Morning gift

The Morning Gift was the 15th and 16th century name for a marriage gift from the husband to his wife. The husband gave this gift to his wife on the first morning of their married life together, and so after the wedding night. The purpose of the morning gift was the protection of the wife’s estate in case the husband died young OR before she did.

The Morning Gift was a custom in the east of the Netherlands. Under Roman law, prevalent in the Low Lands, it was forbidden for spouses to give donations to eachother. Large donations of course, or land, houses… I am not talking about a few bottles of wine. Because Roman law was never really able to shoot roots in the provinces in the East (Gelderland and Overijssel), the Morning Gift was very common until the 17th century.

The Morning Gift would be paid to the wife upon her husband’s death, but only if there was no issue. This way, the widow was protected from gossip, or lawsuits even, from jealous relatives, that the marriage was fake. If there were children, then the widow would not receive the Morning Gift.

It was customary to have a writ drawn up, in which the Morning Gift was described in detail. Would the bride receive land, or cattle? Often, there was a bit of jewelry involved as well but this was given earlier, usually after the wedding night. This writ was created before the marriage took place, in front of witnesses (!) and you can see it as a early form of a prenuptial agreement.

I have carefully studied the archives of the town of Zutphen, and here is a list of names of 18 brides and grooms from the years 1478-1480, the earliest known Morning Gift list in The Netherlands. Sadly, the actual lists of Morning Gifts is badly damaged (water) and has become illegible, but the names of the brides and grooms are again such gems! I hope you can help someone create an awesome persona, I have added my notes on the (possible) meaning of these names.

Please note that the names are not normalised; they contain ‘typos’ which is what we like in medieval sources.

Archief Zutphen
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