giftarmaþer (OSw) giftingarmaðr (ON) gifftarman (OSw) giftarman (OSw) giptarmaþer (OSw) giptninga maþer (OSw) noun

This was the man or woman in the woman’s family circle responsible for organizing her marriage. He or she was her ‘marriage agent’, a matchmaker, in fact, receiving the fæstnaþa fæ (‘betrothal price’) in return. Usually her father, it would be a close family member if he were dead. According to UL and VmL, the right passed to her mother, then brothers, then sisters and so on, according to the inheritance rules. That the ‘marriage-man’ had to be the father or mother (or else nearest paternal, then maternal kinsman) is also specified in OIce law (Jó Kge 1). In ONorw law, FrL (Kvb 2), however, a third person (i.e. not the parents), the giftingarmaðr, had to be present at the instigation of a marriage agreement. A detailed exposition of the proceedings is given in VmL, although similar procedures and stipulations are recorded in ONorw and OIce laws as well as other OSw provincial laws. The giftarmaþer had to resist the temptation to accept payment from more than one suitor. In this case, it seems that the giver of the price paid a fine, although the text is unclear. He certainly paid a fine if he paid the price to his intended wife and she had not obtained permission for the betrothal. If the betrothal were broken by the woman (or presumably her side of the relationship), the price had to be returned, together with any other gifts received from the fiancé. If, on the other hand, the man broke the betrothal, he forfeited the betrothal price and any gifts he had given. In addition, there was a compensation payment to be made, even in situations where the betrothal had been broken after the Church had judged the betrothal to be unlawful (either due to consanguinity or other kinds of forbidden relationships). Fines pertaining to the marriage-man are similarly mentioned in FrL KrbB 1 (three marks for accepting property during a pending case of hindrances to marriage). If an unmarried woman was seized and taken out of the province by force, the giftarmaþer had the power to bring the offender back under the rule of law (UL, VmL). If an unmarried woman entered into a betrothal or marriage without that person’s permission, she lost her inheritance and might be subject to other strictures. In that case, her parents and not the giftarmaþer were entitled to forgive her, if they wished. This seems to confirm that in certain cases, even if her parents were alive, someone else might act as a woman’s giftarmaþer (but this is not clarified in UL or VmL). If someone unauthorised gave her away in marriage, that person was subject to a fine as punishment for the loss of the betrothal price to the giftarmaþer (UL). If, when the bridegroom went to claim his bride, he were refused, the giftarmaþer could incur a fine, as well as paying the groom’s expenses. In addition, it seems that, certainly in the OIce laws, the giftingarmaðr was responsible for the woman’s dowry, as the passage quoted above prohibits the heir of the giftingarmaðr from rescinding the dowry (also supported by a 1294 amendment to Jó stipulating that women who marry without consent forfeit their dowry from the giftingarmaðr). The concept of someone ‘giving the bride away’ for a sum of money or other consideration seems to hint at marriage by purchase referring back to a pre-Christian practice.

betrothal man OSw HL Äb
OSw ÖgL Vm

man authorized to give away a woman ONorw FrL Kvb 2
marriage agent OSw UL Kgb, Äb
OSw VmL Kgb, Äb

marriage guardian OSw ÖgL Gb Äb
OSw SdmL Kkb, Kgb, Gb, Äb
OSw YVgL Kkb, Add

marriage man OIce Kge 1
OIce Js Kvg 1, 3
ONorw FrL KrbB 1
OSw HL Kgb

protector OSw KrL Gb Äb
OSw MEL Gb Äb Eb
OSw MESt Gb Eb

right person to give the bride away OSw DL Gb Refs:

KLNM s.v.v. enke, festermål, forskiliaman, Ægteskab; Korpiola 2004; Lexikon des Mittelalters, s.v. ehe; Schlyter 1877, s.v. giftarmaþer; SL UL, 77−78 notes 2−4; SL VmL, 56 note 5; Vogt 2010.

  • ‘giftarmaþer’. A Lexicon of Medieval Nordic Law.