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zieds1mazs.gif (257 bytes) Betrothal and Marriage

In this Page the legislation of the Russia Empire concerning the betrothal and the marriages of new couples is described. The main source was the book of K.Ducmanis /Ducmanis/. I have acquired the Civil Code of the Empire (1887) only recently and could not study it for this Page in all needed details yet.

Rules for marriages
  Consents and permissions
  Marriage prohibition and restriction
  Marriages of relatives
  Cross-religious marriages



The betrothal is a mutual agreement on future marriage between two persons of opposite sex. It was recognized by the Civil Law of the Empire and had some legal sense for Christians. In the Russian Orthodox Church the betrothal is merged with the marriage ceremony. As the merge was introduced only in 1775 by Catherine II, one may conclude that Old-believers recognized the betrothal in full extent, but I do not know definitely. The Judaism has similar tradition, but the betrothal and the marriage are frequently merged, at least nowadays.

The laws of the Ev. Lut. Church required that the betrothal should be concluded in the presence of the Pastor and two male witnesses, though the Civil Law stated that a directly expressed verbal promise was sufficient. The promise had to be unconditional, so the verbal promise to marry a girl if she became pregnant was not considered as a betrothal.

The betrothal gave way to prepare marriage contract, to transfer some part of dowry etc. Traditions prescribed that the betrothed pair exchanged presents, for example, rings.

A betrothal was rather easy to broke. It was broken automatically, if during one year (for peasants 4 months) the proclamation in church (see below) had no place. In standard cases the breaking had no legal consequences. If the betrothal had initiated some transfer of property, say, presents, it was necessary to solve the property problems. If one of the parts was considered guilty in the breaking, it had no rights to demand the coverage of expenses caused by the betrothal. It was not appropriate that both parts retained the presents.

Additional problems raised, if during the period of betrothal a sexual event occurred, but the marriage was not later arranged. In this case the bride had right to apply to the Consistory and to ask it to join her in matrimony with the bridegroom. She had this right in term of one year after the first occurrence of a sexual event. Of course, she had to have some proofs of the events. In case of the decision of the Consistory that the couple should be married, but the marriage had not occurred in the next three months, because the bridegroom did not agree to be married, the bride could apply to the Consistory again in order it recognized the marriage as being existing really and divorced it. In this case the former bride became a divorced wife without ever being formally married.

It was done because the legal status of a divorced wife was important in case of pregnancy of the bride, because then the new-born baby would be considered legitimate. But in some cases the marriage and the subsequent divorce had legal effect by itself, for example, if the husband belonged to a higher estate, his wife got this estate after the marriage and did not lose it if divorced. For marriages among peasants it was not of great importance, I guess.



Before marriage it was obligatory to proclaim the intention of the couple in their church (to call the banns), which was done by the Pastor (or the Orthodox Priest) after the divine service. If the parts belonged to different parishes, the proclamation was necessary in both of them. If one of the parts lived in the parish less than for one year, the proclamation was also obligatory in the parish he/she came from.

In the normal case 3 proclamations were needed. But in extraordinary cases the Priest by his own decision was allowed to merge the second and the third proclamation. If the bridegroom was unexpectedly mobilized by military or civil officials of the Empire and in case of potentially dangerous illness of one of the parts, the Pastor could merge all the three times in one. In the case of merging the Priest was obliged to announce specially that these are the second and third proclamation (or the first, second and third one). In the next Sunday after the last proclamation the couple could be joined in matrimony.

The proclamation had legal effect of the betrothal, if previously no betrothal was agreed. The proclamations became null and void, if the marriage did not occur in two months after the last proclamation. The Consistory could prolong the term but only till 6 months.

During the time of proclamations everybody could arise any legal objections to the planned marriage.


Rules for marriages


The general legislation for the whole Empire stated that men could marry if they were at least 18 years old and women 16 years old, which did not agree with the rules of some religions, for example, those of the Judaism that allowed marriage of men aged 13 and women aged 12, though it was not the recommended age at all. The Civil Code of the Empire (1887) prescribed that Jews (and Muslims) should have obey the general laws concerning the age of marriage.

The legislation came in some contradiction with another rule of the Empire that the lawful age was 21 year. This contradiction was solved by an additional rule that the persons younger than 21 needed obligatory permission of the parents for the marriage.

If for any reason a person under the above mentioned age was joined in marriage, it was not divorced, but the Civil Law of the Empire prescribed to confirm the marriage in a church after the appropriate age was reached.

The Civil Law prohibited from marrying the people who were older than 80 years. The Russian Orthodox Church did not marry the persons older than 60 years except with special permission of the highest Church authorities. The Lutherans had not such a rule but the parents or guardians could protest, if they thought the age difference between the proposed spouses was too great, and this protest was frequently taken into account.


Consents and permissions

First of all, the consents of both the bride and the bridegroom were necessary for a legal marriage. They were to be expressed clearly at the wedding ceremony. K.Ducmanis wrote that it once happened in Kurzeme province that the bride said no when the Pastor asked her if she agreed to marry the bridegroom. The marriage ceremony was canceled without discussions. This example demonstrates, however, that it happened quite rarely.

The consent of the parents or guardians was necessary, if at least one of the parts was under the age of 21. The Civil Law set forth that the refusal of permission could be protested in a court. For the people of the lawful age the consent was not necessary in the Baltic provinces, but the parents could object against the marriage, if they knew any lawful reason the couple might not to be joined. In other parts of the Empire i.e. also in Latgale the consent of the parents was always obligatory.

The employees of the state service needed permission from their superiors. The civil servants could get permission without problems and in the 20th century sometimes even did not ask it. For military persons permission was not formal. The privates and unterofficers of mandatory military service were not normally permitted to marry, they of the reserve were allowed to. At the end of the 19th century the officers could marry if they were of age 23 and if they had at least 1200 roubles of yearly income (good money, by the way). The future wife of an officer was investigated by the officer community whether her social status and education level was sufficient to accept her in the officer circles.


Prohibition and restriction of marriage

The Catholic Church did (and still does) not allow its Priests to marry. The Lutheran Pastors had no restrictions. As the some branches of the Old-believers have no priests at all, no problems of this kind should arise here.

The clergy of the Russian Orthodox church is divided into two kinds: the first one, called black clergy, is not allowed to marry; the other part, called white clergy, should have been obligatory married before they were ordinated. A white clergyman could be married only once in his life - if his wife died, the Priest left his position in the Church, or, more exactly, could continue his duties only by special permission of the highest Church authorities.

Jewish priests in the Temple were recruited from the hereditary group of kohanim. To remain in the group, the kohanim followed the rules that restricted their marriages, for example, they were not allowed to marry divorced persons, converts etc. See more about these and other rules in the Commandments.

The Russian Orthodox Church allows the believers to marry only three times in the life whatever would be the reasons for the end of the previous marriages. I do not know about analogous rules in other religions. The Civil Law, however, set forth that the fourth marriage is not allowed without exceptions.

In some cases a solution on a divorce had an addition that future marriage of one of the former spouses was prohibited. Until 1904 an Orthodox believer, being divorced because of committing adultery, was not allowed to marry for the second time. After 1904 this happened only after the second divorce for the same reason. Both the Orthodox and the Lutheran religions stated that a divorce caused by adultery imposed the ban to marry the second participant of the adultery.


Marriages of relatives

The marriages among relatives were not regulated by the Civil Law of the Empire but by the rules of the appropriate religions.

The Russian Orthodox Church did not allow marriages of blood relatives including cousins; the cousins of the next generation could marry by special permission. Marriage was also not allowed between near civil relatives, for example, it was not allowed to marry sister of brotherís wife, mother of wife of brotherís son etc., as well as marriage between the so-called ecclesiastic relatives - the godfather could not marry the godsonís/goddaughterís mother and the analogous rule existed for the godmother. Marriage between the adopters and adoptees was possible, if they were not blood-relatives. If spouses being married in accordance with the rules of another religion afterwards converted to the Orthodox religion, and it was discovered that according to the rules of the Orthodox Church the spouses could not be married, nothing happened - they could live together.

The Ev.-Lut. Church prohibited only marriage between the nearest relatives: siblings, half-siblings, parents/children, stepparents/stepchildren, parents-in-law/children-in-law and grandparents/grandchildren. It was not possible to marry an aunt, and special permission of the Consistory was necessary to marry an uncle The cousins could marry without any restrictions. The ecclesiastic relatives were unknown in this Church so no problems for them. The marriage of adopters and adoptees was not allowed.

I do not know the rules for Catholics, but I suppose they followed the rules similar to those of Lutherans, at least among my Catholics relatives a marriage of cousins is known.

In all of the above discussed cases the blood relatives were considered biologically i.e. illegitimate children were excluded from marriages with their real relatives (if known).

Jewish rules of the marriages between relatives practically coincide with the rules of Lutherans. For more details one may consult their Commandments.


Cross-religious marriages

The people belonging to the Russian Orthodox Church could marry only other Christians except the Old-believers. In case of cross-religious marriage the non-Orthodox part signed special promise that he/she will bring up the eventual children as Orthodox. Since 1905, when the conversion from Orthodox religion to other religions was allowed, the requirement not to persuade the spouse to leave the Orthodox religion was included in the promise. The proclamations should have taken place in the both churches, but only the Orthodox Priest had the right to join the couple in matrimony. In the time period 1865-1885 the signing of the above mentioned promise was not obligatory in the Baltic provinces.

The Catholics were allowed to marry only other Christians without exceptions.

The Lutherans, unlike the Orthodox and the Catholics, tolerated marriages between Lutherans and non-Christians i.e. Jews or Muslims, but permission of the parents of both parts and permission of the Consistory was obligatory for this kind of marriage. K.Ducmanis /Ducmanis/ mentioned a case when a young Orthodox fellow converted to Lutheran Church (after 1905 when it became possible) in order to marry a Jewish girl. The Judaism does not accept marriages between Jews and Christians, but, as far as I understand, the children of the above mentioned Jewish girl, if they were not baptized, should be considered Jewish as the children of a Jewish mother, but the Law insisted they had to be baptized. The children of a Jewish father, if their mother is not Jewish, are not Jewish according to the principles of Judaism.

The special rules existed for marriages between Lutherans and Catholics in some provinces including Vitebskas province that contained Latgale. The wedding took place in the church of the bride, the sons were baptized in the religion of the father, the daughters in the religion of the mother, if the marriage contract did not provide another procedure.


© Bruno Martuz‚ns. 1995-2002