Journal Article

Marriage and Morals in the Fourteenth Century: The Evidence of Bishop Hamo's Register

Lindsay Bryan

in The English Historical Review

Volume CXXI, issue 491, pages 467-486
Published in print April 2006 | ISSN: 0013-8266
Published online April 2006 | e-ISSN: 1477-4534 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ehr/cel004
Marriage and Morals in the Fourteenth Century: The Evidence of Bishop Hamo's Register

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This article looks at the register of Hamo de Hethe, bishop of Rochester 1317-52, as it documents the attempt by the Church to exert its control over marriage and sexual morality. In Bishop Hamo's Register are the records of many cases of adultery, fornication, maintenance, and so on, which suggest that many of the individuals called before the bishop or his officials had their own ideas of what constituted acceptable behaviours, and that these ideas were at odds with those of the Church.

The Church had its own definition of marriage, which was not necessarily shared by laypeople; many men and women summoned to the bishop's court for repeated fornication were clearly in long-term relationships. Often the commitment of the partners to each other had been undertaken in a form recognized by both parties, but in private and without priestly blessing. The Church put pressure on people to solemnize unions in public (in facie ecclesie), using a range of punishments including public whippings to discipline such people, whom it considered incorrigible fornicators.

The paper argues that the ecclesiastical values which the Church sought to impose were more complex than we might at first assume, since the clerics who formulated them were influenced by lay values and customs as well as by ecclesiastical ones. This interaction was neither equal nor harmonious, and it took the Church centuries to achieve a measure of control – never complete – in these areas. Hamo's Register demonstrates the process.

Journal Article.  11018 words. 

Subjects: British History ; World History ; European History ; International History

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