The phrase more danico is a Mediaeval Latin legalistic expression which may be translated as "in the Danish manner" or "by Norse customary law". It designates a type of traditional Germanic marriage practiced in northern Europe during the Middle Ages.
The examples that have come down to us involve powerful rulers in a union with a highborn woman of somewhat lesser rank. Rarely, it occurred to legitimize an abduction, as with Rollo and Poppa, who was taken after a battle at Paris; but this is not a defining characteristic. While Roman law had not distinguished between elopement and abduction (both being raptus in parentes), the distinction was significant in Germanic law. Still, according to Reynolds, the consent of the parentes was required in the more danico case. This consent could still be obtained after the fact, if an elopement was involved.
The word "secular" here should not be interpreted to mean that no context of Germanic religion was involved. Although the form of any ritual that might have been employed is unknown, it is sometimes assumed that it was a type of handfasting.
More danico permitted polygyny (serial or simultaneous), but is not synonymous with it. The "putting away" of a more danico wife could apparently be done at the mere wish of the husband; the rights of the wife are unclear. Often the putting away was done with the intention of marrying a still higher-ranking woman more christiano; but since there are numerous instances of the husband returning to the more danico wife, it is possible that the relationship had merely been deactivated or kept in the background. The union could also be fully dissolved, so that the wife was free to marry another man. Her consent in the matter may or may not have been required; again, the consensual aspect is unknown. (See below.)
By tradition and customary law, the children of such a relationship were in no way considered of lesser rank or disadvantaged with respect to inheritance. Many sons more danico went on to become dukes or kings by succession or conquest.
Increasingly discouraged by the Christian church, the practice gradually died out. Proponents of the Friedelehe theory claimed that the institution left a vestige in the institution of morganatic marriage, but this interpretation is now discredited.
Status of Germanic marriages in a Christian society
It was not until the nation consciousness of the western nations was well developed and national laws were codified that it became the norm that all persons in a country were to be subject to the same law. Previously, each man was held accountable according to the laws of his own people.
By accepting baptism and vassalage under a Christian prince under Charles the Simple after the Treaty of Saint Clair-sur-Epte in 911, Rollo had placed the Vikings of Normandy on the inevitable path of Christianization; but they clung to some old customs.
There was a perennial political tension between canon law and the traditional law. The Church deprecated traditional unions at every chance, employing the terms "bastardy" and "concubinage" to consolidate its own power. On a purely political level, temporal rulers of more fully Christianized entities did not ignore the advantage of denigrating their enemies in moral terms with respect to their marriage customs, as for example did Archbishop Mauger and Count William of Talou in their attacks on William the Bastard.
The instrumentality of Christian clergy at a marriage ceremony was not specifically required by the Church until the Council of Trent on November 11, 1563.
The Roman ethnographer Tacitus writing in his De origine et situ Germanorum described the customs of the Germanic tribes and praised their monogamy. However, by the Viking age they had acquired a reputation for their polygyny.
Speaking of the Swedes, Adam von Bremen said:
- Rollo, founder of the Norman dynasty, was the father of Duke William Longsword, his successor as Duke of Normandy with his wife more danico Pop[p]a. He put Poppa aside in 912 to marry Giesele, daughter of Charles the Simple. When Giesele died, he returned to Poppa.
- William Longsword in his turn had a firstmore danico wife named Sprota. His son Richard I, Duke of Normandy "the Fearless", child of Sprota, succeeded him. William also left a widow, Liègard (Liutgard), who died in 985.
- Richard I "the Fearless" first married Emma of France more christiano, a childless union ended by her early death. He also had an (earlier?) more danico wife Gunnora with whom he fathered eight children, among them his successors as Duke of Normandy Richard II, Duke of Normandy "the Good" and Richard III, Duke of Normandy. After Emma's death he married Gunnora more christiano to enable the ecclesiastical appointment of their son Robert II, Archbishop of Rouen. Richard I had several "mistresses" in addition.
- Richard II "the Good" married Judith of Brittany (apparently) more christiano and had six children. Two of his sons succeeded him as Duke of Brittany. He also married Papia (Poppa) of Envermeu (custom unknown). He may have had a third wife named Astrid (Estritha).
- His eldest son Richard III succeeded him, but reigned only few months. He was betrothed to both Adela of Corbie and Constance of Arles, but did not marry either. He had children from two unknown mistresses.
- Most famously, his second son, Robert the Magnificent, Duke of Normandy, was the father of William the Conqueror with his wife more danico Herleva. According to Robert of Torigni, she had been preceded by another "concubine".
- Canute the Great and his "handfast" wife Aelgifu of Northampton, were parents of Harold Harefoot, King of England from 1035 to 1040, and of Harthacanute, King of Denmark from 1035 to 1042, King of England from 1040 to 1042.
- Harold Godwinson, the king of England defeated by William the Conqueror, was married for twenty years more danico to Ealdgyth Swan-neck and had at least six children with her. He later married more christiano Edith (Ealdg?ð), daughter of Ælfg?r, Earl of Mercia and widow of the Welsh prince Gruffydd ap Llywelyn with whom he had several more children. (The two women are distinct, although sometimes conflated, due to the similarity of names.)
- Cerball mac Dúnlainge (Cerval MacDungail, Old Icelandic Kjarvalr Írakonungr), King of Osraige (i.e. Dublin) in Ireland had an Irish wife more christiano named Maelfebhal, and several more danico wives, whose children emigrated to Iceland, as enumerated in the Landnámabók.
Any discussion of West Germanic marriage customs leads directly into a consideration of the Frankish Lex Salica. Its well-known inheritance laws, resulting in the institution of morganatic marriage, reflect customary marriage arrangements structured according to the status of the bride.
Although the term more danico is not generally applied to their unions, the Merovingian and Carolingian kings had a similar practice.
- The Merovingian Theudebert I, king of Austrasia, had several wives. He abandoned his customary wife Deuteria for an alliance with Wisigard daughter of Wacho, king of the Lombards. He was forced by his supporters to take Deuteria back.
- Chilperic, king of Neustria repudiated his first wife, Audovera, with whom he had had four children, and took as his concubine a serving-woman called Fredegund. He then dismissed Fredegund and married Galswintha, daughter of the Visigothic king of Spain, Athanagild. Galswintha was subsequently murdered at the instigation of Fredegund, whom Chilperic then took as wife, legitimizing their four children.
- Pippin the Middle and his "concubine" Alpaida were the parents of the "illegitimate" son Charles Martel.
- Charles Martel himself had a concubine or traditional wife named Swanachild.
- Charlemagne had three wives more christiano and at least five "concubines".
- Pippin the Hunchback, the firstborn son of Charlemagne and his "concubine" Himiltrude, who was put aside when he married Desiderata.
The Latin phrase
Known to us from the histories of William of Jumièges and Orderic Vitalis, the purport of the phrase more danico is based in both the historical context, as well as in the meaning of the words within the fabric of the Latin language and the underlying Old Norse.
Orderic Vitalis spoke Old English until the age of ten, when he was forced to adopt Norman French; he wrote in a stilted, but fluent and educated Mediaeval Latin. In the vernacular he would have spoken of the custom as danesche manere (Norman French), as would William of Jumièges, who was Norman, but also wrote in Latin.
"by custom" is an "ablative of manner", the subject form being mos
. In Lewis & Short's Latin Dictionary
, the semantic range of the Latin word mos
is elongated along the axis of arbitrary?required
, extending from "wont" or "caprice" on the one end, to "law" or "precept" on the other end:
- I. "Manner, custom, way, usage, practice, fashion, wont, as determined not by the laws, but by men's will and pleasure, humor, self-will, caprice." O tempora o mores! "Oh what times, what fashions! (Cicero).
- II. "The will as a rule for action, custom, usage, practice, wont, habit" Leges mori serviunt. "Laws serve custom." (Plautus).
- III. In an archaic or poetic sense, and in post-Augustinian (that is, Mediaeval) Latin: "A precept, law, rule." Mos maiorum. The (unwritten) Constitution of the Roman Republic.
Thus the term mos/mor- captures the ambiguity between the official Christian view of the practice as a despicable and self-indulgent "fashion", on the one hand, and the Germanic institution sanctioned by ancient traditional "law", on the other hand.
During the Viking Age, the essentially tribal entities that became the modern Scandinavian nations differed in some customs, but had a concept of themselves as a unity. For example, according to the Gray Goose Laws of the Icelandic Commonwealth recorded in 1117, Swedes, Norwegians, Icelanders and Danes spoke the same language, using'' or
dansk tunga ("Danish tongue") or
norrønt mál ("Nordic language") to name their language, Old Norse. Here "dansk" meant "Norse". Furthermore, "
more danico'' (Danish
efter dansk skik'') was not merely a "Norse custom", but prevalent among other Germanic peoples such as the Franks (see below).
It is also worth noting that Rollo, founder of the Norman dynasty, is claimed as Norwegian in the Norse sagas, but as Danish by William of Jumieges.
- Adam von Bremen. History of the Archbishops of Hamburg-Bremen. Francis J. Tschan (tr. & ed.) New York: Columbia University Press, 1959. OCLC 700044.
- Freeman, Edward Augustus. The History of the Norman Conquest of England: Its Causes and Its Results. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1877. Vol. 1, P. 624: Note X : "Danish Marriage".
- Lewis, Charlton T., and Charles Short. ''A Latin Dictionary. Founded on Andrews' edition of Freund's Latin dictionary. revised, enlarged, and in great part rewritten by Charlton T. Lewis, Ph.D. and. Charles Short, LL.D.'' Oxford. Clarendon Press. 1879. ISBN: 0198642016. Available online here.
- Orderic Vitalis. Historia Ecclestiastica.
- Reynolds, Philip Lyndon. Marriage in the Western Church: The Christianization of Marriage During the Patristic and Early Mediaeval Periods. Part V, "Germanic Law: Irregular and Informal Marriage", pp. 101 ff. . E. J. Brill: Leiden, Netherlands, 2001. ISBN 978 0 391 04108 0.
- Taylor, Henry Osborn. The Classical Heritage of the Middle Ages. Third edition. New York: The MacMillan Company, 1911.
- Thrupp, John. The Anglo-Saxon Home: A History of the Domestic Institutions and Customs of England, From the Fifth to the Eleventh Century. Longman, Green. Longman. & Roberts (1862). Republished 2002 by Adamant Media Corporation. Available online here.
- William of Jumièges, et al. Gesta Normannorum Ducum. About 1070.
- Germanic peoples
- Free union
- Old Norse
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