Ruth Mazo Karras, Professor of History and Director of the Center for Medieval Studies at the University of Minnesota, discusses the case of an unmarried couple in fifteenth-century Paris. The incident is one of many in her latest Penn Press book, Unmarriages: Women, Men, and Sexual Unions in the Middle Ages. The legal and religious details of this extramarital union are particular to the Middle Ages, yet the likely motivations of the people involved seem timeless.
Those in search of simple, old fashioned models of love and marriage might be disappointed by some of the realities of medieval coupling. "Tradition is always invented," says Karras, who reminds us that the traditional marriage that people in the twenty-first century have invented for themselves is not really that similar to the state of matrimony in the Middle Ages.
Karras is the author of several books, including From Boys to Men: Formations of Masculinity in Late Medieval Europe and coeditor of Law and the Illicit in Medieval Europe. She is also coeditor of the journal Gender & History and Series Editor for The Middle Ages Series published by Penn Press.