Wednesday 18 October 2017


I've been reading a book about the Wars of the Roses, which happened in the UK about 600 years ago, and it's made me think a bit about marriage. And what is a proper age for getting married. For me, it was "almost 25". But back in the 15th century, it was different.

Marriage wasn't just for sex. It was also a contract, with dowry, titles and property involved. And it happened much earlier. MUCH earlier. Girls were being married off at the age of 12. Was this pedophilia? We would say it was, but they obviously didn't think so.

And it could be even earlier. In reading about the Wars of the Roses, I discovered that one of the significant players, Margaret Beaufort, (age 7, although some sources put this even earlier) was married to John de la Pole (age 7) in 1450 by the arrangement of John's father. I think this was a marriage in name only, and it was conditional on consummation, which obviously wouldn't happen for several years. So, in effect, it was a contractual promise. And, in this case, the marriage was annulled three years later. Her second marriage was at age 12.  She was widowed soon after, and at age 13 she was 7 months pregnant. And that's pretty shocking to modern ears.

 And we don't do that now, of course. Do we? Apparently, we do. A woman from Florida has claimed she was forced to marry her rapist at age 11. How was this possible, in an enlightened age and an enlightened country? Well, it turns out in 27 states of the US, there is no minimum age for marriage. In 38 states, more than 167,000 children — almost all of them girls, some as young 12 — were married during a ten year period,

And that brings me to Aisha. I've been trundling around some of the religion discussion groups on Facebook, where I've learned quite a lot of interesting stuff, which I might cover in a subsequent blog, but a topic that comes up over and over again, is Mohammed's marriage to Aisha, when she was six or seven, and it was consummated when she was nine or ten. And people discussing Islam use this to call Mohammed a pedophile.

I'm not sure that this is entirely fair. Remember Margaret Beaufort?  This was, I think, acceptable at the time, so it's a bit unfair to apply modern standards of morality to 600 years ago, or 1400 years ago. Also, other sources give her age at marriage as 10, and consummation at 15. And yes, this is still pedophilia by modern standards (except in 27 US states), but I don't think it was considered abnormal back then.

What was acceptable several hundred years ago, is not acceptable today. And it isn't good enough to cite the fact that such practices existed then - so did slavery. Nor is it good enough to pretend that because Muhammed did something 1400 years ago, that the same thing is acceptable now, on the assumed grounds that he was a "perfect man". 

So do I support Islam? No, because I'm an atheist, I don't believe in any gods. But I also believe in fair play.

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