Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Question from Elizabeth M - Proxy marriages v. pre-contracts

I am not sure if this question has been answered before--if so, please forgive the repeat. I am confused about the difference between pre-contracts and proxy marriages made through alliances and how subsequent marriages are effected. I am currently reading John Ashdown-Hills biography of Eleanor Talbot Butler, in which he argues basically for Titulus Regulus--saying that Edward IV either married Eleanor in secret, or at the least, made a promise and then they had sexual relations, which according to the laws then, amounted to an actual marriage. As a result, his subsequent marriage to Elizabeth Wydeville was bigamous and its issue bastards. This was the argument Richard III used to "claim" the throne for himself when he imprisoned Edward's young sons, Edward V and Richard, Duke of York. Anne Boleyn may have had a pre-contract with Henry Percy, but it is unknown i she consummated the relationship. In marriage contracts which were arranged by alliance, say for example, Princess Mary Tudor's to the future Emperor Charles V, or her niece Mary's contracts to the same Charles and later the Dauphin of France--were there similarities to a pre-contract and was the only difference a lack of physical consummation? In the elder Mary Tudor's case with Charles, and in her niece's case with the Dauphin, were not proxies used to exchange rings? The elder Mary Tudor was considered to be, or at least thought of herself, as Charles's "wife." How did the church deal with these "marriages"?


  1. An article by Dr Anne Sutton about the pre-contract can be found at

  2. I think the difference between a pre-contract ,and a Proxy marriage is that a pre-contract is a 'promise' of marriage. Parents can promise to married their son , or daughter to another 's noble family son, or daughter when they are of marrying age,or a young couple can make mutual promise to marry. While a Proxy marriage (usually pre arrange) is when a couple wish to marry, but either the bride, or groom can't be there in person. So they get marry by proxy, using a stand in for he missing bride/or groom. It's a legal ceremony that is still use today in some states, California and Colorado for example. Katherine of Aragon married prince Arthur by proxy.

    1. No. A precontract is a previous marriage. Not a betrothal. Not an intention. She and Edward contracted marriage before a Bishop and then slept together.

  3. To add to what Luv said, even when a couple had a proxy marriage, they usually still went through the ceremony when the absent party was present. Sometimes, when a proxy marriage happened, it still wasn't seen as an actual marriage (because the couple hadn't consummated it). So what was devised (mostly be nobles and royals) was a "consummation by proxy." The proxy stand-in and the spouse would get into a bed with the court around them and touch ankles. Thus, the marriage was seen as "consummated."


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