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Medieval Sourcebook:
Innocent III:
Letters on Marriage, and Women


Po. 1836

To Clement, the Prior of Osney
(Augustinian Priory, Diocese of Lincoln)

You have informed us in your letter that W., the bearer of your letter, had married a certain woman and after his marriage had fell into a incestuous relationship with his wife's sister and, by doing so, had committed adultery. He wallowed in this filth for three years. The sister bore twins from this adulterous relationship, and the crime became known to the neighbors. W. has pleaded abject poverty in the presence of our penitentiary, and he asserts that he cannot make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem that had been imposed upon him. Since you can more fully determine his means, we are sending him back to you. We mandate by this apostolic letter that you should give him a penance that you deem appropriate.

You have also asked to be advised what you should do about his wife. We briefly respond that his wife should be enjoined diligently to be continent until her husband dies and to abstain completely from mingling her flesh with his on account of public honesty. Nonetheless if the wife refuses to obey because she fears to lapse from chastity, her husband may and ought render the conjugal debt to her with the fear of the Lord. The reason is that affinity iniquitously contracted after the marriage ought not to injure her since she was not a participant in the iniquity. Consequently the wife should not be deprived of her right without her fault (unde iure suo sine sua non debet culpa privari). Notwithstanding whatever by certain of our predecessors had been decided in a similar case that either the adultery or incest was manifest or secret or as others have maintained whether the grade of consanguinity was close or remote, <the wife should not be deprived of her right>.

Pope Innocent III. Written at the Lateran on 24 February, 1203 in the sixth year of our pontificate.

 Innocent III, Pope. Die Register Innocenz' III. 5: 5. Pontifikatsjahr, 1202/1203, Indices. Ed. Andrea Sommerlechner with Christoph Egger and Herwig Weigl. Publikationen des Historischen Instituts beim Österreichischen Kulturinstitut in Rom. Wien: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1994. No. 2, p. 5-6
Translated by K. Pennington

Po.  1942

To Arnald, Bishop of Gerona,

We have learned from your fraternity's* letter that the bearer of it, G., has openly confessed that he often had intercourse with the mother of the young girl who had not yet reached puberty to whom he was betrothed.  Afterwards, he had intercourse with the girl when she reached adulthood.  You have petitioned us humbly to respond what should be done for the soul of this man and whether the wife may be permitted to marry a second time, since the facts of the case were public and notorious.
We have given the man the penance that he deserves for his sin.  We respond to your request that if the facts are as stated, the man and the wife should be completely separated.  If the wife knew of her mother's and husband's crime either before or after the deed and still had intercourse with him, she may not marry another man.   The man and the mother may never marry again.  May they be held to always be continent and to deplore their enormous crime that they committed through obscene lust.   Nonetheless they are bound to continence only if they are the sort of people for whom the sins of the flesh are not hardly to be feared.

* "Fraternity" (Fraternitas) was the name that papal protocol used when the pope addressed a bishop.

Innocent III.  Written at Ferentino, 19 June, 1203

Innocent III, Pope. Die Register Innocenz' III. 5: 5. Pontifikatsjahr, 1202/1203, Indices. Ed. Andrea Sommerlechner with Christoph Egger and Herwig Weigl. Publikationen des Historischen Instituts beim Österreichischen Kulturinstitut in Rom. Wien: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1994. No.  92, p. 149
Translated by K. Pennington

Po. 1946

To Ramón de Rocaberti, Archbishop of Tarragona

Your fraternity has asked what you should do in a certain case, namely that B. de Belloloco and his wife Agnes had mutually sworn an oath that they would never ask for marital relations from the other. Now B. has asked her to return to the marriage bed insistently; she however has affirmed that she would rather become a Sarracen and lose her soul than return to him. The adulterous relationship in which she lived after she left B, she willingly abandoned afterwards, and, subsequently, both the husband and wife promised and swore an oath of chastity.

We respond to your fraternity's question and through apostolic letters mandate that you warn both parties to observe continence and that you induce them both if they want to promise continence, you will send them both away without the other to live separately. However, if the man does not want to promise continence, you should compel the wife to return to him and live with him as his wife under threat of excommunication without appeal. She had, after all, committed two crimes: swearing a rash oath and adultery.

Pope Innocent III Written on the 20 June, 1203 at Ferentino

Innocent III, Pope. Die Register Innocenz' III. 5: 5. Pontifikatsjahr, 1202/1203, Indices. Ed. Andrea Sommerlechner with Christoph Egger and Herwig Weigl. Publikationen des Historischen Instituts beim Österreichischen Kulturinstitut in Rom. Wien: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1994. No. 108, p. 174
Translated by K. Pennington
 

Po. 2000

To Eberhard, Archbishop of Salzburg

A layman, Corradus, has arrived at the Apostolic See bearing this letter and has confessed to us that he was bethrothed  with the counsel of friends to a certain girl,  and he swore an oath to marry her when he reached the proper age.  The father of the girl took him into his household after the obligation was confirmed on both sides by oathtakers.  The father raised him with the girl.

After dwelling in the house and having familiarity of it, he was driven by the devil to have intercourse with the sister of the girl to whom he was bethrothed.    When he came of  the age in which he could fulfill his obligation, his friends, who were ignorant of  his crime, insisted that he marry.   He was conscious of those things that he had done with the sister of the girl, and he told some of these friends about the crime.  But they did not believe him and rebuked him severely.  He was without their counsel.  He married the girl whom he had sworn to wed, and after the celebration of the marriage, when he had the opportunity, he had intercourse with the girl and her sister.  Although he was accused of this crime in your court before, he could not be convicted nor would he confess his crime.  Now he has had a change of heart and has repented those things that he has done.  He wishes to have counsel for his salvation, lest as a horse or a mule, which have not understanding,  he endanger his soul.

Since the Apostle commands that we should abstain from evil and from all forms of evil, we mandate that Your Fraternity enjoin a penance on Corradus for this heinous crime.  Warn him that he should abstain from both of the women in the future.

Innocent III     Written in Anagni, 9 October, 1203

Innocent III, Pope. Die Register Innocenz' III. 5: 5. Pontifikatsjahr, 1202/1203, Indices. Ed. Andrea Sommerlechner with Christoph Egger and Herwig Weigl. Publikationen des Historischen Instituts beim Österreichischen Kulturinstitut in Rom. Wien: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1994. No. 153 (154)   p. 253-254
Translated by K. Pennington
 

Po. 2166

To Hugo, Archbishop of Siponto

We have learned from the letter that you have sent to us that a certain girl of your diocese was married to a man who was frigid by nature and brought into his home.   Since she could not be continent, she fell in love with a young man.  Before she had informed the church of her legal husband's impotency she moved in with the young man who betrothed himself to  her de facto and had sexual intercourse with her.   When it came to your notice, you compelled the young man to leave the girl and to swear an oath that he would not keep her or have intercourse with her as long as her husband was alive, since the man and the girl had not been separated by a court judgment.   The first man took her back into his home again, but embarrassed by his impotency entered a religious order and a short time later died.  The youth who had betrothed himself to the girl received her into his home and treated her as his wife.  When she bore him a child, he sought to leave her and marry another woman.  You have asked us to instruct you  what should be done in this particular case.
Since there are many things that are not legal in the beginning but afterwards, with the emergence of other facts, become legal, we mandate that, if the facts of the case are exactly as stated above, Your Fraternity through this Apostolic letter compel the youth to hold the aforementioned woman as his wife under the threat of ecclesiastical censure and without any possibility of appeal.

Innocent III.  Written in the Lateran, 1 April, 1204

Innocent III, Pope.  Die Register Innocenz' III. 7: 7. Pontifikatsjahr, 1204/1205, Texte und Indices. Ed. Othmar Hageneder, Andrea Sommerlechner, with the collaboration of Christoph Egger and Rainer Murauer.  Publikationen des Historischen Instituts beim Österreichischen Kulturinstitut in Rom.  Wien: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1997, No. 38, p. 64

Translated by K. Pennington
 


Source.

The translations of  letters may be used in the classroom without asking my permission

© 1998  K. Pennington


This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use.

© Paul Halsall, August 1998
halsall@murray.fordham.edu