Norway: Engagement (Trolovelse)

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Engagement (Trolovelse)

Before the reformation engagement was the public declaration of the marriage promise and did not involve ecclesiastical co-operation although the priest’s role became more important in the last part of the Middle Ages than it was previously. After the reformation the engagement was ecclesiastical in nature and was the religious expression and intercession for the public intention to become married.

Before the reformation what we now call the engagement was call festarmál, a commitment for marriage. Festarmál was binding for both partners and was made with witnesses. At the time of the festarmál the date for the marriage, when the formal conveyance took place, was set. In the meantime it was not uncommon for the couple to move to a common abode and be viewed as married even before the formal ceremony took place. It is not known how widespread church weddings were in the Middle Ages, but up until the end of the 1500s the marriage was only a confirmation and a blessing on the married couple.

In addition, the festarmál met an economical condition for the new household. Each partner brought something to the marriage. The most important were the hjemmefølget and the morgengaven. The bride should bring somewhat equal resources to the marriage as the groom and his family could provide and vice versa.

In principle the bride received a gift that was for her use only, but as long as her husband lived she seldom had full say over it. It was to provide economic insurance in case she was left as a widow. In addition the bride’s gift was to ascertain that in the case of his death she would own a part of his estate. Often it was considered an advance on the inheritance.

The formal engagement was not just for the two parties but for both of their families as well. The festarmál was accomplished with the help of middlemen. The occasion was usually celebrated with a festivity afterwards. This was called the festerøl or belevetle, Only the engaged couple, their parents, a few witnesses, and usually the priest were present.

There was confusion of the marriage rights after the reformation in 1537 and it became increasingly more important that both the engagement and the marriage be done officially under church authority. Ordinances of 1589 and 1607 directed that engagement, now called trolovelse, should take place with the priest and five witnesses; and that the priest should only perform engagement for those of his own parish or those which had witnesses (forlover). The church guidelines of 1685 stated that in the towns there should continue to have two witnesses. Norwegian law added that the marriage should take place in the parish where the woman resided.

Engagement in the church was not necessary for nobility or the higher social class. In 1694 the ordinance stated that the engagement could be rescinded for reasons of infidelity, force, dishonesty, or serious illness. The engagement took place at the church, at home, or at the priest’s residence. The price for engagement in the priest’s house was 16 schillings, but in the 1700’s in seems to be usual to give the priest 1-3 riksdaler for each engagement.

At the engagement ceremony the priest would give a sermon about the blessings of marriage. He would ask each part if they still desired to be married, their willingness to live peacefully with each other, and if they were free to make the marriage contract. The couple shook hands and the priest declared them to engaged.

Many laws from the 1500’s on forbade sexual activity or to live together after the engagement, but these were largely ignored. The laws throughout the 1600’s regulated the merry-making and festivity of the engagement. In 1735 and 1736 there were ordinances regulating merry-making on Sundays and Holy Days. In 1783 the festivities were totally forbidden. An ordinance in 1783 stated that the marriage should take place as soon as possible after the engagement. But this, too, was ignored. Growing criticism of the engagement resulted that engagement was no longer used after 1799.


1. ”Norsk Historisk Leksikon: Kulture og samfunn ca. 1500-ca. 1800”, 2nd ed., by Steinar Imsen and Harald Winge, Cappelen Akademisk Forlag, as, Oslo 1999. FHL Book Nr. Ref 948.1 H26i.

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