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