Until codification in the 10th Century by the Welsh king, Hywel Dda, depending on the tribe, there were many ways to be wed in Celtic Britain. Once Hywel had his clerks go through the plethora of forms, nine laws governed the marital status of a couple in Cymru. Many of them are not allowed these days but were acceptable in the early Celtic civilizations. My sources for this information are Peter Berresford Ellis's book, Celtic Women, and Henrietta Leyser's Medieval Women, as well as Cyfreithiau Hywel Dda yn ôl Llawysgrif (The Laws of Hywel Dda According to Manuscript). These nine forms are also to be found in the eight types of marriage in Hindu law
Polygamy was a commonplace occurrence in the earliest, war-torn times throughout civilization, a practicality, to provide for the many widows who otherwise would have starved to death along with their children. A warrior with many wives served the social needs of his tribe by taking responsibility for the families of his dead soldiers. In Anglo-Saxon society, a widow was expected to throw herself on her husband's pyre.
As necessity waned, polygamy in Celtic society disappeared and, with the conversion to Christianity in Celtic countries by the 6th-7th centuries, was no longer acceptable. In Cymru, some monastic Celtic Church clergy continued to marry until the late 12th century. In Ireland, polygamy continued for some time after the conversion to the Christian church.
In Cymru, the first degree of marriage was priodas(pree-O-das) – the partnership of a man and woman of equal financial position. In this form of marriage, a catalogue of goods is made and shared between the partners for the good of the household.
The second form is agwedi (aG-WED-ee). The woman brings a lesser amount or no property to the partnership.
The third form of marriage is caradas (car-A-das), from the word caru (car-ee)to love. In Cymru, this is when a man lives with a woman with her kin's consent. In Ireland, the third form is the man who has nothing to offer to the wealth of the household. She must love him very much!
The fourth form of marriage in Cymru, deu lysuab (day lees-EE-ab), having no equivalent in Irish marriage law, is the union of two persons related by the marriage of their respective parents, i.e., stepbrother and stepsister. The word llys (ll [an aspirated l] = llees) refers to a court of law; a legal relationship).
The fourth form in Ireland is lánamnas fir thathigthe (sorry, my limited Gaelic won't help with this pronunciation) – a man is given permission to live with a woman with her kin's consent. This is the same as the third form in Cymru.
The fifth type of marital union is called llathlut goleu (llAHth-leet go-lay) means 'open connection' – two people chose to live together openly without the consent of the woman's kin.
Number six on the Celtic wedding hit parade is llathlut twyll (llATth-leet tOO-eell [aspirated l]). An independent-minded woman allows herself to be abducted by a man or is visited by a man in secret without the knowledge of her kin.
Beichogi twyll gwraig lwyn a pherth (bay-CHO[hard CH as in loch]-ee too-eell gur-eyeg loo-een ah phair-th) is number seven, literally "to impregnate a woman between loins and hedge". This is a double entendre as llwyn also means hedge. It can be taken to mean "to make love in the hedgerows".
The eighth form, cynnywedi ar liw ac ar oleu (cun-ee-WED-ee ahr loo ahk ahr O-lay), as well as the nineth, rough literal translation: "to join by color and by light", a union by abduction of a woman without her consent.
Twyll morwyn (tOO-eell MOR-ooeen) is the nineth form of marriage, leading on from the eighth, a marriage by rape. In Ireland, there was a different nineth form: lánamnas genaige – a union of two insane people.
The above are forms of legal marital status, as we use 'common law' or 'civil partnership'. There are many customs and rituals associated with the wedding ceremony and early weeks of a marriage, such as the mis mêl. But I’ll save those for another time.
Photo: Abaty Tintern Abbey, copyright: The Author