Friedelehe is the term for a postulated form of Germanic marriage said to have existed during the Early Middle Ages. This concept was introduced into mediaeval historiography during the 1920s by Herbert Meyer. Whether such a marriage form actually existed remains controversial.
The term Friedelehe means approximately "lover marriage". The modern German word Friedel is derived from the Old High German friudil, which meant "lover", or "sweetheart"; this is in turn derived from frijōn "to love". The OHG friudil was parallel to the Old Norse fridl, frilla, modern Danish and Norwegian frille "lover".
Friedel is compounded with the word Ehe "marriage", from OHG ēha or ēa "marriage", which in turn harks back to the form ēwa, meaning (approximately) cosmic or divine "law". An OHG form *friudilēha is itself apparently not attested, contributing to the controversy about the authenticity of the modern term.
Defining characteristics of Friedelehe according to Meyer
According to Meyer, the characteristics or Friedelehe were:
- The husband did not become the legal guardian of the woman, in contrast to the Muntehe, or dowered marriage.
- The marriage was based on a consensual agreement between husband and wife, that is, both had the desire to marry.
- The woman had the same right as the man to ask for divorce.
- Friedelehe was usually contracted between couples from different social status.
- Friedelehe was not synonymous with polygyny, but enabled it.
- The children of a Friedelehe were not under the control of the father, but only that of the mother.
- Children of a Friedelehe initially enjoyed full inheritance rights; under the growing influence of the church their position was continuously weakened.
- A Friedelehe came into being solely by public conveyance of the bride to the groom's domicile and the wedding night consummation; the bride also received a Morgengabe.
- A Friedelehe was able to be converted into a Muntehe (dowered or guardianship marriage), if the husband subsequently conveyed bridewealth.
According to Meyer, Friedelehe was declared illegitimate by the Church in the 9th Century. Nevertheless, vestiges of this form of marriage are said have persisted until modern times reflected in the form of the Morganatic marriage (also called left-hand marriage).
Criticism of Meyer's definition
According to recent research (among others that of Else Ebel, Karl Heidecker and Andrea Esmyol), indications have accumulated providing evidence to the effect that Friedelehe is a mere research artifact, a construct that arose from a faulty interpretation of the sources by Meyers. In particular Esmyol has refuted the basic assumptions of Meyer's definition in her dissertation Lover or Wife? Concubines in the Early Middle Ages.
The following points of criticism have been raised:
- After reviewing the Old Norse sources used by Meyer, Ebel can not confirm his conclusions. In particular she offers the criticism that his citations had been taken out of context, distorting their meaning.
- According to Esmyol, the textual citations used by Meyer all relate either to concubinage or to dowered marriages, and do not lead to any conclusions about the existence of a freer form of marriage such as Friedelehe.
- In addition, most of the sources frequently employed by Meyer date from a time in which, even according to his own opinion, Friedelehe no longer existed.
That Meyers' theory was still able to prevail in this field of research for decades may be attributed to the specific context in which it developed. It was, on the one hand, a time in the 19th and early 20th century characterized by the search for historical models for freer choice in the amatory realm; on the other hand, it was precisely during the time of the Nazi regime, which was careful to ensure that Meyer's theory was not overlooked, since it fit very well into the Nazi ideology emphasizing Germanic heritage and promoting a higher birthrate (cf. Lebensborn).
- Meyer, Herbert. Friedelehe und Mutterrecht (Friedelehe and Maternal Rights). Weimar 1927 (In spite of the rather old publication date, this continues to be the central work for Friedelehe.)
- Ebel, Else. Der Konkubinat nach altwestnordischen Quellen: Philologische Studien zur sogenannten "Friedelehe." (Concubinage According to Old West Nordic Sources: Philological Studies on the So-Called "Friedelehe."). Ergänzungsbände zum Reallexikon der germanischen Altertumskunde 8, Berlin, Walter de Gruyter, 1993.
- Esmyol, Andrea. Geliebte oder Ehefrau? Konkubinen im frühen Mittelalter (Lover or Wife? Concubines in the early Middle Ages). Beihefte zum Archiv für Kulturgeschichte 52, Bohlau Verlag, Cologne 2002, ISBN 3-412-11901-6.
- Peuckert, Will-Erich. Ehe; Weiberzeit-Männerzeit-Saeterehe-Hofehe-Freie Ehe. Classen, Hamburg.
- Deutsches Wörterbuch of Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm. 16 Vols, 32 Fasicles]. Leipzig: S. Hirzel 1854-1960. -- Edition of 1971. Available online here.