Definitions

dowry

dowry

[dou-ree]
dowry, the property that a woman brings to her husband at the time of the marriage. The dowry apparently originated in the giving of a marriage gift by the family of the bridegroom to the bride and the bestowal of money upon the bride by her parents. It has been a well-established institution among the propertied classes of various lands and times, e.g., in ancient Greece and Rome, India, medieval Europe, and modern continental countries. Generally the husband has been compelled to return the dowry in case of divorce or the death of the wife when still childless. One purpose of the dowry was to provide support for the wife on the husband's death, and thus it was related remotely to the rights of dower. In civil-law countries the dowry is an important form of property. In England and the United States (except for Louisiana), the dowry system is not recognized as law.

Money, goods, or estate that a woman brings to her husband in marriage. The dowry has a long history in Europe, South Asia, Africa, and other parts of the world. Some of its basic functions are to protect the wife against ill treatment by her husband, since a dowry can be a conditional gift; to help the husband discharge the responsibilities of marriage, since the dowry makes it possible for the young man to establish a household; to provide the wife with support in case of her husband's death; and to compensate the groom's kin for their payment of bridewealth. In Europe, the dowry served to build the power and wealth of great families and played a role in the politics of grand alliance through marriage. The giving of a dowry more or less disappeared in Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries. The practice grew, however, in South Asia. In some cases, delayed or insufficient dowry made some young wives the victims of murder by their husbands or in-laws, a practice known as “bride burning” or “dowry death.”

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A dowry (also known as trousseau or tocher) is the money, goods, or estate that a woman brings to her soon to be husband in marriage.

History

It is described in the oldest records, such as the Code of Hammurabi as a pre-existing custom, prescribing only regulations for how it was to be handled and also included regulations for a bride price. If a woman died without sons, her husband had to refund the dowry but could deduct the value of the bride price; the dowry would normally have been the larger of the sums. It marks the first record of long-lasting customs, such as the wife being entitled to her dowry at her husband's death as part of her dower, her dowry being inheritable only by her own children, not by her husband's children by other women, and a woman not being entitled to a (subsequent) inheritance if her father had provided her dowry in marriage.

In Europe

In Homeric times, the usual Greek practice was to give a brideprice, and dowries were also exchanged in the later classical time (5th century BC). Ancient Romans also practiced dowry, though Tacitus notes that the Germanic tribes practiced the reverse custom of the dower.

Dowry was widely practiced in Europe at all times. In Victorian England, it was seen as an early payment of her inheritance, such that only daughters who had not received their dowry were entitled to part of the estate when their parents died, and if the couple died without children, the dowry was returned to the bride's family.

Failure to provide a customary, or agreed-upon, dowry could call off a marriage. William Shakespeare made use of this in King Lear: one of Cordelia's wooers ceases to woo her on hearing that King Lear will give her no dowry. And in Measure for Measure, Claudio and Juliet's premarital sex was brought about by their families' wrangling over dowry after the betrothal, and Angelo's motive for forswearing his betrothal with Mariana is the loss of her dowry at sea. Folklorists often interpret the fairy tale Cinderella as the competition between the stepmother and the stepdaughter for resources, which may include the need to provide a dowry. Gioacchino Rossini's opera La Cenerentola makes this economic basis explicit: Don Magnifico wishes to make his own daughters' dowry larger, to attract a grander match, which is impossible if he must provide a third dowry.

One common penalty for the kidnapping and rape of an unmarried woman was that the abductor or rapist had to provide the woman's dowry, which was until the late 20th century the wreath money, or the breach of promise.

Providing dowries for poor women was regarded as a form of charity. The custom of Christmas stockings springs from a legend of St. Nicholas, in which he threw gold in the stockings of three poor sisters, thus providing for their dowries. St. Elizabeth of Portugal and St. Martin de Porres were particularly noted for providing such dowries, and the Archconfraternity of the Annunciation, a Roman charity dedicated to providing dowries, received the entire estate of Pope Urban VII.

In some parts of Europe, land dowries were common. In Grafschaft Bentheim, for instance, it was not uncommon for people who had no sons to give a land dowry to their new son-in-law with the condition that the groom would take the surname of his bride. The Indian city of Mumbai (Bombay), which is one of the biggest cities in the world, and the city of Tangiers, in Morrocco, were given as a dowry by the Portuguese crown to the British when King Charles II of England, Scotland and Ireland married Catherine of Braganza, a princess of Portugal in 1661.

In some cases, nuns would be required to bring a dowry when joining a convent.

In Europe and Western culture in general it is still common for the bride's family to pay for the majority of the wedding costs.

In India

Though dowry was considered one of the chief reasons for female infanticide, recent studies have more to say.

In India, the practice is still very common, in arranged marriages and in rural areas as it is widely recognized as a Traditional Ritual of Marriage. Demanding dowry is prohibited by law as of 1961 but these laws are highly misused, including mothers and sisters being arrested without investigation. More information can be found by searching for the phrase "IPC 498a."

See also

References

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