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Request for the woman's hand in marriage

It is the symbolic ceremony when the parents of the suitor went to the home of the parents of the bride-to-be to pass on their son’s firm resolve to marry the young woman and ask her parents' permission to enter into that union.

In the past, both families usually would then discuss the economic aspects regarding the marriage settlement of the new spouses. The ceremony was held on a date in the run-up to the wedding and once both families had agreed the settlement, the banns began to be read in the parish church[1]. In some places, the couple were then said to be engaged. It was also noted that the couple in several locations sealed the request for the woman’s hand in marriage by giving gifts to each other.

If the families did not have any property, the couple were married only "con la alforja puesta al hombro", in other words, with nothing more that their physical strength and desire to work.

Marriage settlements. Ezkontzako kontratua

In a broad sense, marriage settlements are the agreements established between the future spouses and set and adjust the terms and conditions of the marriage. The public deed recording those agreements is also referred to by the same name.

Those agreements were reached between the parents of the couple with the intervention of the bride- and groom-to-be. They were in favour of the son or daughter who was going to stay in the family home and share it with the older married couple.

Marriage settlements at the turn of the century

The survey conducted by the Madrid Athenaeum[2] at the beginning of the century revealed that in general throughout the southern Basque Country (lying within Spain) that the parents or their substitutes negotiated the marriage settlements to set the amount of the dowry and what the man would contribute to the marital partnership, to give their consent and to undertake with their signature to ensure that the established terms and conditions would be fulfilled.

The settlements were formalised in a public deed executed before a notary public, before whom the bride-to-be would appear with her parents and the groom-to-be with his. That procedure was the way that 80% of couples married at that time. A private contract was used by 15% and 5% went through the municipal courts.

The dowry

The dowry is the wealth that the man or woman contributes to the marriage or the equity handed over to the convent or to the religious order of the person taking up the cloth[3].

This section describes two types of marital dowry: the predominant one, which was the dowry provided by the new spouse, etorkina, who was marrying the heir of the house and which was set when entering into the marriage settlement as it was an integral part as has been previously explained: and the dowry that the other children would receive from the parents or the heir of the house when they married.

There were and are different meanings for what is popularly understood as dowry. Thus, while in some locations the concept of dowry included the amount in cash and the trousseau, it was only used for the money or in kind handed over. There are also towns and areas where the dowry was identified with the trousseau or chattels. In the early decades of the 20th century, the practice of establishing the dowry in ducats, duketak, and in ounces was widespread. Until relatively recently, as was discovered in our field work, it was not unusual for livestock to be part of the dowry in kind[4].

In the Basque Country, as could be repeatedly seen from the people surveyed, the use of the term arreo [chattel], and the equivalent in Basque arreoa, is widespread and often as a synonym for the bride’s trousseau[5], but also at other times it has a broader sense and includes farm tools, household belongings and other items.

  1. Alimentación Doméstica en Vasconia. Ethnographic Atlas. Bilbao, 1990, p. 472.
  2. EAM, 1901 (Arch. CSIC. Barcelona) IIB.
  3. The 1831 DJFA Legal Dictionary defines the dowry as the wealth that the women provides when she marries or enters a convent. Establishing the dowry sets down that the bride contributes and with the undertaking to hand it over to the husband in instalments or in cash. Taking the dowry would be to bring the wife at the same time as taking stock of the wealth or own property.
  4. In the past, it seems that it was usual in Baztan (N) to gift livestock, and particularly, cattle, which was known as auriche as a supplement to the dowry. This noun could come from aratxe which is the work for veal in the Basque dialect of Alto Navarro. Eulogio ZUDAIRE. "Dowry Settlement on Marriage (Baztán Valley)" in CEEN. XI (1979) pp. 249-269.
  5. Arreo generally is the trousseau that the daughters prepare when they are going to marry. Emiliano de ARRIAGA. Lexicón etimológico, naturalista y popular del bilbaino neto. Bilbao: 1896. In some places of Álava and its capital, Vitoria, arreo is also used for the bride’s luggage when she marries. Gerardo LÓPEZ DE GUEREÑU. Voces Alavesas. Bilbao: 1958.