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The 3 strands of marriage: social, legal and religious


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The nature of Westerosi marriage is an evergreen subject on these forums, but there is always something new to add. Marriage has different aspects to it – it is variously a social, legal and religious institution, and those can have different weights – which I think we see in the books.

 

Andals

One of the most unified examples is the Westerosi nobility of Andal descent. When a couple of nobles are married in a Sept they are not thinking in terms of the 3 strands , but the marriage has weight in all those spheres of their life.

 

Mixed Sub-cultures of the 7 Kingdoms

A slightly more complex example is Ned’s marriage to Cat. It had the same societal and legal standing as any other noble marriage, but Ned was not marrying before his gods. Seemingly he does believe in the Seven – he does not deny them – but he is not of that religion. So perhaps for Ned their was no religious aspect to their marriage, or perhaps not until he went to a Godswood to commit himself to Catelyn before the olds gods.

 

Free Folk

Then if we look at the wildlings we start to see more examples where marriage has 1 aspect but not the other strands.

The Free Folk have very little in the way of  laws. They recognise no institution that has lawful authority to marry them, and make no distinction between baseborn and trueborn. Yet we know that they have marriage as a social tradition, this is seen with Ygritte’s claim of been wedded to Jon after he steals her, and the more ritualised example with Longspear Ryk stealing Munda.

 

What hasn’t been explicitly explored is religion in Free Folk marriage. They keep the same gods as the Northmen, so likely have the same concept of kneeling in a godswood to make marriage vows. I wonder if this is what Tormund meant when he spoke about Munda taking Ryk as a husband. For whilst stealing a wife only lasts as long as the couple is sharing a bed (whether they part by mutual consent or by violence), a commitment to marry made before the gods would be binding on anybody who believes those gods are important in their lives.

 

Craster

Craster has a twisted form of marriage. The wildlings and Night Watch all recognise that his women are his wives, but it is anathema to all their standards of marriage – the incest is blasphemous, it is not part of a wider wildling culture, and no laws would recognise these marriages. Perhaps this can be viewed as an example of ‘my word is law’ where Crasters laws extend as far as his axe, and his society as far as boundaries of his keep.

 

Mel

The last point I want to talk about is Melisandre’s recognition of marriages. She is a zealot, she recognises no god but R’hollor and no vows sworn to any other god but R’hollor. But I do not think she denies the legal or social aspect of established marriages. It’s unimportant to her, because anything that isn’t R’hollor or the war against the Great Other is unimportant, but she recognises and does not object to the importance to other people. So for example, she accepts that Stannis is married to Selyse and Shireen is their legitimate daughter.

 

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I like this OP and under the Mixed Sub-cultures, marriages made for political reasons could be mentioned as well.  Most of these marriages would be among the royals and nobility and less seen among the commoners.  

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9 hours ago, Buried Treasure said:

A slightly more complex example is Ned’s marriage to Cat. It had the same societal and legal standing as any other noble marriage, but Ned was not marrying before his gods. Seemingly he does believe in the Seven – he does not deny them – but he is not of that religion. So perhaps for Ned their was no religious aspect to their marriage, or perhaps not until he went to a Godswood to commit himself to Catelyn before the olds gods.

Old God-New God marriages are definitely not built from religious origins, but it definitely plays a role in cultural assimilation. When the Andals came, their New Gods won in all the marriage pacts: Ormund III converted, Merle I converted, Nymeria converted. And female Northern marriages to Southern lords lead to the children losing their religion (their culture in another sense). Same is true for Catelyn's kids: though she believes in the seven, Robb's god is the Old God. So there is a religious component to all cross-religious marriages, even if it doesn't look like it. 

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There's probably a fourth strand, which is magical and/or thematic. These old families are strangely elemental, and many of them have magical foundation stories. The marriages they choose could be literally destiny-changing, e.g. R+L=J.

19 hours ago, Buried Treasure said:

The Free Folk have very little in the way of  laws. They recognise no institution that has lawful authority to marry them, and make no distinction between baseborn and trueborn. Yet we know that they have marriage as a social tradition, this is seen with Ygritte’s claim of been wedded to Jon after he steals her, and the more ritualised example with Longspear Ryk stealing Munda.

I doubt the Free Folk make vows - that's why they're called Free, they're obsessive.

19 hours ago, Buried Treasure said:

The last point I want to talk about is Melisandre’s recognition of marriages. She is a zealot, she recognises no god but R’hollor and no vows sworn to any other god but R’hollor. But I do not think she denies the legal or social aspect of established marriages. It’s unimportant to her, because anything that isn’t R’hollor or the war against the Great Other is unimportant, but she recognises and does not object to the importance to other people. So for example, she accepts that Stannis is married to Selyse and Shireen is their legitimate daughter.

Well, she does. But it doesn't stop her sleeping with Stannis, and making babies too!

Edited by Springwatch
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