Marriage Law Code of Duke Ulrich of Württemberg, 1537Image: Duke Ulrich of Württemberg (1487-1550), under whose authority the Marriage Law Code was introduced. Ulrich succeeded to the ducal throne in 1498 but was deposed in 1519 as punishment for illegally besieging the imperial city of Reutlingen. Ulrich was exiled to the tiny county of Montbéliard in Burgundy (a possession of the Württemberg dynasty) and his lands were placed in the custody of the Habsburg Archduke Ferdinand of Tirol. During the 1520s, however, Ulrich gradually assembled an alliance of pro-Lutheran princes to restore him by force, which finally succeeded in 1534. During his exile, Ulrich had converted to the evangelical movement; following his restoration, Ulrich implemented a comprehensive reform of the church in his territory, including a thorough-going secularization of monasteries. The Marriage Law Code, translated here, was a product of this period. Image source: Rosenstein und Schlossgarten Stuttgart.
|[Introductory note: Historians of
marriage and the family in
Europe frequently point to the sixteenth century and the Reformation in
particular as a crucial turning point, when the institution of marriage
became much more patriarchal than it had been earlier. Previously,
to one version of this argument, the extended family and kin-group had
had a much greater say in the choice of a marriage partner; afterwards,
increasingly, that decision was left for fathers as household heads to
decide. Another version of this argument sees in the Reformation era a
shift toward a much more patriarchal organization of marital and social
roles generally, which was reflected in the enhanced capacity of
and fathers to control the sexuality of wives and daughters.
The Marriage Law Code (Eherechtsordnung) of the Duchy of Württemberg in southwestern Germany is fairly typical of the attempts by early sixteenth-century Protestant monarchs to establish their authority in matters pertaining to marriage and family law, traditionally the province of ecclesiastical (or "canon") law. Notice that reform begins with what many Protestants regarded as the cardinal abuse of canon law on marriage: the binding legitimacy it accorded to secret betrothals, especially if these were consummated. Secret vows of betrothal are banned; marriages concluded without parental consent are nullified; premarital sex is outlawed. It is already taken for granted that priests may marry -- a policy to shared by all reforming princes and city-states (see the Augsburg Confession of 1530, Article 23).
On the other hand, the code allows divorce on only two grounds, abandonment and adultery. This regulation is consistent with a theology of marriage grounded in Scripture, as the Reformers read it. The dominant figure in the region that included Württemberg was Johannes Brenz, pastor in the imperial city of Schwäbisch Hall, who based his arguments on Matthew 5:19.
|This passage he understood to recognize
adultery as grounds for divorce.
But Brenz and other followers of Luther also argued that worldly
must be motivated by the need to maintain a moral, orderly, and
society. To that end they might add additional grounds for divorce
adultery, in the interest of social order, as long as these remained
with the Biblical teachings and the underlying purpose of marriage. As
a result, most Protestant marriage law also recognized abandonment as
for divorce, as Württemberg's does. Other codes allowed sexual
-- the withholding of sex -- as grounds for divorce, as Luther himself
§1. Parental Consent in
Note: Section titles, not included in the German original text, are added here for the sake of clarity.