65° - 01.09.1967, Blaðsíða 14

65° - 01.09.1967, Blaðsíða 14
was a wordly affair not to be ruled over by ecclesiastics. In Iceland one would have expected that this new orientation would have looked favor- ably upon the civil characteristics of the betrothal ceremony, because here in fact was a form of marriage very much in line with the Reformation teaching. But actually quite the reverse happened. In the first full scale marital legislation intro- duced in the course of the Reformation in Ice- land, the Articles on Marriage from 1587, there is no mention of the betrothal ceremony. But in its place the Articles introduce a new institution altogether: the ceremony of engagement. There is much at hand to suggest that this institution was conceived not only to replace the betrothal ceremony, but also to wipe out once and for all the civil conception of marriage, congenial to the ceremonial betrothal. Thus much care was taken to make absolutely clear that engagement was one thing and marriage another. The proclama- tion of bans was to take place after the public engagement, whereas the bans had preceded the betrothal ceremony in pre-Reformation days. In this way the two institutions were set wide apart, the legal and moral importance of marriage being strictly reserved for the ecclesiastical wedding. Furthermore engaged persons were made subject to legal sanctions if they entered a married way of life. Bringing in the new institution of engagement was meant to deal the civil conception of mar- riage, congenial to the betrothal ceremony, a final blow. But the outcome, quite ironically, turned out to be very different from this aim, because the vast majority of the population, it appears, took the detailed instructions about engagements to be just another legislation on civil marriage. Moreover, the only difference be- tween this new legislation on “civil marriage” and the old one was seen to be the fact that the obligations of the former were not as binding as those of the latter! What happened, in fact, was a transference of associations between the be- trothal ceremony of old and the new engagement ceremony. The institution of engagement, instead of transforming the characteristics of the be- trothal ceremony, was itself transformed by them. The legal consciousness of the people, according to which betrothal carried a marriage-creating- significance, was too deeply rooted to be eradicated by a single piece of legislation. Signs of the associational transference we men- tioned between the betrothal ceremony and the institution of engagement can clearly be seen. In spite of the new legislation the constitution of a legal marriage did not change significantly. The betrothal ceremony blatantly kept its place and its moral implications remained the same. This was borne out by the numerous royal letters sent to civil and ecclesiastical authorities in Ice- land, in which these parties were reminded in no uncertain words that engaged persons were not to be allowed to lead a married way of life. When a royal emissary, Ludvig Harboe, re- ported to his superiors in Copenhagen in the middle of the eighteenth century, he made the comment that “as far as marriage is concerned, there are many things that go wrong”. Two out of three instances of misbehaviour mentioned by Harboe referred to cohabitation of people before marriage. And to put things right, Harboe made an effort to restore the function of the original engagement ceremony. But also, and this is quite important in the present context, he gave specific instructions that the betrothal ceremony be abo- lished altogether. Later in the eighteenth century a final attempt was made to reestablish the institution of public engagement in the original form given it by the Articles on Marriage. The nature of this attempt clearly indicated that those engaged were inclined to consider themselves virtually married. When this attempt also failed to bring home the truth about engagements, the next logical step was taken by simply abolishing this enigmatic institu- tion, by a royal writ on January 4, 1799! From then on, marriage alone could bestow upon man and wife the privilege of making a family. The public engagement was introduced to secure just this status for the institution of marriage, and its abolition was quite clearly made for this same end. The abolition of the engagement ceremony did not mean the end of engagements, however. A new form of engagement developed, much less formal and less ceremonial than the former, but a distinctive institution all the same. This new Continued, on page 33. 650 12



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