Family Lessons 94: Dowries in Lawful Money of England

A record exists at the County Archive made at Chorley on the 6th day of May, 7th year of  Henry VIII (1515) between:

Richard Crosse, of the co[unty] of Lancaster, gentleman, to Roger Breres, yeoman and draper in the same county, Covenants on the Marriage of the said Roger with Blanche Crosse, daughter of the said Richard, which is to take place before Pentecost next: The said Roger is to receive twenty pounds of lawful money of England, at St. John Baptist and St. Martin in winter, at the hands of the said Richard

All three people mentioned are my 15x great grandparents, Roger hailing from Chorley/Preston, and Richard and Blanche from Liverpool. There was a social descent in this marriage; although the Crosse family were gentry, Roger is described as a yeoman. Nevertheless, Richard has to pay Roger a dowry of forty pounds given in two instalments.

The National Archives website converts forty old pounds to £26,510.60 in 2017 when its calculator was last updated. In a pre-industrial age, wealth was harder to come by, so I suspect it was actually worth more. Nevertheless, I am reliably informed that it would have bought 28 Horses, 105 cows or 363 stones of wool, which might have appealed more to a business-minded draper like Roger.

The phrase ‘lawful money of England’ might also be a hint of Roger’s mercantile thinking; he does not want the value paying in old furniture, geriatric cattle or scattered parcels of useless land. One instalment was to be paid by 24 June and the other the 11 November, with the wedding taking place no later than Sunday 15 May. It seems remarkable that poor Blanche was effectively being palmed off to a man if only sufficient monies were exchanged. Dowries are no longer normal practice in the West, though there is still a vague expectation that the bride’s parents will cover the wedding cost, which is surely a leftover of the dowry concept.

As I repeatedly point out, weddings and marriage are both pictures of our union with Christ, both as individuals, and more commonly, as the entire church. In New Testament times, paying dowries was a normal practice, but what dowry is paid for us? In fact, the Groom pays all, and receives nothing, but His bride, His people. How generous! How gracious!

...knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. 1 Peter 1:18-19

The lawful money of England was always subject to inflation (not least because Henry VIII debased it with copper), but the precious life-blood of Jesus the Christ was the price He paid to wed a people for ever.