The Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion

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home > Transactions > Volume 18 - 2012 > Amobr and Amobrwyr: The Collection of Marriage Fees and Sexual Fines in Late Medieval Wales

Amobr and Amobrwyr: The Collection of Marriage Fees and Sexual Fines in Late Medieval Wales

In the Middle Ages, as in the modern age, governments were determined to raise revenue by whatever means possible. In the case of the English rulers of medieval Wales, this extended to using native Welsh laws that allowed the courts in the principality and the Marcher lordships to collect fines from their Welsh subjects for legal issues ranging from homicide to marriage and illicit sexual behaviour.1

With regard to the latter, upon the occasion of a woman’s marriage or when a woman engaged in sex outside of marriage, a payment known as amobr was required from the woman, her husband, or family. In this way, those men who ruled Wales in the late medieval period could expect to profit from women’s sexual activity and, at the same time, punish them if that sexual activity fell outside the bonds of marriage. Such fees or fines for sexual activity were not unknown in medieval Europe, of course. In England, for example, the fees known as merchet and leyrwite were used by lords as a means of controlling and profiting from the marriage and sexuality of their female subjects.2 In Wales, amobr appears to have been a long-standing legal practice, dating from before the English conquest in 1282–3. But the situation in Wales was somewhat unusual because, while Edward I had ordered the dismantling of native legal customs, only to replace them with English legal customs, a few aspects of native legal tradition, particularly those that could bring in revenue for the new rulers of Wales, were kept intact. Amobr was one of these surviving legal customs.

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