Public Lecture: ‘Compelled bie his father’: the phenomenon of child marriage in sixteenth-century northern England'

Wednesday, 5 November 2014
6.30pm, Venue Webb Lecture Theatre (G.21), Ground Floor, Geography & Geology Building, UWA

Dr Loretta Dolan
The University of Western Australia


The purpose of my research on child marriage is to give a clearer understanding of how the practice of child marriage affected the nurture of the child. By analysing the emotional responses and reactions of children to their marriages, we are able to appreciate the practice from the perspective of the child. This gives children a voice though which we can observe conflicts with authority and how children exercised agency in relation to their marriages. Ecclesiastical depositions form the basis of my research with the evidence given by the witnesses in matrimonial court cases providing social detail as well as the circumstances surrounding the marriage. They reveal why casino child marriages had occurred. All hinge on agreements between parents and other adults whilst none identify the agency of the child in choosing their own marriage partner. Evident are negotiations concerning debts, identification of one of the parties as being a ‘good bargain’, the marriage of stepchildren due to the union of their parents, marriage of wards, coercion of the child by adults other than their parents, and lastly, compulsion of family and friends. All were considered valid motives for the marriages to take place. Depositions themselves also allow for a considerable range of social class situations to be analysed. Reputation and honour was of paramount concern to people who used the services of the Church courts, and all were eager to defend their reputations.