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Marriage and Divorce in 19th Century Norway

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Maisie Robinson

on 5 January 2014

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Transcript of Marriage and Divorce in 19th Century Norway

The bride traditionally wears a white or silver wedding gown. The bride will also wear a silver or silver and gold crown. Dangling around the crown will be small spoon-shaped bangles. When the bride moves her head the bangles produce a melodic tinkling music. Norwegian tradition holds that the music from the bride’s bangles will ward off evil spirits. During the wedding reception after the wedding the bride will dance vigorously, the tinkling melody of the bangles will scare off the evil spirits, which try to inhabit the happy bride.
Tradition also holds that the bridesmaids, dressed similarly (but not the same) as the bride will confuse any evil spirits and further help protect the bride from evil influences.

Traditionally the groom wears a hand-made woolen suit known as a bunad. The bunad has a white silk shirt, short pants and stockings that come up to the calf, a vest and topcoat. The bunad is covered with intricate and colorful designs. Each design is unique to the district of Norway where the groom was born, or where the groom’s ancestors came from. Many people think the bunad makes a man look like a Norwegian prince.
Groomsmen and the best man traditionally wear their bunad as well. Bunad come in a variety of colors, giving the wedding a traditional as well as colorful look and feel.

Music is very important at a Norwegian wedding. Often Norwegian weddings will use the traditional Norwegian tune (bryllaupssang) “Come to the Wedding” and often the happy couple will be escorted out of the church after the ceremony to the music of the accordion.
At the conclusion of the ceremony the bride and groom exchange gold or silver wedding rings and the traditional wedding kiss, which symbolically seals the relationship between the husband and his wife. The round ring, with no beginning and no end traditionally represents never-ending love and the kiss historically represents the exchange of a portion of each other’s souls.
A lavish wedding reception follows the wedding ceremony. At the reception there are many, many speeches as guests and family wish the new couple much happiness, and there is a great deal of music and dance as well. The tables at the reception are often decorated with blokaker (layer) cake or with a “brudlaupskling” wedding cake which is a flour cake covered with a mixture of cheese, cream and syrup.
Then, finally, two small fir trees are planted on either side of the door to the couple’s home as a symbol of the children to come.

Proposal could be: a betrothal in the presence of a priest, in or at the church, as a traditional popular ceremony, and as a secret (non-public) promise.
Usually, to common people, the contract of marriage could be a very informal affair without a witness.
The woman had often received a small gift, such as a ring, or a small amount of money as a symbol of a binding union.
Festermål was a public promise of marriage. It was the celebration and statement that the two parties had decided on a future marriage. After a festermål the couple was allowed to sleep together.
How public a promise of marriage was usually depended on the couples social status.
Young people engaged in courting: young women and men were allowed to visit each other during the night in groups or even couples. This was the traditional institution of nattefrieri (night-courtship). The ideal was that the couple should stay together in bed fully dressed and get to know each other without the interference of parents. Yet, the institution of night-courtship was socially controlled by the young people who partici- pated in this game. Rumours could easily be spread about girls who allowed too many boys in their beds and in an improper way. If it was obvious that a girl and a boy had become a couple, then it was expected that the boy assumed his responsibility and married the girl in case she got pregnant.
Marriage and Divorce in 19th Century Norway
The Wedding
The fertility rate in Norway in 1880 was 4.5 births per woman.
Middle class families often would employ nannys to look after their children.
Working class families would often put their children to work instead of sending them to school (farming etc).
Women usually married between 21 and 25.
47% of Norwegian residents were married in 1978, compared with 38% now.
"Whatever have been the cares of the day, greet your husband with a smile when he returns. Make your personal appearance just as beautiful as possible. Let him enter rooms so attractive and sunny that all the recollections of his home, when away from the same, shall attract him back."
Hill's Manual of Social and Business Forms, 1888
It is the wife's responsibility to provide her husband "a happy home... the single spot of rest which a man has upon this earth for the cultivation of his noblest sensibilities."
But as the industrial revolution began in mid 1800s, the household became less a unit of production and more a unit of consumption, leaving women less responsabilities.
The Norwegian law of 1888 stated that the married woman has the same control over her property as the unmarried woman, and she gains majority by marriage; before this, all property a woman owns becomes her husbands by marriage.
If a woman separated herself from her husband, she also risked separating herself from any financial support (her family would not view the separation which much pity).
Laura Römcke (in 1883) defined femininity as the lack of all the qualities which were socially appreciated. To her, women who wanted to play a role in the society must renounce their womanhood (motherhood and marriage)
The husmansplass (farm house) had three rooms--a main room and two chambers. At least one room would have no windows or doors to the outside so that it could be used as a birthing room. So they could keep out the huldarfolk (forestcreature) who, it was feared, might come to change your baby for theirs. This was the explanation given for ugly or deformed babies. The parents were convinced that this child couldn't possibly be theirs and therefor treated the baby poorly so that it would cry and the huldar would hear the cries of their own child and take it back, leaving the parents' real child with them.
Co-habiting before marriage was frowned upon and only occurred when a couple was poor and could not afford a wedding.
the King could dissolve marriages by royal dispensation for reasons that deviated from the lutheran norm between 1790 and 1830.
When the number of divorces by royal decree increased in the 1790s, local or regional authorities, like the town magistrate, were granted the right to administer applications for separation and also make decisions in these matters.
Secular reasons, such as dislike, disharmony, violence and ruining the family economy were accepted. The use of royal dispensation from 1790 was the beginning of the modernizing and secularizing of divorce.
In Denmark-Norway church courts were dissolved in 1797 and marriage cases, such as divorce suits, were transferred to civil courts.

Women were expected to be “obedient wives, lovely daughters, honest friends, sensible ladies of the house, clever mothers and educators, models of righteousness, noble citizens of the State, supports and shelters for the poor, true Christians...”. For this reason, their education had to focus on domestic duties, reading and writing “in a clear and pleasant way”.
A good knowledge of the Bible was almost compulsory, while French, music, painting or drawing were highly recommended (1793). All these accomplishments were supposed to express the feminine virtues: modesty, sense, order as opposed to pride, vanity and coquetry. But they were also meant to provide women from the elite with knowledge they would eventually pass on to their children. In this traditional model, education was related to motherhood.
Before 1790, Women were allowed to file for divorce but had to prove one of three listed Biblical reasons: desertion, adultery or impotence
If a couple were having marital problems, they would often seek out advice/counsel from family, rather than divorce.
Women who divorced were often thought of as deserting their family: they had obligations and roles to the home/children.
The historical record shows that methods to terminate unwanted pregnancies were frequently employed, often with tragic results. Infanticide was a second desperate measure resorted to by impoverished parents who couldnt afford to raise children or the stigma attached to becoming pregnant out of wedlock. The means to improve this situation, fortunately, were soon available. By the 1860s, condoms were being sold in England and Germany. In 1890, Dr. von Gelsen published Nødvendige Lægeråd til Nygifte, which provided advice to those who wished to avoid pregnancy, but the book was banned by the Fredrikshald Chief of Police.
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