Family Lessons 88: Arranged Marriage

My 20x great grandad, Simon de Walton, married Eleanor. He was ten years old at the time, and of her age there is no surviving record. We can be certain that this was no childhood crush or hasty, shotgun wedding; it would have been arranged by Simon’s parents, William and Anila, and Eleanor’s parents, sometime around 1315. It is likely that both couples were of a similar social stratum and that they thought the arrangement convenient to their status and landed wealth. In a record dated 8th July, 1338, both Simon and Eleanor were joint plaintiffs in a case against Robert, son of Roger de Radeclif, for which he pays them 100 marks in return for their dropping a claim against his lands. This is the only other record of Eleanor performing any kind of activity, otherwise, she, like most women of the period, remains silent and hidden.

Arranged marriages are today generally thought abhorrent except by immigrant communities. Interestingly, their divorce rates are much lower than the ethnic majority’s, but this might be down to a rejection of divorce rather than the matrimonial success of parentally chosen spouses. Still, it is interesting to think that my ancestors had arranged marriages, and did not resort to loitering around night clubs or joining dating sites for the sake of seeking an appropriate partner -or whatever were their fourteenth-century equivalents.

An arranged marriage is not a forced marriage, a distinction lost on many Westerners. It is arranged by parents or relatives, but freely consented to, or declined, by the two parties. Ideally, the arrangers have the young couple's needs and temperaments in mind, and are not merely seeking to advance the family name.

Marriage is a beautiful picture of the special relationship between humankind and Christ. Our salvation is arranged for us, behind the scenes, and yet it is something to which we consent. As the Lord spoke in John 6:37

All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.

I daresay that Simon and Eleanor remained together till death them parted, though whether this was for love and convenience’s sake, rather than the general absence of divorce courts, we may not tell. I thank God for His special arrangements in my life by which I came to know Him and respond to His gospel. I may have given my joyful consent, but it was He who did all the arranging and providing, and even the placing of faith in my heart and the desire to repent. 

He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love. Song of Solomon 2:4