This short book has a large compass, taking in both the Anglo-Saxon era and post-Conquest England through the fifteenth century, and embracing literary as well as legal and historical aspects of the subject of marriage; thus, a certain incompleteness and superficiality is to be expected. In a longish introduction, McCarthy presents the thesis that marriage in medieval England was over-regulated, and therefore subject to unexpected contradictions. Part of the conflict arose from the clash of jurisdictions in the Church courts and the secular courts, which were respectively subject to the codes of canon and common law, both influenced by Roman civil law. The author also looks to native non-Latin influences (Germanic, Celtic, etc.). The latter, of course, have more relevance for the early era, and the juxtaposition of canon and common law comes into play mostly in the late middle ages.
Medieval marriage has been widely discussed, and this book gives a brief and accessible overview of an important subject. It covers the entire medieval period, and engages with a wide range of primary sources, both legal and literary. It draws particular attention to local English legislation and practice, and offers some new readings of medieval English literary texts, including Beowulf, the works of Chaucer, Langland's Piers Plowman, the Book of Margery Kempe and the Paston Letters. Focusing on a number of key themes important across the period, individual chapters discuss the themes of consent, property, alliance, love, sex, family, divorce and widowhood.