter version in Wall, Richard ed., Family forms in historic Europe (Cambridge, 1983), 65104. I cite the longer version below.

5 Hajnal, ‘European marriage’, 122–5.

6 Hajnal, ‘Two kinds’, 476.

7 Ibid., 449–50. The early modern trends for north-west Europe can be clearly seen in the appendices to Kowaleski, Maryanne, ‘Singlewomen in medieval and early modern Europe; the demographic perspective’, in Bennett, Judith M. and Froide, Amy M. eds., Singlewomen in the European past, 1250–1800 (Philadelphia, 1999), 3881, appendices at 325–44. For a new geographical interpretation, see Dennison, Tracy and Ogilvie, Sheilagh, ‘Does the European Marriage Pattern explain economic growth?’, Journal of Economic History 74, 3 (2014), 651–93.

8 See especially de Moor and van Zanden, ‘Girl power’; and Voigtländer, Nico and Voth, Hans-Joachim, ‘How the West “invented” fertility restriction’, American Economic Review 103, 6 (2013), 2227–64.

9 Wrigley, E. A. and Schofield, R. S., The population history of England, 1541–1871: a reconstruction (Cambridge, 1981), 262 (Figure 7:15).

10 See, for example, Hamano, Kiyoshi, ‘Marriage patterns and the demographic system of late Tokugawa Japan: based on two case studies of contemporary demographic registers’, Japan Review 11 (1999), 129–43; Engelen, Theo and Puschmann, Paul, ‘How unique is the western European marriage pattern?: a comparison of nuptiality in historical Europe and the contemporary Arab world’, The History of the Family 16 (2012), 387400.

11 Dennison and Ogilvie, ‘Does the European Marriage Pattern’. See comment by Carmichael, Sarah G. et al. , ‘The European marriage pattern and its measurement’, Journal of Economic History 76, 1 (2016), 196204, and reply by Dennison, Tracy and Ogilvie, Sheilagh, ‘Institutions, demography, and economic growth’, Journal of Economic History 76, 1 (2016), 205–17.

12 Stone, Lawrence, The family, sex and marriage in England, 1500–1800 (London, 1977), 52–4. See also the argument of Macfarlane, Alan in The origins of English individualism: the family, property, and social transition (Oxford, 1978).

13 Voigtländer and Voth, ‘How the West’, 2260. But see critique by Jeremy Edwards and Sheilagh Ogilvie, ‘Did the Black Death cause economic development by “inventing” fertility restriction?’, CESifo Working Paper No. 7016, available at [accessed 8 November 2018].

14 Broadberry, Stephen et al. , British economic growth, 1270–1870 (Cambridge, 2015), 389–90. For another recent example, see de Pleijt, Alexandra M. and van Zanden, Jan Luiten, ‘Accounting for the “Little Divergence”: what drove economic growth in pre-industrial Europe, 1300–1800?’, European Review of Economic History 20, 4 (2016), 387409.

15 Hajnal, ‘European marriage’, 134.

16 Goldberg, P. J. P., Women, work, and life cycle in a medieval economy: women in York and Yorkshire, c. 1300–1520 (Oxford, 1992). But see critiques, especially Bennett, Judith M., ‘Medieval women, modern women: across the great divide’, in Aers, David ed., Culture and history, 1350–1600: essays on English communities, identities, and writing (New York, 1992), 147–75; Bailey, Mark, ‘Demographic decline in late medieval England: some thoughts on recent research’, Economic History Review 49, 1 (1996), 119; and Mate, Mavis E., Women in medieval English society (Cambridge, 1999), 56–8.

17 Hartman, Mary S., The household and the making of history: a subversive view of the Western past (Cambridge, 2004), quote from back cover of paperback edition.

18 De Moor and van Zanden, ‘Girl power’. In my view, their argument is simply wrong, derived from optimistic readings of sources, selective use of historiography, and fuzzy chronological thinking. It has recently been expanded in a book that reached my desk too late for full inclusion here: van Zanden, Jan Luiten, de Moor, Tine and Carmichael, Sarah, Capital women: the European Marriage Pattern, female empowerment, and economic development in western Europe, 1300–1800 (Oxford, 2019). See critiques of the article in van der Heijden, Manon, van Nederveen Meerkerk, Elise and Schmidt, Ariadne, ‘Religion, economic development and women's agency in the Dutch Republic’, in Ammannati, F. ed., Religion and religious institutions in the European economy, 1000–1800 (Florence, 2012), 543–62; and Humphries, Jane and Weisdorf, Jacob, ‘The wages of women in England, 1260–1850’, Journal of Economic History 75, 2 (2015), 405–47.

19 Hajnal, ‘European marriage’, 116–20. See especially the pathbreaking work of Russell, Josiah Cox, British medieval population (Albuquerque, 1948).

20 Herlihy, David and Klapisch-Zuber, Christiane, Les toscans et leurs familles: une étude du catasto florentin de 1427 (Paris, 1978); translated as Tuscans and their families: a study of the Florentine Catasto of 1427 (London, 1985).

21 These poll taxes were levied on all people (beggars and clergy excepted) aged at least 14 years (1377), 16 years (1379), and 15 years (1381). See Carolyn C. Fenwick, The poll taxes of 1377, 1379 and 1381, parts 1–3, Records of Social and Economic History, new series, 27, 29 and 37 (Oxford 1998, 2001, 2005).

22 The figures look firm, but they include slippery adjustments for undercounting and even so, they just creep over the EMP threshold. They also stand in splendid chronological isolation, with nothing comparable for a century earlier or later. See Kowaleski, ‘Singlewomen’, 46–7 and Bailey, ‘Demographic decline’, 8.

23 Goldberg, Women, work, and life cycle; Poos, L. R., A rural society after the Black Death: Essex, 1350–1525 (Cambridge, 1991). For Smith, see especially Smith, Richard M., ‘Some reflections on the evidence for the origins of the “European marriage pattern” in England’, in Harris, Chris ed., The sociology of the family: new directions for Britain (Totowa, NJ, 1979), 74112 and Hypothèses sur la nuptialité en Angleterre aux XIIIe-XIVe siècles’, Annales: Économies, Sociétés, Civilisations 38, 1 (1983), 107–36.

24 See especially Smith, Richard, ‘Geographical diversity in the resort to marriage in late medieval Europe: work, reputation, and unmarried females in the household formation systems of northern and southern Europe’, in Goldberg, P. J. P. ed., Woman is a worthy wight: women in English society, c. 1200–1500 (Stroud, 1992), 1659.

25 Razi, Zvi, Life, marriage and death in a medieval parish: economy, society and demography in Halesowen, 1270–1400 (Cambridge, 1980), esp. 45–64, 131–8.

26 Hatcher, John, Plague, population and the English economy, 1348–1530 (London, 1977); Mate, Mavis E., Daughters, wives and widows after the Black Death: women in Sussex, 1350–1535 (Woodbridge, 1998), esp. 2149; Bailey, ‘Demographic decline’.

27 The debate is conveniently summarised in Bailey, ‘Demographic decline’.

28 Razi, Life, marriage, 57–64.

29 Hallam, H. E., ‘Age at first marriage and age at death in the Lincolnshire fenland, 1252–1478’, Population Studies 39 (1985), 5569.

30 Schofield, Phillipp R., Peasants and historians: debating the medieval peasantry (Manchester, 2016), 159; Smith, Richard M., ‘Demographic developments in rural England, 1300–1348: a survey’, in Campbell, Bruce M. S. ed., Before the Black Death: studies in the ‘crisis’ of the early fourteenth century (Manchester, 1991), 2577, here 73 (note 140).

31 See especially Smith, ‘Some reflections’, esp. 90–103; Smith, ‘Hypothèses’; Smith, ‘Demographic developments’, esp. 62–73; and Smith, R., ‘Human resources’, in Astill, Grenville G. and Grant, Annie eds., The countryside of medieval England (Oxford, 1988), 188212, esp. 205–08.

32 Razi, Life, marriage, 50–64, and subsequent debate in Poos, L. R., Razi, Zvi and Smith, Richard M., ‘The population history of medieval English villages: a debate on the use of manor court records’, in Razi, Zvi and Smith, Richard eds., Medieval society and the manor court (Oxford, 1996), 298368.

33 Smith, Richard, ‘Moving to marry among the customary tenants of late thirteenth- and early fourteenth-century England’, in Horden, Peregrine ed., Freedom of movement in the Middle Ages: proceedings of the 2003 Harlaxton symposium, Harlaxton Medieval Studies, 15 (Donington, 2007), 169–85.

34 Smith, ‘Demographic developments’, 68.

35 Smith, Richard, ‘Plagues and peoples: the long demographic cycle, 1250–1670’, in Slack, P. and Ward, Ryk eds., The peopling of Britain: the shaping of a human landscape (Oxford, 2002), 177210, here 196.

36 The methodological problems are best illustrated in Poos, Razi and Smith, ‘Population history’, an amiable debate, but not one that encouraged future research.

37 Smith, ‘Demographic developments’, 76–7.

38 Bailey, ‘Demographic decline’.

39 Maryanne Kowaleski's work provides an exception. See Kowaleski, ‘Singlewomen’; Kowaleski, , ‘The demography of maritime communities in medieval England’, in Bailey, Mark and Rigby, Stephen eds., England in the age of the Black Death: essays in honour of John Hatcher (Turnhout, 2012), 87118; Kowaleski, , ‘Gendering demographic change in the Middle Ages’, in Bennett, Judith M. and Karras, Ruth Mazo eds., Oxford handbook of women and gender in the Middle Ages (Oxford, 2014), 181–96; and Kowaleski, , ‘Medieval people in town and country: new perspectives from demography and bioarchaeology’, Speculum 89, 3 (2014), 573600.

40 Campbell, Bruce M. S., ‘The agrarian problem in the early fourteenth century’, Past & Present 188 (2005), 370, here 11; Smith, ‘Plagues and peoples’, 180–1.

41 Kosminsky, E. A., Studies in the agrarian history of England in the thirteenth century (Oxford, 1956).

42 Of the rest, 33 per cent lived on tenancies of about 12–13 acres, on average; and 29 per cent held substantial properties of 30 acres or more. Campbell, Bruce M. S., The great transition: climate, disease and society in the late-medieval world (Cambridge, 2016), 262 (Table 3.4). I have merged some of Campbell's categories and converted hectares into acres. See also Campbell's fuller discussion of rural congestion and land hunger in ‘Agrarian problem’. For the fragmentation of free tenancies, see Bekar, Cliff T. and Reed, Clyde G, ‘Land markets and inequality: evidence from medieval England’, European Review of Economic History 17, 3 (2013), 294317. For how these striking economic differences manifested in the social topography of medieval villages, see Mileson, Stephen, ‘Openness and closure in the later medieval village’, Past & Present 234 (2017), 337.

43 Campbell, Great transition, 262 (Table 34).

44 Kitsikopoulos, Harry, ‘Standards of living and capital formation in pre-plague England: a peasant budget model’, Economic History Review 53, 2 (2000), 237–61; Dyer, Christopher, Standards of living in the later Middle Ages: social change in England, c. 1200–1520 (Cambridge, 1989), esp. 109–50; Bailey, Mark, ‘Peasant welfare in England, 1290–1348’, Economic History Review 51, 2 (1998), 223351. For earlier discussions, see especially Titow, J. Z., English rural society, 1200–1350 (London, 1969), 6496; Postan, M. M., The medieval economy and society (Harmondsworth, 1972), 135–59; Miller, Edward and Hatcher, John, Medieval England: rural society and economic change, 1086–1348 (London, 1978), 139–61.

45 For the resilience of smallholding economies, see discussions of peasant welfare and standards of living in endnote 44. See also Page, Mark, ‘The smallholders of Southampton Water: the peasant land market on a Hampshire manor before the Black Death’, in Turner, Sam and Silvester, Bob eds., Life in medieval landscapes: people and places in the Middle Ages (Oxford, 2012), 181–97; Kowaleski, Maryanne, ‘Peasants and the sea in medieval England’, in Kowaleski, Maryanne, Langdon, John and Schofield, Phillipp R. eds., Peasants and lords in the medieval English economy: essays in honour of Bruce M. S. Campbell (Turnhout, 2015), 353–76.

46 Miller and Hatcher, Medieval England, 161.

47 For the disruptions of rural-urban migration, see Hilton, R. H., ‘Lords, burgesses and hucksters’, Past & Present 97 (1982), 315, here 10, and Coss, Peter ed., The early records of medieval Coventry, Records of Social and Economic History New Series, 11 (London, 1986), xlii. For peasants and commercialisation, see especially Richard M. Smith, ‘A periodic market and its impact on a manorial community: Botesdale, Suffolk, and the manor of Redgrave, 1280–1300’, in Smith and Razi eds., Medieval society, 450–81; Britnell, R. H., ‘Commercialisation and economic development in England, 1000–1300’, in Britnell, R. H. and Campbell, B. M. S. eds., A commercialising economy: England, 1086–1300 (Manchester, 1995), 726, esp. 19–23; and Masschaele, James, Peasants, merchants, and markets: inland trade in medieval England, 1150–1350 (New York, 1997).

48 Postan, M. M. and Titow, J., ‘Heriots and prices on Winchester manors’, Economic History Review 11, 3 (1959), 392411.

49 See especially Bruce M. S. Campbell, ‘Agrarian problem’, and J. R. Maddicott, ‘The English peasantry and the demands of the crown, 1294–1341’, Past & Present, supplement 1 (1975).

50 Kitsikopoulos, ‘Standards of living’, 251.

51 Homans, George, English villagers of the thirteenth century (Cambridge, MA, 1941).

52 The Spalding survey of 1259–1260 has numerous examples: British Library (hereafter BL) Add Ms 35296, fos. 172v–192v, esp. fos. 187–90.

53 Page, Mark, ‘Town and countryside in medieval Ivinghoe’, Records of Buckinghamshire 51 (2011), 189203; Whittle, Jane, ‘Leasehold tenure in England, c. 1300–1600: its form and incidence’, in van Bavel, Bas J. P. and Schofield, Phillipp R. eds., The development of leasehold in northwestern Europe, c. 1200–1600 (Turnhout, 2007), 139–54; Jones, Andrew, ‘Caddington, Kensworth, and Dunstable in 1297’, Economic History Review 32, 3 (1979), 316–27; Mullan, John and Britnell, Richard, Land and family: trends and local variations in the peasant land market on the Winchester bishopric estates, 1263–1415 (Hatfield, 2010), 128–31.

54 H. S. A. Fox, ‘Exploitation of the landless by lords and tenants in early medieval England’, in Razi and Smith eds., Medieval society, 518–68, and Ecclestone, Martin, ‘Mortality of rural landless men before the Black Death: the Glastonbury head-tax lists’, Local Population Studies 63 (1999), 629. See also discussion of garciones in Claridge, Jordan and Langdon, John, ‘The composition of famuli labour on English demesnes, c. 1300’, Agricultural History Review 63, 2 (2015), 187220, esp. 202–04.

55 I have examined the context and text of the Weston inventory (and provided a translated version) in Bennett, ‘Married and not’.

56 Lewis, Mary, Shapland, Fiona and Watts, Rebecca, ‘On the threshold of adulthood: a new approach for the use of maturation indicators to assess puberty in adolescents from medieval England’, American Journal of Human Biology 28, 1 (2016), 4856. These analyses are based on skeletal remains from c. 900 to c. 1550.

57 Hallam, ‘Age at first marriage’, 59.

58 Lewis et al., ‘On the threshold’ report on p. 54 that girls matured between 16 and 19 years of age and boys between 17 and 19 or later (in London); Clark, Elaine, ‘The custody of children in English manor courts’, Law and History Review 3, 2 (1985), 333–48, here 347.

59 Bennett, ‘Married and not’, 161–2. The inventory overall reports more daughters than sons, but the sex ratio is within plausible range. See ‘Married and not’, 157. The elevated number of women in categories 3–11 might reflect their earlier maturation, both biologically and socially. Because women mostly found husbands in villages other than Weston, the Weston sex ratio did not determine marriage chances.

60 Homans, English villagers, 140; Bennett, Judith M., Women in the medieval English countryside: gender and household in Brigstock before the plague (Oxford, 1987), 94; Müller, Miriam, ‘The function and evasion of marriage fines on a fourteenth-century English manor’, Continuity and Change 14, 2 (1999), 169–90, 172 (Table 1).

61 For examples, see Maitland, F. W. ed., Select pleas in manorial and other seignorial courts, Selden Society, 2 (1889), 46–7; Poos, L. R. and Bonfield, Lloyd eds., Select cases in manorial courts 1250–1550: property and family law, Selden Society, 114 (London, 1998), cases 139, 141, 142, 154; Raftis, J. Ambrose, Tenure and mobility: studies in the social history of the mediaeval English village (Toronto, 1964), 72; Homans, English villagers, 140–1; Bennett, Women in the medieval English countryside, 93.

62 Clark, ‘Custody of children’, 347; Bedell, John, ‘Memory and proof of age in England 1272–1327’, Past & Present 162 (1999), 327; Deller, William S., ‘Proofs of age 1246 to 1430: their nature, veracity and use as sources’, in Hicks, Michael ed., The later medieval Inquisitions Post Mortem: mapping the medieval countryside and rural society (Woodbridge, 2016), 136–60; Bailey, B. Gregory et al. , ‘Coming of age and the family in medieval England’, Journal of Family History 33, 1 (2008), 4160; Poos and Bonfield eds., Select cases, cases 192 and 206.

63 Poos and Bonfield eds., Select cases, cvii–xii.

64 For the complexities of such transactions, see especially Smith, Richard M., ‘The manorial court and the elderly tenant in late medieval England’, in Pelling, Margaret and Smith, Richard M. eds., Life, death and the elderly: historical perspectives (London, 1991), 3961; Clark, E., ‘The decision to marry in thirteenth- and early fourteenth-century Norfolk’, Mediaeval Studies 49 (1987), 496516.

65 Of the extensive literature on the peasant land market, see especially, Harvey, P. D. A. ed., The peasant land market in medieval England (Oxford, 1984); Bruce M. S. Campbell, ‘Population pressure, inheritance and the land market in a fourteenth-century peasant community’, in Smith ed., Land, kinship, 87–134; Page, Mark, ‘The peasant land market on the estate of the bishopric of Winchester before the Black Death’, in. Britnell, R. H. ed., The Winchester pipe rolls and medieval English society (Rochester, NY, 2003), 6180; Mullan and Britnell, Land and family.

66 Clark, Elaine, ‘Some aspects of social security in medieval England’, Journal of Family History 7, 4 (1982), 307–20; Smith, ‘Elderly tenant’.

67 Titow, J. Z., ‘Some differences between manors and their effects on the conditions of the peasantry in the thirteenth century’, Agricultural History Review 10 (1962), 113; Ravensdale, Jack, ‘Population changes and the transfer of customary land on a Cambridgeshire manor in the fourteenth century’, in Smith, Richard M. ed., Land, kinship and life-cycle (Cambridge, 1984), 197226; Franklin, Peter, ‘Peasant widows’ “liberation” and remarriage before the Black Death’, Economic History Review 39, 2 (1986), 186204.

68 See especially Whittle, Jane, ‘Individualism and the family-land bond: a reassessment of land transfer patterns among the English peasantry, c. 1270–1580’, Past & Present 160 (1998), 2563.

69 Kelly, Morgan and Gráda, Cormac Ó, ‘The preventive check in medieval and preindustrial England’, Journal of Economic History 72, 4 (2012), 1015–35; Bekar and Reed, ‘Land markets and inequality’; Schofield, Phillipp R., ‘Dearth, debt, and the local land market in a late thirteenth-century village’, Agricultural History Review 45 (1997), 117.

70 See the sub-leases listed in Page, ‘Ivinghoe’, 201–03.

71 Ecclestone, ‘Mortality’, 19.

72 Using just category 3 in Table 1, 18 out of 55 grown sons in Generation W held land, but a better figure – 24 out of 55 – includes the six men named with children in category 5. They were almost certainly married, so it is likely that most of them held land too, just not land held of Spalding Priory's manor in Weston (see note 36 in ‘Married and not’ for examples of Weston serfs who held land outside of the manor).

73 Homans, English villagers, 151–2. Miriam Müller found 112 such entries, most involving sons, for Winslow (Buckinghamshire) between 1330 and 1377: ‘The function and evasion of marriage fines’, 171 and 176. To see examples in print, go to Harvey, P. D. A. ed., Manorial records of Cuxham, Oxfordshire, circa 1200–1359 (London, 1976), 614–15.

74 Homans, English villagers, 151; ed., Ray Lock, The court rolls of Walsham le Willows, 1303–50 (Woodbridge, 1998), 118, 120. Of course, a few peasants married without any land at all (for an example, see Bennett, Women in the medieval English countryside, 89), but even rushed marriages could involve provision of land, however minimal (see Poos and Bonfield eds., Select pleas, case 141 and discussion at clxxvi–ii).

75 For social control of marriage, see especially Clark, ‘Decision to marry’, and Poos, L. R., ‘The heavy-handed marriage counsellor: regulating marriage in some later-medieval English local ecclesiastical court jurisdictions’, American Journal of Legal History 39, 3 (1995), 291309.

76 Bennett, Women in the medieval English countryside, 104.

77 Fox, ‘Exploitation’, 521.

78 Swanson, R. N., ‘Angels incarnate: clergy and masculinity from Gregorian Reform to Reformation’, in Hadley, D. M. ed., Masculinity in medieval Europe (New York, 1999), 160–77; Patricia Cullum, ‘Clergy, masculinity, and transgression in late medieval England’, in Hadley ed., Masculinity, 178–96; Neal, Derek G., The masculine self in late medieval England (Chicago, 2008); Werner, Janelle, ‘Promiscuous priests and vicarage children: clerical sexuality and masculinity in late medieval England’, in Thibodeaux, Jennifer D. ed., Negotiating clerical identities: priests, monks and masculinity in the Middle Ages (Basingstoke, 2010), 159–81.

79 Tenants could, of course, lose their land in a variety of ways, especially through distressed sales and forfeiture, so married couples could end up landless or land-poor. See, for example, Ault, Warren O. ed., Court rolls of the abbey of Ramsey and of the honor of Clare (New Haven, 1928), 207.

80 Clark, ‘Decision to marry’, 509, note 59.

81 Poos and Bonfield eds., Select cases, case 139; Homans, English villagers, 140–1.

82 Judith M. Bennett, ‘Women and poverty: girls on their own in England before 1348’, in Kowaleski et al. eds., Peasants and lords, 299–323, esp. 303–07.

83 Homans, English villagers, 141; Poos and Bonfield eds., Select cases, cases 15, 16, 24; Bennett, Women in the medieval English countryside, 265, note 57.

84 Razi, Life, marriage, 59 (Table 11).

85 Documentation on rural service is scarce before 1350, but what details we have (see the next note for an example from Walsham le Willows) match closely what is better known for later centuries. For rural servants in the later Middle Ages, see especially Whittle, Jane, ‘Housewives and servants in rural England, 1440–1650: evidence of women's work from probate documents’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 15 (2005), 5174, and ‘Servants in rural England c. 1450–1650: hired work as a means of accumulating wealth and skills before marriage’, in Agren, Maria and Erickson, Amy Louise eds., The marital economy in Scandinavia and Britain, 1400–1900 (Aldershot, 2005), 89110.

86 Lock ed., Walsham, reports on the activities of 22 male servants, 14 female servants, and more than 71 unnamed servants (these cannot be precisely counted because many entries – counted here, in each instance, as two – spoke vaguely of ‘servants’). It is possible that a handful of other female servants are among women noted as pledged by a particular man ‘because in his house’ (Lock ed., Walsham, 18; I found only two likely examples on 269 and 235). Walsham had about 940 individuals over 16 years of age (Lock ed., Walsham, 17), of which these 107 servants constituted about one in ten (a rough indicator only: my count provides a mere minimum, but some individuals might have been counted twice among the 71 unnamed servants and some were surely younger than 16 years). For comparison, the poll taxes (post-1348, but our first reliable tabulations of servants) indicate that about 10 per cent of rural taxpayers were then servants. The poll taxes also show males predominating among rural servants, as seems possible at Walsham le Willows before 1350. For the poll taxes, see Smith, ‘Hypothèses’, 118 (Table 3); Goldberg, P. J. P., ‘Female labour, service and marriage in the late medieval urban North’, Northern History 22, 1 (1986), 18–38, here 21; Goldberg, Women, work and life-cycle, 165–8. For a servant's career over many years in Walsham, see Hilary Typetot on 176, 235, 261, and possibly 273, in Lock ed., Walsham.

87 For wage differentials, see Goldberg, P. J. P., ‘What was a servant?’, in Curry, Anne and Matthew, Elizabeth eds., Concepts and patterns of service in the later Middle Ages (Woodbridge, 2000), 120, esp. 15–16; and Humphries and Weisdorf, ‘Wages of women’; see also Langdon, John, ‘Minimum wages and unemployment rates in medieval England: the case of Old Woodstock, Oxfordshire, 1256–1357’, in Dodds, Ben and Liddy, Christian D. eds., Commercial activity, markets and entrepreneurs in the Middle Ages: essays in honour of Richard Britnell (Woodbridge, 2011), 25–44, here 38. Evidence of mistreatment comes from later decades; for sexual abuse, see Kettle, Ann J., ‘Ruined maids: prostitutes and servant girls in later medieval England’, in Edwards, Robert R. and Ziegler, Vickie eds., Matrons and marginal women in medieval society (Woodbridge, 1995), 1935; for shorter contracts, see Goldberg, ‘What was a servant?’, 12; Deborah Youngs, The townswomen of Wales: singlewomen, work and service, c. 1300–c. 1550’, in Fulton, Helen ed., Urban culture in medieval Wales (Cardiff, 2012), 163–82, esp. 168–8, and her Servants and labourers on a late medieval demesne: the case of Newton, Cheshire, 1498–1520’, Agricultural History Review 47 (1999), 145–60, here 149; for difficulties collecting wages, see the suit of Margaret Sadwine in Lock ed., Walsham, 202; and Summerson, Henry, Medieval Carlisle: the city and the borders from the late eleventh to the mid-sixteenth century, 2 vols., Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, extra series 25 (Kendal, 1993), vol. 2, 684.

88 Bennett, Judith M., Ale, beer, and brewsters: women's work in a changing world, 1300–1600 (New York, 1996), 27; Bennett, ‘Women and poverty’, 302.

89 Ibid., 308 (Table 12.3). See, for example, Müller; ‘Function and evasion’, 172 (Table 1); Jones, Ernest D., ‘The Spalding Priory merchet evidence from the 1250s to the 1470s’, Journal of Medieval History 24 (1998), 155–75, here 157 (Table 1); Smith, ‘Moving to marry’, 179 (Table 5).

90 Homans, English villagers, 177–94.

91 On medieval marriage, see especially Sheehan, M. M., ‘The formation and stability of marriage in 14th century England: evidence of an Ely register’, Mediaeval Studies 33 (1971), 228–63; Helmholz, Richard H., Marriage litigation in medieval England (Cambridge, 1974); Poos and Bonfield eds., Select cases, esp. clxvii–xi, and cases 136–84; Clark, ‘Decision to marry’; Poos, ‘Heavy-handed marriage counsellor’; Karras, Ruth Mazo, Unmarriages: women, men, and sexual unions in the Middle Ages (Philadelphia, 2012).

92 Sons: 24 (categories 3 and 5) and possibly 29 (including category 7) of 55 (categories 3–10). Daughters: 44 (categories 4 and 5) of 68 (categories 3–10). Marriage was a regional activity, so the relative proportions of married woman and men within Weston are a small slice of a bigger pie.

93 Bennett, Judith M., A medieval life: Cecilia Penifader of Brigstock, c. 1295–1344 (New York, 1998).

94 Lock ed., Walsham, 108, 119, 157, 160, 169, 215, 246.

95 Levett, Ada Elizabeth, Studies in manorial history (Oxford, 1938), 302: dat iis. ut sit sine viro in tota vita sua et hoc notatur coram Halimoto.

96 Bennett, ‘Married and not’, case 23 in appendix. For their landholdings, see BL Add Ms 35296, fos. 213v, 218v–219 (digital images of the Weston survey are available at

97 BL Add Ms 35296, fos. 192v–194v (digital images of the Spalding serf list are available at For some other lifelong singlewomen, see Noy, David, ‘Leyrwite, marriage and illegitimacy: Winslow before the Black Death’, Records of Buckinghamshire 47 (2007), 133–51, here 142.

98 Hajnal, ‘Europe marriage pattern’, 103.

99 Bennett, A medieval life, 81–2. See also ‘spinster clustering’ as revealed in the later poll tax returns, in Goldberg, Women, work, and life cycle, 305–18. Seigneurial orders to marry, although rare, also suggest that singleness was a viable option. They show both that marriage was normative for landholders (hence, the orders) and not essential (most people did not marry as ordered). Clark, ‘Decision to marry’, 500–02; Poos and Bonfield eds., Select cases, clxix, clxx–vi, cases 137 and 145.

100 See entries for ‘ladde’ and ‘maide’ in the Middle English dictionary (MED), available at

101 See entries for ‘self-ode’ and ‘onli’ in the MED and ‘selfode’ and ‘onlepy’ in the Oxford English dictionary.

102 Ecclestone, ‘Mortality’, 14. The two groups have different age limits: garciones were counted from 12 years of age whereas tenants had to be older – usually about 20 years of age (as set by the custom of each manor).

103 Fox, ‘Exploitation’, esp. 533–9.

104 Ecclestone, ‘Mortality’, 19.

105 Ibid., 16.

106 Ibid., 15, 19 (Table 14).

107 Fox, ‘Exploitation’, 533–9, 555 (Table 15.2).

108 Ibid., 535–6.

109 Ecclestone, ‘Mortality’, 15 (Table 1).

110 Ibid., 19. These figures are based on tracing 37 men in the Deverills.

111 Ibid., 19–20.

112 Fox, ‘Exploitation’, 521.

113 Ibid., 534–5.

114 Bennett, ‘Married and not’, 161–2.

115 Ecclestone, ‘Mortality’, 8–9.

116 Homans, English villagers, 137–8; Poos and Bonfield ed., Select cases, case 9. For further examples, see Clark, ‘Decision to marry’, 508.

117 See also case 54 (carpenter in London) and case 24 (priest overseas) in the appendix of Bennett, ‘Married and not’.

118 Bennett, ‘Married and not’, 164.

119 Fox, ‘Exploitation’, 539.

120 Ecclestone, ‘Mortality’, 16–17 (Tables 2 and 3).

121 Prestwich, Michael, ‘Edward I's armies’, Journal of Medieval History 37, 3 (2011), 233–44; Maddicott, ‘The English peasantry’, 285–359, esp. 318–29; Bachrach, David, ‘Edward I's centurions: professional soldiers in an era of militia armies’, in Bell, Adrian R. and Curry, Anne eds., The soldier experience in the fourteenth century (Woodbridge, 2011), 109–28.

122 Whitelock, Dorothy, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: a revised translation (London, 1961), 169.

123 We can reasonably expect that hostility towards unsettled women within England (see discussion below, as well as comments in Postles, David, ‘Migration and mobility in a less mature economy: English internal migration, c. 1200–1350’, Social History 25, 3 (2000), 285–99, here 294) extended to English colonies, but we need to know much more about the sex ratios of English settlement in Ireland, Wales and Scotland. The current consensus is that men predominated. See Davies, R. R., ‘Colonial Wales’, Past & Present 65 (1974), 323, esp. 7-8; Stevens, Matthew Frank, Urban assimilation in post-conquest Wales: ethnicity, gender and economy in Ruthin, 1282–1348 (Cardiff, 2010), 137; and Kenny, Gillian, ‘When two worlds collide: marriage and the law in medieval Ireland’, in Beattie, Cordelia and Stevens, Matthew Frank eds., Married women and the law in premodern northwest Europe (Woodbridge, 2013), 5370, esp. 65–8. Nevertheless, the evidence is thin, and we should beware of underestimating the mobility of women; see Bennett, Judith M., ‘Women (and men) on the move: Scots in the English North, 1440’, Journal of British Studies 57, 1 (2018), 128.

124 The estimate given here is from Lepine, David, ‘England: church and clergy’, in Rigby, S. H. ed., A companion to Britain in the later Middle Ages (Oxford, 2003), 359–80, here 369. See also Campbell, Bruce M. S., ‘Benchmarking medieval economic development: England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, c. 1290’, Economic History Review 61, 4 (2008), 896–945, esp. 899–903; My estimate uses Lepine's figure of 50,000 clergy and adjusts Campbell's overall population estimate of 4,750,000 for women and children. Chris Given-Wilson has suggested a higher figure of 6 to 7 per cent in An illustrated history of late medieval England (Manchester, 1996), 6.

125 Werner, ‘Promiscuous priests’; Werner, Janelle, ‘Living in suspicion: priests and female servants in late medieval England’, Journal of British Studies 55 (2016), 658–79; Bennett, Judith M., ‘Ventriloquisms: when maidens speak in English songs, c. 1300–1550’, in Klinck, Anne and Rasmussen, Ann Marie eds., Medieval woman's song: cross-cultural approaches (Philadelphia, 2001), 187204.

126 Poos, L. R., ‘Ecclesiastical courts, marriage, and sexuality in late medieval Europe’, in New approaches to the history of late medieval and early modern Europe: selected proceedings of two international conference at the Royal Danish Academy and Letters in Copenhagen in 1997 and 1999 (Copenhagen 2009), 181297, esp. 182–3.

127 BL Add Ms 35296, fos. 192v–194v.

128 Robert Penifader, for example, fathered a bastard daughter Alice for whom he made provision at the end of his life. Bennett, Medieval life, 82. Penifader's case might reflect his relative wealth, for, as best we can tell, informal unions were not common; Poos, ‘Heavy-handed marriage counsellor’, 304 notes that only 10–15 per cent of fornication cases reported in ecclesiastical courts had any marital implications. Perhaps, as was later the case, marriages by the poor were inhibited or even prohibited; see Hindle, Steve, ‘The problem of pauper marriage in seventeenth-century England’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 8 (1998), 7189. See also Karras, Unmarriages.

129 Homans, English villagers, 137.

130 About 1,900 Glastonbury garciones in 1307, compared to about 2,050 tenants. I have here decreased the full count of 2,227 garciones to adjust for deaths in this group (aged 12 or more) before they reached landholding age; Ecclestone, ‘Mortality’, 24, gives a death rate of 31 per 1,000 for those aged 13 or more. Lock ed., Walsham, 17, found that two out of every three men were non-tenants.

131 Bardsley, Sandy has argued otherwise in ‘Missing women: sex ratios in England, 1000–1500’, Journal of British Studies 53, 2 (2014), 273309, but I concur with the hesitations expressed by Maryanne Kowaleski, ‘Medieval people in town and country’, 579, note 22. Remarriage was common for both sexes.

132 Bennett, ‘Women and poverty’, 303–07. On the Winchester estates, daughters inherited 1,026 times and sons on 4,684 occasions. Mullan and Britnell, Land and family, 104 (Table 7.1). Female inheritance was usually partibly divided among all daughters.

133 For the limited economic opportunities of singlewomen, see Bennett, ‘Women and poverty’; Claridge and Langdon, ‘The composition of famuli labour’, 198–201; John Langdon, ‘Minimum wages and unemployment rates in medieval England: the case of Old Woodstock, Oxfordshire, 1256–1357’, in Dodds and Liddy eds., Commercial activity, markets and entrepreneurs, 25–44.

134 Homans, English villagers, 142, 434 (note 21); the entry suggests that a second sister Avis had a similar claim. See also Poos and Bonfield eds., Select cases, case 7 (here, the phrasing leaves room for informal marriage: quousque maritate fuerint vel concubite fuerint); Clark, ‘Decision to marry’, 507, 515–16 (three sisters promised support quousque maritentur).

135 Massingberd, W. O. ed. and trans., Court rolls of the manor of Ingoldmells in the county of Lincoln (London, 1902), 25; see also 24, 30, 31, 39, 64–5, 88, 115, 116, 121, 131. Grants to daughters were life tenancies; sons more often received permanent tenure that extended to their heirs. Landholding singlewomen sometimes lost their tenancies if unchaste; see Clark, Elaine, ‘Mothers at risk of poverty in the medieval English countryside’, in Henderson, J. and Wall, R. eds., Poor women and children in the European past (London, 1994), 150; Mullan and Britnell, Land and family, 84–6.

136 Razi, Zvi, ‘The myth of the immutable English family’, Past & Present 140 (1993), 3–44, esp. 9–10 (note 34).

137 Lepine estimates 3,300 nuns among 18,000 regular clergy in 1320: ‘Church and clergy’, 369.

138 Briggs, Chris, ‘Empowered or marginalized? Rural women and credit in later thirteenth and fourteenth century England’, Continuity and Change 19, 1 (2004), 1343.

139 On wages, Humphries and Weisdorf, ‘Wages of women’; Bennett, ‘Women and poverty’, 302.

140 Bennett, Women in the medieval English countryside, 83.

141 Bennett, ‘Married and not’, 165.

142 Lock ed., Walsham, 88.

143 For fuller discussion of the matters discussed in the next three paragraphs, see my ‘Women and poverty’.

144 For gleaning, see Ault, W. O., ‘By-laws of gleaning and the problems of harvest’, Economic History Review 14, 2 (1961), 210–17. For strangers, see Dale, Marian K. ed., Court rolls of Chalgrave Manor, Bedfordshire Historical Record Society, 28 (Streatley, 1950), where nine women and only three men were recorded as unwelcome strangers between 1293 and 1306. For hedge-burning, see the predominance of women reported for this offense in Amphlett, John ed., Court rolls of the manor of Hales, 1272–1307, 2 vols. (Oxford, 1910 and 1912). For expulsions, Horsham (Norfolk) provides a good example: almost two thirds of the roughly 150 strangers reported between 1265 and 1293 were women (I thank Elaine Clark for sharing with me her unpublished calendar of the Horsham court rolls).

145 Hilton, R. H., ‘Small town society in England before the Black Death’, Past & Present, 105 (1984), 64–5. I thank Henry Summerson for directing me to the St Paul's slaughter where 50 out of 84 named dead were female (women likely predominated even more among the additional 60 dead whose names were unknown): The National Archives, JUST 1/547A m. 8.

146 R. F. Hunnisett ed., Bedfordshire coroners' rolls, Bedfordshire Historical Record Society, 41 (Streatley, 1961), cases 165, 202, 30. Of the 12 cases in these earliest coroners’ rolls that mention poverty or begging, nine involve women (see cases 9, 30, 147, 165, 170, 187, 191, 202, 203, 208, 245, 246).

147 See the two lists of anilepimen found in Norfolk Record Office (hereafter NRO) 19500/42B7. Most individuals appeared in both lists. I have excluded from my count two men, one woman, and one child noted only in 1286, as their entries were cancelled and no fines were levied. My observations in the rest of this paragraph draw on the full run of Horsham rolls found in NRO 19495/42B7 through 19505/42B7, aided by Elaine Clark's calendar.

148 Neilson, Nellie, Customary rents (Oxford, 1910), 173; Greenwall, William ed., Bishop Hatfield's survey, Surtees Society, 32 (Durham, 1857), 283.

149 Bennett, Judith M., ‘Writing fornication: medieval leyrwite and its historians’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 6th series, 13 (2003), 131–62; Noy, ‘Leyrwite, marriage’; Smith, Richard M., ‘Appendix: a note on network analysis in relation to the bastardy prone sub-society’, in Laslett, Peter ed., Bastardy and its comparative history: studies in the history of illegitimacy and marital nonconformism in Britain, France, Germany, Sweden, North America, Jamaica and Japan (London, 1980), 240–6.

150 Orme, Nicholas and Webster, Margaret, The English hospital, 1070–1570 (New Haven, 1995), 109–10. For a woman judged non utile ad opus villate, see Ault ed., Court rolls of Ramsey, 199.

151 See, for example, the self-reported story of Janne Heyndericx in 1505, as found in Bange, P. and Weiler, A. G., ‘De problematiek van het clandestiene huwelijk in het middeleeuwse bisdom Utrecht’, in de Boer, D. E. H. and Marsilje, J. W. eds., De Nederlanden in de late middeleeuwen (Utrecht, 1987), 404–05. For de Moor and van Zanden (in ‘Girl power’, 1–4, 29), Janne's story is the quintessential story of Girl Power – a ‘strikingly modern’ tale of a ‘stubborn’ woman who marries as she chooses, shrugs off parental support, and easily finds waged employment. To me, her story reads differently – her hoped-for marriage was stymied because of poverty and unsecured by sexual relations; her parents were unwilling or unable to support her; her work options were so limited that she accepted precarious employment; and she eventually bore her employer's illegitimate child. Janne was not lucky and able to marry as she liked; she was unlucky and could not marry. I thank Ariadne Schmidt and David Shapiro for their help with the Middle Dutch text of Janne's testimony, although my interpretation is my own.

152 Arable acreage more than doubled between 1086 and 1290, from about six million acres to over 12 million. Population grew even faster, with the result that, by the latter date, arable land per capita had declined by as much as 25 per cent. Broadberry et al., British economic growth, 1270–1870, 72–3. See also Gregory Clark's estimate of 18 million acres c. 1300 in his Growth or stagnation? Farming in England, 1200–1800’, Economic History Review 71, 1 (2018), 5581.

153 Dennison and Ogilvie, ‘Does the European Marriage Pattern’.

154 Laslett, Peter, ‘Family, kinship and collectivity as systems of support in pre-industrial Europe: a consideration of the “nuclear-hardship” hypothesis’, Continuity and Change 3, 2 (1988), 153–75. Although their objections focus exclusively on provisions for the elderly, see the critique in Annemarie Bouman, Jaco Zuijderduijn and Tine de Moor, ‘From hardship to benefit: a critical review of the nuclear hardship theory in relation to the emergence of the European Marriage Pattern’, available at [accessed 2 December 2018].

155 Fox, ‘Exploitation’, esp. 554–60.

156 Ecclestone, ‘Mortality’, 20 (Table 5).

157 Ibid., 17 (Table 2).

158 Ibid., 19.

Related content

Powered by UNSILO

Wretched girls, wretched boys and the European Marriage Pattern in England (c. 1250–1350)

  • Judith M. Bennett (a1)


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.