Marriage Laws in Celtic Britain

Dwynwen rejects the attentions of her lover.

With the publication of Traitor’s Daughter, this is the perfect opportunity to talk about the various Celtic marriage laws that are the premise of the book.

Depending on the tribe, there are nine laws that governed the marital status of a couple. Many of them are not allowed these days but were acceptable in the early Celtic civilizations. My sources for this information are Peter Berresford Ellis’s book, Celtic Women, and Henrietta Leyser’s Medieval Women. These nine forms are also to be found in the eight types of marriage in Hindu law.

Polygamy was a commonplace occurrence in the earliest, war-torn times, in practicality, to provide for the many widows who otherwise would have starved to death along with their children. A warrior with many wives served the social needs of his tribe by taking responsibility for the families of his dead soldiers.

According to (at least) one Celtic woman, when chastised for her lack of chastity, “Why should we not enjoy the best of men. Roman women comingle with the worst.”

As necessity waned, polygamy in Celtic society disappeared and, with the conversion to Christianity in Celtic countries by the 6th-7th centuries, was no longer acceptable. In Cymru, some monastic Celtic Church clergy continued to marry until the late 12th century. In Ireland, polygamy continued for some time after the conversion to the Christian church.

Marriage in antiquity was predominately a contract merger of property for the establishment of a family and household.

Hywel Rex

Hywel Dda codified the marriage laws in Cymru.

The first degree of marriage was priodas (pree-O-das) – the partnership of a man and woman of equal financial position. This is how Heledd and Garmon are wed (eventually) in Traitor’s Daughter. In this form of marriage, a catalogue of goods is made and shared between the partners for the good of the household. I have also used this form in the marriage of minor characters in Invasion, the first book in my Pendyffryn: The Conquerors.

The second form is agwedi (aG-WED-ee). The woman brings a lesser amount or no property to the partnership. Heledd is in this position when she believes she is to wed Huw.

The third form of marriage is caradas (car-A-das), from the word caru (car-ee) to love. In Cymru, this is when a man lives with a woman with her kin’s consent. In Ireland, the third form is the man who has nothing to offer to the wealth of the household. (She must love him very much!)  In Invasion, Gwennan Pendyffryn has no difficulty accepting Ieuan Emyr on the Irish grounds but it doesn’t work out that way for them.

The fourth form of marriage in Cymru, deu lysuab (day lees-EE-ab), having no equivalent in Irish marriage law, is the union of two persons related only by the marriage of their respective parents, i.e., stepbrother and stepsister. The word llys (ll [an aspirated l] = llees) refers to a court of law; a legal relationship). Garmon is Huw’s llysfab (stepson).

The fourth form in Ireland is lánamnas fir thathigthe (sorry, my limited Gaelic won’t help with this pronunciation) – a man is given permission to live with a woman with her kin’s consent. This is the same as the third form in Cymru.

The fifth type of marital union is called llathlut goleu (llAHth-leet go-lay) means ‘open connection’ – two people chose to live together openly without the consent of the woman’s kin. I use this form of marriage in my forthcoming novel, Invasion.

Numbers six on the Celtic wedding hit parade is llathlut twyll (llATth-leet tOO-eell [aspirated l]). An independent-minded woman allows herself to be abducted by a man or is visited by a man in secret without the knowledge of her kin.

Beichogi twyll gwraig lwyn a pherth (bay-CHO[hard CH as in loch]-ee too-eell gur-eyeg loo-een ah phair-th) is number seven, literally “to impregnate a woman between loins and hedge”. This is a double entendre as llwyn also means hedge. It can be taken to mean “to make love in the hedgerows”.

In Traitor’s Daughter, Elgan choses the eighth form, cynnywedi ar liw ac ar oleu, as well as the nineth, to take

Ebook Cover for Traitor's Daughter

Win this ebook! Anwsers by May 29th.

Heledd away from her lawful husband (cun-ee-WED-ee ahr loo ahk ahr O-lay), rough literal translation: “to join by color and by light”, a union by abduction of a woman without her consent.

Twyll morwyn (tOO-eell MOR-ooeen) is the nineth form of marriage, leading on from the eighth, a marriage by rape. In Ireland, there was a different nineth form: lánamnas genaige – a union of two insane people.

So now you know but can you guess which form Garmon uses to make his initial claim on Heledd? If you are one of the first nineteen to guess correctly, you will win a copy of Traitor’s Daughter in whichever ebook form you prefer. Please leave your answer and your email address in the Comments for this post. I’ll reveal the answer and the winners on May 29th, so hurry.


Filed under Cyfraith/Celtic Law, Cymraeg/Welsh Language, Cymreig/Welsh, Hanes Cymru/Welsh History, Rhamant/Romance, Y Cymry/Welsh People

8 responses to “Marriage Laws in Celtic Britain

  1. Caroline Clemmons

    So handfasting is not one of the nine? Interesting information I hadn’t known.


    • Hello, Caroline. Thank you for visiting today.
      I believe ‘hand-fasting’ was a custom of the actual wedding ceremony, particularly in Ireland. There was an article on this at Celtic Queens a few months ago.
      These nine are laws, the Welsh ones were codified by the 10thC (c920AD) king, Hywel Dda, forms of marriage as we have ‘common law spouses’ and ‘civil partnerships’. I’ll be writing about some of the customs in a future article.
      Thank you again.


  2. Fascinating! I love Celtic history, particularly regarding marriage. I’ll have to check out your book!


  3. Awesome blog. I love it. Peter’s work tho tends to be more about Irish Celts. He’s excellent tho and as you shared with us, gives us great details. I like the hand fasting. What I also like most about the Celts is the respect to the women as equals. They had a say in all matters and the right to make their point if it was with a skillet in hand.Warrioresses were allowed and respected. And they defied the Roman and Western/now Eastern chaovanisimor how ever you spell that complicated word.


  4. Thank you very much, Judy, for the compliment and also for the further information. The Romans and Celts were’nt all that friendly at times but those in the western regions of Britain (where Wales is now) seemed to have a mutual tolerance. Enough to produce Patrick, the Patron Saint of Ireland. Thanks for stopping by.


  5. Pingback: Changing dynamics of Marriage: Explained | Unboundintelligence

Please leave a reply.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s