Friedelehe is the term for a postulated form of Germanic marriage said to have existed during the Early Middle Ages. This concept was introduced into mediaeval historiography during the 1920s by Herbert Meyer. Whether such a marriage form actually existed remains controversial.


The term Friedelehe means approximately "lover marriage". The modern German word Friedel is derived from the Old High German friudil, which meant "lover", "paramour", or "sweetheart"; this is in turn derived from frijôn "to love". The OHG friudil was parallel to the Old Norse fridl, frilla, modern Danish and Norwegian frille "paramour".

Friedel is compounded with the word Ehe "marriage", from OHG êha or êa "marriage", which in turn harks back to the form êwa, meaning (approximately) cosmic or divine "law". An OHG form *friudilêha is itself apparently not attested, contributing to the controversy about the authenticity of the modern term.

Defining characteristics of Friedelehe according to Meyer

According to Meyer, the characteristics or Friedelehe were:

According to Meyer, Friedelehe was declared illegitimate by the Church in the 9th Century. Nevertheless, vestiges of this form of marriage are said have persisted until modern times reflected in the form of the Morganatic marriage (also called left-hand marriage).

In addition to Friedelehe there are said to have existed in the Middle Ages the aforementioned Muntehe, Kebsehe (concubinage), Raubehe (abduction) and Entführungsehe (elopement),

Criticism of Meyer's definition

According to recent research (among others that of Else Ebel, Karl Heidecker and Andrea Esmyol), indications have accumulated providing evidence to the effect that Friedelehe is a mere research artifact, a construct that arose from a faulty interpretation of the sources by Meyers. In particular Esmyol has refuted the basic assumptions of Meyer's definition in her dissertation Lover or Wife? Concubines in the Early Middle Ages.

The following points of criticism have been raised:

That Meyers' theory was still able to prevail in this field of research for decades may be attributed to the specific context in which it developed. It was, on the one hand, a time in the 19th and early 20th century characterized by the search for historical models for freer choice in the amatory realm; on the other hand, it was precisely during the time of the Nazi regime, which was careful to insure that Meyer's theory was not overlooked, since it fit very well into the Nazi ideology emphasizing Germanic heritage and promoting a higher birthrate (cf. Lebensborn).


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