Where, when and why did the practice of proxy marriage originate?

Where, when and why did the practice of proxy marriage originate?

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Proxy marriage is a wedding in which at least one of the lucky couple is absent, with a proxy filling in instead. It was fairly common amongst the nobility in the middle ages to engage in this practice. One intriguing instance that I have read is that between Philip II of Spain and Elizabeth of France, with the Duke of Alba acting as a proxy for the former. The process included a consummation in which Elizabeth and the Duke of Alba went to bed with one leg naked each and touched these legs against each other.

When and where did this practice originate? In the original case, what problem was it intended to solve? How long did it take for the practice to receive official or widespread recognition?

I am answering this question using the material in the link posted by the OP. The interpretations are mine.

Proxy marriage originated in Europe in the Middle Ages. It was meant for 1) "power couples," such as kings and queens, or very high-ranking nobles, 2) who wanted to ally, but lived in widely separated geographical locales, and 3) who did not have convenient means of transportation.

First, it does not seem to have been usual during Greek or Roman times (if it existed at all). In the days of those empires, the power was centralized in the "capital" e.g. Rome or Athens, meaning that "power couples" consisted of marriages between the "boy and girl" next door.

It was in the Europe of the Middle Ages, after the collapse of the Roman empire led to the creation of numerous and widespread power centers, that kings and queens felt the need to go outside the country to find a suitable match. Given the "patchwork" of Europe's feudal holdings and states, the country next door might not be a good ally, but rather an enemy, and a spouse with common interests (or enemies) might be someone from two or three countries over. This would be a determination made by the diplomats, with the sovereigns assenting. Possibly one or both would be too preoccupied with war or other matters to visit the other, so they would make the marriage (and resulting alliance) by proxy.

In modern times, we have two-career "power couples," but air, land, and ship transportation is so much better that they don't have the "commuting" problems of the European nobles. If anything, proxy marriage in America is for the LOWER classes, particularly where the man is engaged in the military, or some other "wandering" profession, and has trouble connecting with his intended bride.


The practice of marriage existed long before Christianity was ever created. Before Judaism was ever created, and before Zoroastrianism, and most all religious systems. Marriage was created by Pagans. It's not a Christian religious institution. So, in theory, the "author" or "authorized" practice of marriage belongs to the ancient Pagan cultures. This presents quite a dilemma for modern Christianity and for those who stand by "the Word of God" as to what is or is not "allowed." It also provides an open window for permissive requirements, restrictions, rituals, allowances, and who or what may marry who or what.

The concept of marriage predates Christianity and the other two Abrahamic religions, Judaism and Islam which share a common origin and common values. Marriage is very ancient dating back beyond recorded history and was practiced by all people of many cultures, ethnicities and belief systems across all continents. The prevalence of the concept of marriage derived from a time when culture among humankind evolved from early man -hunter gatherer - to agriculture and pastoralism, which occured about 10,000 years ago.

Originally "marriage" was a private, binding contract between clans/tribes (families) to form an alliance, thereby increasing the tribe's chances for survival in war against their rivals. A "dowry" was given by each clan to "seal the deal". Marriage was contractual, considered a passing of "property" between these clans as a symbol of intention to honor the agreement being sealed. Property took many forms: cattle, land, children, and whatever may have been considered to be of great value in those times. In the United Kingdom, a requirement for a public announcement in a Christian parish (banns of marriage) was introduced by the Roman Catholic Church in 1215. This set the precident for marriage as is recognized by the Christian community.

The origins of marriage is NOT a religious one, nor does it have anything to do with the God of the Abrahamic based faith systems. It existed long before organized religion . which by "Christian standards" means that it is PAGAN. In fact, Christianity "borrowed" and incorporated into their ceremonies, rituals, beliefs, and teachings many Pagan rites and rituals so that Pagans would convert more readily and easily to Christianity. Of course, if they did not, they were forced by torture, and other means of extracting misery and suffering, or just simply killed.

In modern times in the United States, before a legal marriage ceremony can be performed, one must obtain a marraige license from "government authorities." When a legally married couple seeks a divorce they must go before a judge to have the marriage annulled. Ministers and priests do not issue legally binding marriage licenses, nor do they have the legal authority to grant a divorce. The religious concept of marriage has nothing to do with the legal concept. Church and State are completely separate in the case of the institution of marriage.

Early marriage was borne of ancient societies' need to secure a safe environment in which to breed, handle the granting of property rights, and protect their bloodlines. In fact, ancient Hebrew law required a man to become the husband of a deceased brother's widow. But even in these early days, marriage was much about love and desire as it was social and economic stability. In its roundness, the engagement ring, a custom dating back to the Ancient Rome (representing the ring around the God Saturn), is also believed to represent eternity and everlasting union. The circle (360 degrees) represents a never-ending eternity. In some ancient art you will find a snake eating it's tail. Again, symbolism for transformation and eternity, never-ending. Also, It was once believed a vein or nerve ran directly from the 'ring' finger of the left hand to the heart.

Many other modern day marriage traditions have their origins in these ancient times. Newly-weds are said to have aided fertility by drinking a brew made from honey during certain lunar phases and it is this tradition from which we derive the origins of the word 'honeymoon'. There is much that we will not KNOW, unless we research and learn. We are here in "Earth School" to attain knowledge (Gnosis) and to evolve and involve as a spiritual being having a physical experience.

So, why should Christians be allowed to say gay marriage is a sin? The process and origin of marriage does not belong to them. It wasn't created by any of the Abrahamic faiths or the God of Abraham. In it's basic form, it is a legally binding contractual agreement between two parties who have accepted the terms and conditions contained therein. That being said, if these Abrahamic religions are opposed to gay marriage within their closed religious dogma and doctrinal systems, then that is their choice . providing they are working within the context of governmental law. But if two same-sex people choose to unite in a ceremonial marriage through an authorized entity outside of their church, then they should have no say so whatsoever. The origins of the separation of Church and State were not to protect the Church from the state, this ruling was to protect the state from the church. Let us not forget the history of the Roman Church and the havoc it created through the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the very source of the Dark Ages. Our Founding Fathers knew this history, and were designing this country so that situation would never have a chance to occur ever again.

Here's Where The Tradition Of Wedding Parties Comes From

If you've ever been asked to be a bridesmaid, you know that it can be a pretty big commitment. To some extent, you are there to be the foundation of emotional support to your friend or family member, which is, even if stressful, usually kind of an honor. But where did bridesmaids come from, anyway? Why the line of pals behind a bride? Well, the history goes back pretty far, in fact, and some of the reasons a bride has a crew of peeps are pretty weird. And indeed, some of them were extremely sexist.

According to Mental Floss, the tradition of having bridesmaids goes way back to Ancient Roman times — the law at the time required for 10 witnesses at the wedding. This is thought to be the seed that planted the bridal party tradition. And when bridesmaids did start being a regular part of the ceremony, the reason that they had to dress similarly (and at the time, dress like the bride) was to literally ward off ghosts and demonic spirits. Didn't want any evil getting at that happy couple, you know?

The maid of honor was also supposed to be women who had a respectable standing in the community, someone who represented "fidelity and obedience" and the upholding of qualities considered important in a wife, perhaps thinking that the bride would receive these qualities by osmosis. More than just a close friend or beloved family member, the woman was a role model.

Mental Floss also reports that there is a Biblical root to the whole thing. When Jacob, regarded as a Patriarch of Israelites, married his two wives — count 'um, two — Leah and Rachel, both women brought their maids. Perhaps this is also where "bridesmaid duties" began? Although they probably didn't plan a friends weekend in Cabo or anything.

There is also evidence, going back to Ancient Rome and Feudal China, according to Reader's Digest, that suggests because it was not uncommon for a bride to have to travel a very long way to the town where the groom lived in order to get hitched, she needed a pack of people to help protect her. With a bunch of women all dressed in pretty similar outfits, it made it more difficult for "rival suitors" or bandits to get at the bride. Apparently, that was a danger back then.

Then of course, there is the question of where the sometimes cringe-worthy matching dress tradition came from. According to Wedding Wire, the first instance of this was said to be at the wedding of Queen Victoria wed Prince Albert in 1840, where all the women in the bridal party all wore matching dresses very similar to the bride. Then the main goal of bridesmaid costumes was to not take away from the beauty and illumination of the bride. It's her day! Luckily, the tradition has shifted a bit, and it's more likely that the people in the bridal party get to choose what they wear, or at least don't have to wear totally terrible ensembles.

Another great evolution in the whole bridal party thing? Well, you can have anyone you darn well please behind you, and the audience shouldn't bat an eye. No matter the gender identity of the individuals in the group, you can just choose the people you want to stand behind you, because traditions that discriminate by gender are obviously lame and need changing.

As for at least one other tradition that has passed behind, Brides.com sites George Monger's book Marriage Customs of the World, which describes how apparently all the women in the bridal party were also wearing garters believed to be lucky, love-filled tokens that possessed magical qualities. Men in attendance often creepily attempted to pull them off and would then pin them to their hats. Pretty glad that practice has made an exit.

So the next time you are at a wedding know that you are witnessing, or participating, in a very old custom. And if you're planning your own big day, you can make it all your own!

Legal Recognition

Whether a state or country will recognize a marriage by proxy is a tricky question that seems to depend on whether or not the law of the locale requires that both parties be present to apply for a license or to give their consent at the ceremony. Some states recognize a proxy marriage that was done in another state. Other states only recognize them as a common-law marriage. Iowa does not recognize proxy marriages.

In Canada, proxy marriage is only recognized if the marriage was performed in a jurisdiction that allows proxy marriage.

In some states, U.S. military personnel may be able to annul a proxy marriage provided there is no consummation, no cohabitation, or no treatment as husband and wife after the marriage ceremony.

If Not God's Authority, Whose? Where Did Marriage Come From?

Rowan County, Kentucky Clerk Kim Davis says her God did. That's why she's been denying marriage licenses, citing "God's authority" and "God's definition of marriage." This is ridiculous on so many levels I don't know where to start. (Actually, I do: Jail. Which is where Mrs. Davis is finally, deservedly sitting.)

But Rowan's not alone. A lot of people are staking claim to the tradition of marriage. I'm not surprised now that Kombucha's huge, everyone's like: "Oh, yeah. I've been putting that on my Cheerios for years."

We do this "we did it first" thing all the time. Gather a bunch of hoop-a-philes around a beer keg and they'll swear Americans invented everything about basketball. Forgetting that the Mayans had a ball and hoop came called "pitz" centuries earlier.

Yes, it occasionally involved using a decapitated head instead of a ball. But it's nearly come to that at a Detroit Pistons game once or twice, so who cares about the difference?

Mike Huckabee cares - about marriage, anyway. I have no idea what he thinks about shooting hoops with heads. Although as mad as he's gotten, I can't imagine he'd be any more offended than he is by marriage equality: "For me . this is not just a political issue. It is a biblical issue."

Candidates and clerks aren't the only ones playing the Christian tradition card. In Iowa, one couple has decided to erect 1,000 billboards promoting their Christian view of marriage. An especially nice touch? They have a quote from God on the board. "Please. I need your help with this."

This is nonsense. For one thing, as anyone who's ever heard God knows, he only speaks in all capital letters. Secondly, however, it's not like everyone who walks down the center aisle is doing so in the Christian tradition.

Except they kinda are. (I know, I know. But stay with me.)

The center aisle is a traditional meeting ground in the Christian faith. Similarly: seating the family on opposite sides, the father giving away the bride, a white wedding dress, exchanging rings, the wedding reception and even throwing rice. At least one of these has been a part of every wedding I've ever been to, and all of them can have roots in Christian tradition. Perhaps it's understandable why some Christians are so possessive of the institution.

That doesn't mean conservative Christians have a right to be rabidly territorial about marriage. Marriage pre-dates Christianity by thousands of years. The Aboriginal people of Australia have a strong marriage tradition, a society that dates back at least 30,000 years.

In China, the tradition of weddings goes back to about the third century B.C. Here, too, there's a tradition of gifts and a reception following the wedding. Apparently, Christians didn't really invent the post-wedding party, either. (Please don't tell Mr. Huckabee, he's having a hard enough week.)

Does that mean that all those drunken toasts by the best man and endless plates of chicken alfredo are in the Chinese tradition? No, (although in all fairness it should be noted the Chinese did invent pasta).

For one thing, if marriage as we know it was coming from China, WalMart would have been selling it to everyone - gays, straights, Mike Huckabee - for the past 30 years.

More importantly, however, this points out that it's impossible to answer the question I started with. No one "invented" marriage. It's not something you can pin a date on, like the creation of the atomic bomb, patenting the typewriter, or who invented the car.

OK, I lied it's exactly like the car.

Many people believe Henry Ford invented the car, but he didn't. He did, however, popularize it with his famous Model T, making it part of the American culture. So much so that many people errantly think he invented the automobile.

Indeed, much of what we associate with the modern car didn't come from Ford at all. The electric starter, an all-steel body, a single foot pedal to operate the brakes: Ford didn't invent any of these things, nor have them on his original Model T. They came from other companies, like Cadillac and Dodge.

Automobiles - like marriage - are what we recognize today because the world changes, and the things we use evolve to adapt to that change. As you might expect, Huckabee wants no part of this: "It's really not my place to just say, 'OK, I'm just going to evolve.'"

The irony is, you'd think as an educated Baptist Minister Huckabee would be glad that the definition of marriage has evolved - especially the Christian version. In the Old Testament, wives were basically property, polygamy was allowed, and, at times, a woman who had been raped had to marry her attacker.

The New Testament is certainly better. Although even there some interpret the Bible to say celibacy was a better life than marriage. Only if celibacy wasn't for you was it appropriate to go ahead and get hitched. Though this doesn't even begin to explain the Kardashians and Billy Bob Thornton.

Evolution and change is the nature of all things. Ironically, one American who did understand this was Ford, though he didn't always. So stubborn to change his Model T, he once said: "Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black."

By 1927, however, sales of the Model T had fallen 80 percent since 1922. Almost too late, Ford realized his greatest triumph had failed to adapt. From this hard-earned lesson came the Model A, a car that once again sold millions. Ford even eventually offered the car in red, orange, yellow, green, and blue. Deciding that while black was nice, his cars would serve society and the company better with the colors of the rainbow.


When polygamy was introduced into the Latter Day Saint movement is uncertain. [12]

Possible revelation in 1831 Edit

Some scholars believe that Smith transcribed a revelation recommending polygamy on July 17, 1831. This revelation is described in a letter to Brigham Young written in 1861 by an early Mormon convert, William W. Phelps, [13] [14] [15] [16] [17] thirty years after the revelation was said to be given. [1] [18] This was during a period when LDS Church leaders were justifying the practice and origins of plural marriage, particularly to Mormon splinter groups who did not agree with the practice. [18]

The key portion of the revelation proclaims: [14]

[I]t is [Jesus Christ's] will, that in time, ye should take unto you wives of the Lamanites and Nephites [i.e., Native Americans], that their posterity may become white, delightsome, and Just, for even now their females are more virtuous than the gentiles.

This wording is comparable with the portion of the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon, which corresponds to today's 2 Nephi 30:5–6, which states that when Native Americans receive the gospel they will become a "white and a delightsome people." [19] [20] Unlike the 1831 revelation, the 1830 version of the Book of Mormon does not specify that the Native Americans would become "white and delightsome" through plural marriage. A note from Phelps in the same document explains how the conversion of the Native Americans coincided with Smith's plan for a new system of marriage: [1] [21]

About three years after this was given [i.e., about 1834], I asked brother Joseph, privately, how "we," that were mentioned in the revelation could take wives of the "natives" as we were all married men? He replied instantly "In the same manner that Abraham took Hagar and Keturah and Jacob took Rachel, Bilhah and Zilpah by revelation—the saints of the Lord are always directed by revelation.

A reference was made to this revelation five months after its alleged date in a letter by Mormon apostate Ezra Booth to the Ohio Star on December 8, 1831, in which he refers to the "revelation [that the Mormon Elders] form a matrimonial alliance with the Natives", but the letter makes no reference to polygamy. [17] This letter is significant in that it confirms that a revelation about marrying Natives occurred, [1] but it is also problematic for multiple reasons. One is the context for the revelation. Mormon missionaries had been denied access to the Indian Territory as they lacked authorization from the US Indian Agents. [22] They sought access multiple times and were never granted permission. [22] To circumvent this, they were to get a license from the government to trade goods with the Indians and while trading "disseminate the principles of Mormonism among them." [17] In addition to the trading license, marrying the Natives would be an additional means of circumventing the US Indian Agents. [17] Finally, had the revelation mentioned polygamy, Booth would likely have mentioned it as it would further his anti-Mormon agenda. [ citation needed ]

The LDS Church never published Phelps's note or letter, nor has it been canonized as part of Mormon scripture, which was done with many of Smith's other revelations. In 1943, historian Fawn Brodie stated that LDS Church historian Joseph Fielding Smith told her that a revelation foreshadowing polygamy had been written in 1831 but never published, and that although its existence in the church library is acknowledged, "in conformity with the church policy", Brodie would not be permitted to examine it. [23] [24] Three authors assert that a second record of the revelation exists, believed to be in the LDS Church's historical department, [1] [14] [25] though its existence has not been confirmed by the church. [ citation needed ]

Though the 1831 revelation is cited by Mormon historians, [26] non-Mormon historians, [1] and critics, [25] there are dissenting opinions, and no consensus has been reached. [27] [28] [29]

Early teachings and practice Edit

After Smith's death, many early converts, including apostles Brigham Young, [30] Orson Pratt, and Lyman E. Johnson, said that Smith was teaching plural marriage as early as 1831 or 1832. Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner, Smith's ninth wife [31] claimed that Smith had a private conversation with her in 1831 when she was twelve. [32] [33]

[At age 12 in 1831], [Smith] told me about his great vision concerning me. He said I was the first woman God commanded him to take as a plural wife. . In 1834 he was commanded to take me for a Wife . [In 1842 age 23] I went forward and was sealed to him. Brigham Young performed the sealing . for time, and all Eternity. I did just as Joseph told me to do[.]

Pratt reported that Smith told some early members in 1831 and 1832 that plural marriage was a true principle, but that the time to practice it had not yet come. [34] Johnson also claimed to have heard the doctrine from Smith in 1831. [35] Mosiah Hancock reported that his father Levi W. Hancock was taught about plural marriage in the spring of 1832. [36]

William Clayton, Smith's scribe, recorded polygamous marriages in 1843, including unions between Smith and Eliza Partridge, Emily Partridge, Sarah Ann Whitney, Helen Kimball, and Flora Woodworth. [37] [ unreliable source? ]

Jacob Cochran Edit

Latter Day Saint historical sources indicate that as early as 1832, Mormon missionaries were converting followers of religious leader Jacob Cochran, who went into hiding in 1830 to escape imprisonment for practicing polygamy. Mormons held two conferences at Saco, Maine, the center of Cochranism, on June 13, 1834, [38] and August 21, 1835. At the latter conference, at least seven of the twelve newly ordained Mormon apostles were in attendance, [39] [40] [41] including Brigham Young. Young became acquainted with Cochran's followers as he made several missionary journeys through Cochranite territory from Boston to Saco, [42] and later married Augusta Adams Cobb, a former Cochranite, as one of his plural wives. [43] [44] Others who spent time among the Cochranites were Orson Hyde and Smith's younger brother, Samuel. [45]

Among Cochran's marital innovations was "spiritual wifery". Ridlon wrote in 1895, "tradition assumes that [Cochran] received frequent consignments of spiritual consorts, and that such were invariably the most robust and attractive women in the community." [46] Some new Cochranites remained polygamists, and moved from the east coast to the Mormon community of Kirtland, Ohio. [47] Rumors of Mormon polygamy began to become public, enough to be denied in Mormon publications [48] [49] [50] and mentioned in Mormon scripture in 1835, which noted:

"Inasmuch as this Church of Christ has been reproached with the crime of fornication and polygamy, we declare that we believe that one man should have one wife, and one woman but one husband, except in the case of death, when either is at liberty to marry again." [51]

1843 revelation Edit

On July 12, 1843, Joseph Smith is said to have received a revelation that is much more widely accepted by historians. The revelation was supposedly dictated by Smith to his scribe William Clayton, and was shared with Smith's wife Emma later that day. Clayton wrote in his journal:

Wednesday 12th This A.M, I wrote a Revelation consisting of 10 pages on the order of the priesthood, showing the designs in Moses, Abraham, David and Solomon having many wives & concubines &c. After it was wrote Prests. Joseph & Hyrum presented it and read it to [Emma] who said she did not believe a word of it and appeared very rebellious. [Joseph]. appears much troubled about [Emma.] [52]

In the text of the revelation, [53] it also states that the first wife's consent should be sought before a man marries another wife, but also declares that Christ will "destroy" the first wife if she does not consent to the plural marriage, and that if consent is denied the husband is exempt from asking his wife's consent in the future. [54]

The revelation states that plural wives "are given unto him to multiply and replenish the earth, according to my commandment, and to fulfill the promise which was given by my Father before the foundation of the world, and for their exaltation in the eternal worlds, that they may bear the souls of men." [55]

The revelation was not made public to the LDS Church as a whole until Brigham Young publicly acknowledged it in 1852. Young claimed that the original had been burned by Smith's widow Emma Smith, [56] though Emma denied that the document ever existed and said of the story told by Young: "It is false in all its parts, made out of whole cloth, without any foundation in truth." [57] Published affidavits by eyewitnesses accusing church leaders of following the teaching and engaging in polygamy [58] had resulted in Smith's murder by a mob in 1844. The revelation was codified in the LDS Church's canon as its Doctrine and Covenants section 132 in the 1870s. The 1843 revelation was rejected by the RLDS Church as not originating with Smith. [59] Emma Smith said that the first she knew of the 1843 revelation was when she read of it in Orson Pratt's newspaper The Seer in 1853. [60]

Before Smith's death Edit

Records show that Smith publicly preached and wrote against the doctrine of plural marriage [61] however, it is also clear that Smith performed dozens of plural marriages. [3] Allegedly, "several were still pubescent girls, such as fourteen-year-old Helen Mar Kimball". [62] Kimball, Smith's 28th wife, [31] wrote of her experience in 1843–44, [3]

[My father] asked me if I would be sealed to Joseph . [Smith explained] the principle of Celestial marriage . After which he said to me, 'If you will take this step, it will ensure your eternal salvation & exaltation and that of your father's household & all of your kindred.['] This promise was so great that I willingly gave myself to purchase so glorious a reward. . I felt quite sore about [not being allowed to go out and dance] and thought it a very unkind act in father to allow William to go and enjoy the dance unrestrained with other of my companions, and fetter me down, for no girl danced better than I did, and I really felt it was too much to bear. It made the dull school more dull, and like a wild bird I longed for the freedom that was denied me and thought to myself an abused child, and that it was pardonable if I did not murmur . Besides my father was very kind and indulgent in other ways, and always took me with him when mother could not go, and it was not a very long time before I became satisfied that I was blessed in being under the control of so good and wise a parent who had taken counsel and thus saved me from evils.

Written accounts of Smith's alleged liaisons are recorded as early as 1831, including Smith's relationship with Fanny Alger (age 16), [63] [64] and with Marinda Nancy Johnson (age 16) in 1831. [64]

Smith's marriages Edit

Poor documentation has led to estimates of the number of Smith's plural wives ranging from 33 [65] to 48. [66] [67] [68] Among the more notable alleged wives are the teenage servant Fanny Alger and future Relief Society president Eliza R. Snow. Historians generally conclude that Smith did have multiple wives, but as Compton has written, little is known of these marriages after the sealing ceremony. Allegations that Smith had at least one child born to a plural wife remain unproven. Helen Mar Kimball's testimony and some scholars suggest that many of these marriages were not consummated. [69] [70] Statements by William Law, Eliza R. Snow and Mary Lightner indicate that at least some of the marriages included sexual intimacy. [71] [72] [73]

The general use of the terms "sealing" (which is a LDS priesthood ordinance that binds individuals together in the eternities) to refer to the unions rather than "marriage" (a social tradition in which the man and woman agree to be husband and wife in this life) may indicate that the participants did not understand sealing to equate to marriage. In the early days of the Latter Day Saint movement, ordinances and doctrines were not always well-defined, and it is possible that different participants had different understandings of the meaning of the sealings. [ citation needed ]

After Smith's death Edit

Scholars acknowledge that the tallies of Smith's plural wives include proxy sealings that occurred after Smith's death. [3] [74] Latter Day Saint denominations disagree as to the impact and meaning of these ceremonies. In the latter part of his life, Smith taught that all humans must be united or sealed to each other. He taught that a marriage that extends after death is also called "sealing", and that the power to perform such ceremonies was initially held only by him members of the LDS Church believe that Smith passed the authority to the members of the Quorum of the Twelve. [ citation needed ]

Smith's alleged children Edit

The question of children from Smith's alleged plural wives has been raised since his death. Smith has not been proven to have had children other than those born to Emma Smith. As of 2014 [update] , there are at least twelve early individuals who, based on historical documents and circumstantial evidence, have been identified [ by whom? ] as children of women sealed to Smith at the time of their births.

In 2005 and 2007 studies, a geneticist with the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation showed that five of these individuals were in fact not Smith descendants: Mosiah Hancock (son of Clarissa Reed Hancock) Oliver Buell (son of Prescindia Huntington Buell) Moroni Llewellyn Pratt (son of Mary Ann Frost Pratt) Zebulon Jacobs (son of Zina Diantha Huntington Jacobs Smith) and Orrison Smith (son of Fanny Alger). [75] [76] [77] [78] The remaining seven have yet to be tested, including Josephine Lyon, for whom current DNA testing cannot provide conclusive evidence either way. Lyon's mother, Sylvia Sessions Lyon, left her daughter a deathbed affidavit telling her she was Smith's daughter. [75] Research into this history is complicated by Y-DNA genetic testing only being possible for descendants with an unbroken male line, and because two candidates died as infants. [78]

Smith was accused by Sarah Pratt in an 1886 interview with "vitriolic anti-Mormon journalist W. Wyl" [79] of allowing John C. Bennett, a medical doctor, to perform abortions on polygamous wives who were legally single, which Pratt alleged limited Smith's progeny from these wives. [80] She based this on statements made to her by Bennett. [81] [82] This is corroborated by an August 1, 1842 affidavit published by Hyrum Smith in the Church periodical Times and Seasons, where Hyrum claimed that Bennett had been telling women that "he would give them medicine to produce abortions, providing they should become pregnant." [83] Orson Pratt, Sarah Pratt's husband, later considered Bennett a liar, [84] but Sarah Pratt said, "[I] know that the principal statements in John C. Bennett's book on Mormonism are true." [85]

1842 scandal and the new vocabulary Edit

Joseph Smith broke with short-lived church leader John C. Bennett in 1841 over the public scandal that arose when Bennett's practice of "spiritual wifery" became known, and Nauvoo, Illinois "rocked with tales that connected Joseph with Bennett's scandals." [86] Bennett accused Smith of subsequently introducing new code words for polygamy—"celestial marriage", "plurality of wives", "spiritual wifeism"—to conceal the controversial practice. [87] Sarah Pratt claimed in an 1886 interview that while in Nauvoo over forty years earlier, Smith was attracted to her and intended to make her "one of his spiritual wives." [84] [88] [89] [90] According to Bennett, while Pratt's husband Orson was in England on missionary service, Smith proposed to Sarah by invoking the 1843 polygamy revelation: "Sister Pratt, the Lord has given you to me as one of my spiritual wives. I have the blessings of Jacob granted me, as he granted holy men of old, and I have long looked upon you with favor, and hope you will not repulse or deny me", to which Bennett claimed Pratt replied: "Am I called upon to break the marriage covenant . to my lawful husband! I never will. I care not for the blessings of Jacob, and I believe in NO SUCH revelations, neither will I consent under any circumstances. I have one good husband, and that is enough for me." [88]

Published allegations of adultery against Sarah Pratt and Bennett appeared in local and church publications [91] with signed affidavits from her neighbors Stephen and Zeruiah Goddard and others. Robert D. Foster made the following allegation against Bennett and Pratt:

Alas, none but the seduced join the seducer [Bennett] those only who have been arraigned before a just tribunal for the same unhallowed conduct can be found to give countenance to any of his black hearted lies, and they, too, detest him for his seduction, these are the ladies to whom he refers his hearers to substantiate his assertions. Mrs. White, Mrs. Pratt, Niemans, Miller, Brotherton, and others. [91]

Pratt later claimed that Zeruiah Goddard told her these testimonies were made under threat from Smith's brother Hyrum:

It is not my fault Hyrum Smith came to our house, with the affidavits all written out, and forced us to sign them. Joseph and the Church must be saved, said he. We saw that resistance was useless, they would have ruined us so we signed the papers. [84] [88]

Van Wagoner has concluded that the adultery charges against Sarah Pratt are "highly improbable" and could "be dismissed as slander." [84] In addition to Pratt, Van Wagoner states that Nancy Rigdon and Martha Brotherton "also suffered slanderous attacks because they exposed the Church's private polygamy posture." [92] Orson Pratt stood by his wife in preference to the denials of Smith, who had told him "[i]f [Orson] did believe his wife and follow her suggestions he would go to hell". [93] Wilford Woodruff stated that "Dr. John Cook Bennett was the ruin of Orson Pratt". [94] Van Wagoner and Walker note that, on August 20, 1842, "after four days of fruitless efforts at reconciliation, the Twelve excommunicated Pratt for 'insubordination' and Sarah for 'adultery ' ". [95] However, after a brief period of estrangement from Smith and the church in 1842, Orson Pratt labeled Bennett a liar:

J.C. Bennett has published lies concerning myself & family & the people with which I am connected . His book I have read with the greatest disgust. No candid honest man can or will believe it. He has disgraced himself in eyes of all civilized society who will despise his very name. [84]

First Presidency member Sidney Rigdon wrote a letter to the Messenger and Advocate in 1844 condemning the conduct of the Quorum of the Twelve,

It is a fact so well known that the Twelve and their adherents have endeavored to carry on this spiritual wife business . and have gone to the most shameful and desperate lengths to keep from the public. First, insulting innocent females, and when they resented the insult, these monsters in human shape would assail their characters by lying, and perjuries, with a multitude of desperate men to help them effect the ruin of those whom they insulted, and all this to enable them to keep these corrupt practices from the world. [85]

[Smith's] most pointed denial of plural marriage occurred on 5 October 1843 in instructions pronounced publicly in the streets of Nauvoo. Willard Richards wrote in Smith's diary that Joseph 'gave instructions to try those who were preaching, teaching, or practicing the doctrine of plurality of wives . Joseph forbids it and the practice thereof. No man shall have but one wife'. [96]

The Nauvoo Expositor Edit

Rumours of Smith's involvement with polygamy continued to circulate in Nauvoo, to which Smith responded on May 26, 1844:

A man asked me whether the commandment was given that a man may have seven wives . I am innocent of all these charges, and you can bear witness of my innocence, for you know me yourselves . What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one. I am the same man, and as innocent as I was fourteen years ago and I can prove them all perjurers". [97]

A group of former church members were in open conflict with Smith for various economic and political reasons, and because Smith had disciplined some of them in church courts for adultery, thievery, and other crimes. William Law, a member of the First Presidency, became the head of this group. Accusations of polygamy among church leaders were published by the group in the Nauvoo Expositor on June 7, 1844, in which several signed and notarized affidavits from eyewitnesses were reproduced. The affidavit by Law stated, "Hyrum Smith [read] a revelation from God, he said that he was with Joseph when it was received. . The revelation (so called) authorized certain men to have more wives than one at a time." [58] The affidavit by Austin Cowles stated, "In the latter part of the summer, 1843, the Patriarch, Hyrum Smith, did in the High Council, of which I was a member, introduce what he said was a revelation given through the Prophet [containing] the doctrine of a plurality of wives." [58]

Both Joseph and his brother Hyrum, days before their murder by a mob, spoke about the accusations at a Nauvoo city council meeting of June 8, 1844. [98] [99] [100] [101] The meeting's purpose was ostensibly to address the Nauvoo Expositor ' s accusations of Mormon licentiousness, though after two days of consultation, Smith and the Nauvoo city council voted on June 10, 1844 to declare the paper a public nuisance and ordered the paper's printing press destroyed. [102] The published minutes quote Hyrum making references "to the Revelation read to the High Council of the Church, which has caused so much talk about multiplicity of wives that said Revelation was in answer to a question concerning things which transpired in former days, and had no reference to the present time [98] [99] [100] [101] [original emphasis]. Following Hyrum, Joseph Smith said [101] "they make a criminality for a man to have a wife on earth while he has one in heaven" and that "the Revelation was given in view of eternity": [98] [101] 'He received for answer, men in this life must marry in view of eternity, otherwise they must remain as angels, or be single in heaven, which was the amount of the Revelation referred to[.] ' ". [98] [101]

In H. Michael Marquardt's opinion, "this was an attempt by Smith to obscure the real intent of the revelatory message," [98] and W. E. La Rue emphasizes the contradiction between the statements of the two brothers. [103] J. L. Clark writes that Hyrum's statement "appeared in the Nauvoo Neighbor of June 19, 1844, but was omitted from [B. H. Roberts's book] History of the Church, published years later in Utah." [100] [104]

Joseph and Hyrum Smith were subsequently jailed and charged with treason against the state of Illinois for declaring martial law in Nauvoo. On June 27, 1844, in spite of a promise of protection from Illinois governor Thomas Ford, a mob attacked the prison and killed both brothers, an event that prompted a succession crisis that led to schisms in the Latter Day Saint movement that continue to this day. The majority of the Latter Day Saints followed Brigham Young when he led the Mormon Exodus to the Salt Lake Valley in 1846–47. Some Latter Day Saints remained in Illinois and the surrounding states and selected different leaders. [ citation needed ]

In Utah Territory, Young led the LDS Church. The doctrine of plural wives was officially announced by Orson Pratt and Young at a special conference at the Salt Lake Tabernacle on August 28, 1852, and reprinted in an extra edition of the Deseret News, [105] where Pratt stated:

It is well known, however, to the congregation before me, that the Latter-day Saints have embraced the doctrine of a plurality of wives, as part of their religious faith. . I think, if I am not mistaken, that the Constitution gives the privilege to all inhabitants of this country, of the free exercise of their religious notions, and the freedom of their faith, and the practice of it. Then if it can be proven . that the Latter-day Saints have actually embraced, as a part and portion of their religion, the doctrine of a plurality of wives, it is constitutional. . There will be many who will not hearken, there will be the foolish among the wise who will not receive the new and everlasting covenant [plural marriage] in its fullness, and they never will attain to their exaltation, they never will be counted worthy to hold the sceptre of power over a numerous progeny, that shall multiply themselves without end, like the sand upon the seashore.

Young expounded on Pratt's words later that day. Young's proclamation began:

The doctrine which Orson Pratt discoursed upon this morning was the subject of a revelation anterior to the death of Joseph Smith. It is in opposition to what is received by a small minority of the world but our people have for many years believed it, though it may not have been practiced by the elders. The original of this revelation has been burnt. William Clayton wrote it down from the Prophet's mouth it found its way into the hands of Bishop [Newel K.] Whitney [father of Smith's 16th wife Sarah Ann Whitney], who obtained Joseph Smith's permission to copy it. Sister Emma [Smith] burnt the original. I mention this to you because such of you as are aware of the revelation, suppose that it no longer exists. I prophesy to you that the principle of polygamy will make its way, and will triumph over the prejudices and all the priestcraft of the day it will be embraced by the most intelligent parts of the world as one of the best doctrines ever proclaimed to any people. You have no reason whatever to be uneasy there is no occasion for your fearing that a vile mob will come hither to trample underfoot the sacred liberty which, by the Constitution of our country, is guaranteed to us. It has been a long time publicly known, and in fact was known during his life, that Joseph had more than one wife. A Senator, a member of Congress, was well aware of it, and was not the less our friend for all that so much so, as to say that were this principle not adopted by the United States, we would live to see human life reduced to a maximum of thirty years. He said openly that Joseph had hit upon the best plan for re-invigorating men, and assuring a long life to them and, also, that the Mormons are very good and very virtuous. We could not have proclaimed this principle a few years ago everything must abide its time, but I am now ready to proclaim it. This revelation has been in my possession for many years, and who knew it? No one, except those whose business it was to know it. I have a patent lock to my writing-desk, and nothing gets out of it that ought not to get out of it. Without the doctrine which this revelation makes known to us, no one could raise himself high enough to become a god. [106]

Additionally, the apostle Parley P. Pratt taught in an official church periodical in 1853 that, "We have now clearly shown that God the Father had a plurality of wives," and that after the death of Mary (the mother of Jesus) she may have become another eternal polygamous wife of God. [107] [108]

Teachings on the multiple wives of God and Jesus Edit

Following the 1852 official sanction, top leaders used the examples of the polygamy of God the Father and Jesus Christ in defense of it, and these teachings on God and Jesus' polygamy were widely accepted among Mormons by the late 1850s. [109] [110] In 1853 Jedediah Grant who later become a First Presidency member stated that the top reason behind the persecution of Christ and his disciples was their due to their practice of polygamy. [111] [109] Two months later the apostle Orson Pratt taught in an official church periodical that "We have now clearly shown that God the Father had a plurality of wives," and that after her death, Mary (the mother of Jesus) may have become another eternal polygamous wife of God. [112] [113] He also stated that Christ had multiple wives as further evidence in defense of polygamy. [114] [109] In the next two years the apostle Orson Hyde also stated during two general conference addresses that Jesus practiced polygamy [115] [116] [109] and repeated this in an 1857 address. [117] [118] This teaching was alluded to by church president Brigham Young in 1870 and then First Presidency member Joseph F. Smith in 1883. [119] [120]

Under Young, the practice of polygamy spread among Utah Mormons for 40 years. During this time, an estimated 20 to 25 percent of adults in the LDS Church were members of polygamist households. One third of the women of marriageable age and nearly all of the church leadership were involved in the practice. [121] In 1890, the church repealed the practice of polygamy while under pressure by the United States government. The repeal was directed by revelation to church president Wilford Woodruff and published as the 1890 Manifesto. Polygamy was definitively ended in the LDS Church with the Second Manifesto in 1905.

Though the LDS Church accepts that Joseph Smith taught and practiced plural marriage, other branches of the Latter Day Saint movement reject this position. Traditionally, the strongest rejection came from the RLDS Church. In the late-nineteenth century, the origin of polygamy was one of the principal issues that the RLDS Church and the LDS Church used to assert one organization's legitimacy over the other. Joseph F. Smith, sixth president of the LDS Church, stated in responding to the claim that polygamy originated with Brigham Young rather than Joseph Smith:

A careful reading of the revelation on plural marriage should convince any honest man that it was never written by Brigham Young, as it contains references to Joseph Smith himself, and his family, which would be utterly nonsensical and useless if written by President Young. The fact is, we have the affidavit of Joseph C. Kingsbury, certifying that he copied the original manuscript of the revelation within three days after the date on which it was written. I knew Joseph C. Kingsbury well. Furthermore, the revelation was read by Hyrum Smith to a majority of the members of the High Council, in Nauvoo, at about the time it was given, to which fact we have the sworn statements of the members of the High Council. [122] [123]

RLDS Church under Joseph Smith III Edit

The first RLDS Church's leader was Joseph Smith's oldest son Joseph Smith III. Smith III's opinions about his father and polygamy evolved throughout his life. [124] In general, however, Smith III was an ardent opponent of plural marriage. Throughout his tenure as Prophet-President of the RLDS Church, Smith denied his father's involvement and attributed its invention to Brigham Young. Smith III served many missions to the western United States where he met with associates and women who claimed to be his father's widows. In the end, Smith concluded that he was "not positive nor sure that [his father] was innocent" and that if, indeed, the elder Smith had been involved, it was still a false practice. [125]

Historical RLDS Church position Edit

From the 1880s to the 1960s, official RLDS Church publications maintained Joseph Smith's noninvolvement in polygamy. [126] This official position contradicted the testimony of earlier RLDS Church members who lived in Nauvoo during Smith's lifetime.

One of the founders of the Reorganization, Jason W. Briggs, a presiding elder in Wisconsin during the early 1840s, maintained throughout his life that Smith had originated polygamy and that God would punish Smith for his "transgressions." Briggs said that the church needed to simply deal with the issue and move on. [127] The editor of the earliest official RLDS Church periodical, Isaac Sheen, similarly affirmed Smith's involvement. He wrote that Smith produced a revelation on polygamy and practiced it, but that he repented of this "sin" before his death. [128] Sheen's statement was affirmed by William Marks, the stake president of Nauvoo during Smith's lifetime and a close counselor to Joseph Smith III. Marks claimed to have seen Hyrum Smith read the polygamy revelation to the High Council in 1843. [129] [130] Marks also affirmed that Joseph Smith had repented of the practice two to three weeks before his death in 1844. [2] [131] Similarly, James Whitehead, an RLDS Church member and clerk for Smith, affirmed that Emma Smith gave plural wives to Smith on several occasions that he witnessed. [132] Early in his presidency, Joseph Smith III did not believe Marks and Whitehead despite the eyewitness nature of their statements. [ citation needed ]

Community of Christ position Edit

Community of Christ, formerly the RLDS Church, no longer makes definitive statements that Smith was uninvolved in polygamy. The church's current approach is to stress its historical abhorrence of polygamy, that members of the church and the leadership are open to continue their "ongoing quest for truth", and that the "Community of Christ takes into account the growing body of scholarly research and publications depicting the polygamous teachings and practices of the Nauvoo period of church history (1840–1846)". Further,

The research findings seem to increasingly point to Joseph Smith Jr. as a significant source for plural marriage teaching and practice at Nauvoo. However, several of Joseph Smith's associates later wrote that he repudiated the plural marriage system and began to try to stop its practice shortly before his death in June 1844. [133]

A segment of church members continue to deny Smith's complicity, although the church no longer views the issue as important. For people concerned about the topic and how it relates to the RLDS tradition, the issue remains as much about current liberal versus conservative church politics as it does an issue of history. [134]

Modern RLDS Restorationist position Edit

Modern RLDS Restorationists (such as the Restoration Branches), who have broken with Community of Christ, continue to contend that polygamy originated with Brigham Young and not with Joseph Smith. They note that the revelation endorsing polygamy and attributed to Smith was first presented by Young to his followers eight years after Smith's death they point to this delay as suggestive that the revelation did not originate with Smith. As further evidence, they often cite Smith's own critical words on the subject of polygamy. They do not see the isolated statements to the contrary by early RLDS Church leaders such as Sheen, Marks, or Briggs as credible, [135] and they deny the legitimacy and truthfulness of sources that are commonly cited to prove that Smith was practicing or promoting plural marriage. [ citation needed ]

1. Where Are Child Marriages Still Common Today?

Though the incidence of child marriage has decreased in most parts of today’s world, it is still highly prevalent in some developing nations like many countries of Africa, South, West and Southeast Asia, South America, and Oceania. As per a 2015 UNICEF report, countries with the highest rates of child marriage before 18 years of age included Niger (76%), the Central African Republic (68%), and Chad (68%) at the top three positions. Other countries with high rates of child marriage include Bangladesh (65%), Mali (55%), Guinea (52%), South Sudan (52%), Burkina Faso (52%), Malawi (50%), and Mozambique (48%). India continues to have exceptionally high rates of child marriage as well, reaching in excess of 50% in many rural parts of the country.

10 Wedding Traditions With Surprising Origins

In the shadow of the multibillion-dollar wedding machine, it can be hard to tell real tradition from a made-up sales pitch. Without question, the wedding industry has piled on the notion of paying to preserve tradition, when in fact, many of those high-priced traditions, such as the diamond engagement ring, don't go back much further than the 1920s.

Nonetheless, some traditions are real. And like anything in human history, many traditions have evolved from old ideas that we may see as a little strange today. For all of history, the joining of a bride and groom, and the establishment of a new household, has been viewed as such an important development that a great deal of superstition has cropped up around the event.

Many societies have viewed the bride, in particular, as existing in a vulnerable state, and in the interest of protection, she has been disguised, captured, adorned and even attacked by the guests to preserve good luck when going into a marriage.

Of course, that idea may not be so strange after all. There's a special sickening feeling that can afflict a bride on her wedding day. So maybe all those trappings -- the perfect dress, the beautiful location and the support of a good caterer -- protect her from her anxieties when the big day begins.

Did you ever consider walking down the aisle clutching a bundle of garlic and dill?

Well, if you're a stickler for tradition, you might want to think about it. Until modern times, brides did carry garlic and dill. The practice probably originated from the time of the Plague, when people clutched the herbs over their noses and mouths in a desperate effort to survive.

Survivors of great tragedy can affix tremendous protective powers to anything that has provided comfort, and the herbs made it into the ceremony marking renewal. Over time, brides added better-smelling flora to the arrangement, and a whole dictionary of meaning arose to define each type of blossom.

This practice, as it turned out, was devised as a way to actually physically protect the bride from the wedding guests.

It derives from a tradition in medieval England and France called "fingering the stocking." Guests would actually go into the wedding chamber and check the bride's stockings for signs that the marriage had been consummated. Further, in France, the bride would shudder with terror at the end of the wedding ceremony because guests would actually rush her at the altar to snag a piece of her dress, which was considered a piece of good luck.

A wedding would end with a battered bride sobbing at the altar in a snarl of tattered rags.

Apparently, these practices were so intrusive and invasive that someone, somewhere, decided to pacify the mob by tossing out the garter.

If you dread showing your selection of dresses to your bridesmaids, consider this: The earliest tradition in bridesmaid fashion involved dressing the bridesmaids exactly the same as the bride. As with many older traditions, the idea was that by setting up lookalikes, any troublesome spirits in the area could not fixate on the bride.

That custom gave way in Victorian times to dressing bridesmaids in white dresses but short veils, to contrast with the bride's voluminous veiling and train system. When society's fears of evil spirits subsided and commercial dyes became more available, those first hideous dresses made their appearance. In colors like lime green, harvest gold, tangerine and fuchsia, those dresses all ensured that the bride would be the best-looking girl in the church.

Not that any bride would ever consciously do this.

The veiling of the bride has origins in the idea that she's vulnerable to enchantment, so she must be hidden from evil spirits. The Romans veiled brides in flame-colored veils to actually scare off those spirits.

Perhaps the most evil of spirits, in an arranged marriage, is the threat that the groom, who is perhaps seeing the bride for the first time, won't like what he sees. The veil saves everyone some embarrassment in the short term.

Also, in many religions, the veil is a sign of humility and respect before God during a religious ceremony.

The Victorians turned that reverence into a status symbol. During Victorian times, when archaic customs were formally incorporated into proper weddings, the weight, length and quality of the veil was a sign of the bride's status. Royal brides had the longest veils and the longest trains.

In modern times, generally we have some assurance that the groom has seen his bride and won't be disappointed, and that the only evil spirits will be the ones behind the bar at the reception. The tradition has become more of a finishing touch in wedding fashion. It's the icing on the cake, so to speak, that pulls together the hair and the dress.

If you want to really extrapolate links to tradition, the honeymoon is a carryover from the days when grooms abducted their brides from the neighbors. ("Will you take this woman?" Well, for a lot of human history, that's exactly what the groom did.)

Through time, those abductions became fun-filled, ritualized enactments of capturing brides. Those escapades, in Norse tradition, led to a tradition in which the bride and groom went into hiding for 30 days. During each of those days, a friend or family member would bring them a cup of honey wine, so that 30 days of consumption equaled a "honeymoon."

5: Wedding and Engagement Rings

Whether this is a legitimate long-held tradition or not is subject to some debate, because the whole category has been corrupted by commerce.

Some sources report that the Romans and Egyptians recorded the use of wedding rings. There's also chatter about the ring being a less restrictive symbol of the hand and foot bindings of a captured bride. (As for abduction -- that's a real tradition.) A pope in the 12th century decreed that weddings would be held in church and that the brides were to receive rings. He also decreed that the time between engagement and marriage should be lengthened, which boosted interest in engagement rings.

But those rings didn't have diamonds.

There's no dispute that DeBeers singlehandedly created the market for the diamond engagement ring with a simple sentiment in a 20th-century ad campaign: A Diamond is Forever.

As it turned out, the slogan might outlast the product, as socially conscious brides steer away from the products of the war-torn diamond industry.

4: The Big, Elaborate, Showy Wedding

So as you put down a $5,000 deposit here and a $3,000 deposit there, you feel reassured that these big checks are linking you to tradition. Throughout history, the families of brides have shelled out enormous sums of money to put on good parties. Right?

Well, no. That's not entirely right.

While the aristocratic families in some cultures have always put on expensive weddings to show their place in society, the traditional American wedding was more like a barn raising.

In fact, among frontier families, the lack of access to a preacher led to the acknowledgement -- and legalization -- of common-law marriages, where a couple who moves in together receives all the rights and privileges of marriage.

In more established communities, the bride's female family members and friends would hold special quilting circles to embroider and create her trousseau. The ceremonies, the receptions and the setting up of households were all-encompassing community events.

Then the society families started collecting gifts.

Apparently there's a whole literature surrounding the recording of gifts, the photographing of gift tables and the praising or humiliation of the gift-givers, based upon the lavishness of their donations. And, well, if it was good enough for the rich, then it was good enough for everyone else, too.

So you had to have the invitations. You had to have the catered meal. And, in more modern times, there's the tip of the hat to your donors in the party favors, which can be incredibly elaborate.

So the big wedding originates from perhaps the strangest phenomenon of all -- the consumer society. Conspicuous consumption. The mass messages coming in from advertising and going out through social networking.

But, of course, it's been going on for well over a century now. So perhaps it's only fair to call it tradition.

Marriage laws and marriage license history

Marriage licenses were absolutely unknown prior to the arrival of the Middle Ages. But when was the first marriage license issued?

In what we would refer to as England, the first marriage license was introduced by the church by 1100 C.E. England, a huge proponent of organizing the information obtained by the issuance of the marriage license, exported the practice to the western territories by 1600 C.E.

The idea of a marriage license took firm roots in the Americas of the colonial period. Today, the process of submitting an application for a marriage license is accepted practice throughout the world.

In some places, most notably the United States, state-sanctioned marriage licenses continue to garner scrutiny in communities that believe the church should have the first and only say on such matters.

Where, when and why did the practice of proxy marriage originate? - History

Dr. Meadow’s Munchausen syndrome by proxy: the history and the controversy

Nereida Esparza
Chicago, Illinois, United States

Munchausen syndrome is a severe psychiatric disorder described in the DSM-IV. In 1951 Dr. Richard Asher named the illness after Baron Munchausen (full name Karl Friedrich Hieronymus, Freiherr von Münchhausen, 1720–1797). 1 The German-born baron served in the Russian army until 1750. On his return from the army he was known to tell tall tales of his adventures. These adventures included riding cannonballs, traveling to the moon, and other such fantasies. According to Dr. Asher’s description, a patient with Munchausen syndrome (MS) feigns illness or psychological trauma, invents symptoms, or even tampers with laboratory collections of specimens to draw both sympathy and attention onto themselves.

Dr. Roy Meadow was the first to describe Munchausen syndrome by proxy (MBP), which was based on the psychiatric disorder known as Munchausen syndrome. 2 His reputation as a pediatrician was rewarded with knighthood in 1998, but within seven years his career plunged, and his name was struck from the medical register. Meadow’s reputation has since been restored, but his disorder’s acceptance in the medical field remains controversial. Meadow’s sudden rise and precipitous fall forces us to question the ethics of using unsubstantiated mental disorders as legal evidence as well as the impact such a mistake should make on the reputation of a long-term practitioner.

Meadow’s rise to fame

Dr. Roy Meadow was born in 1933 in Wigan, Lancashire, completed his medical education in Oxford University and practiced as a general pediatrician in Banbury. In 1970 he became a senior lecturer at Leeds University. First described by Meadow in The Lancet (1977), MBP is now included in the DSM-IV as a “factitious disorder by proxy” in Appendix B, 3 which includes disorders for which more definitive information and research was deemed necessary before inclusion in the manual. Like in MS, patients suffering from MBP feign illness or psychological trauma, invent symptoms, or even tamper with laboratory results in another individual to draw both sympathy and attention onto themselves. 4 The following are listed as the criteria for the disorder: 5

1. Intentional production or feigning of physical or psychological signs or symptoms in another person who is under the individual’s care.
2. The motivation for the perpetrator’s behavior is to assume the sick role by proxy.
3. External incentives for the behavior (such as economic gain) are absent.
4. The behavior is not better accounted for by another mental disorder.

After his recognition of MBP in 1977, Dr. Meadow was appointed to the chair of pediatrics and child health at St. James’ University Hospital in 1980. Meadow, and MBP, rose to prominence by 1993. He became one of the most influential and respected pediatricians of his time, elected president of both the British Pediatric Association and the Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health. 6

From bedside to courtroom

Dr. Meadow’s knowledge of MBP made him an influential pediatrician in the area of child abuse, and throughout the 1990s he was called as a witness to court trials where his expert opinion led to several mothers being convicted of murder. In other situations, children were forcibly removed from their parents’ care. He was a key witness in the high profile trial of Beverly Allitt, a nurse accused of murdering four children and harming nine others. After Meadow gave his expert testimony, Nurse Allitt was found guilty of the charges against her and sentenced to life in jail. To many, this was a vindication of Meadow’s theory on MBP, and he was knighted in 1998 for his work and contributions to child welfare.

Controversy begins: the Sally Clark case

Serving as an expert witness in several trials later steered heavy scrutiny and controversy to the well-known pediatrician. Many of these trials concerned previously diagnosed SIDS deaths, particularly when more than one death had occurred in a family. Dr. Meadow’s theory suggests that some SIDS deaths are cases of child abuse reflective of MBP. In fact, the following statement is considered his rule of thumb and is often termed Meadow’s law: “One sudden infant death is a tragedy, two is suspicious, and three is murder, unless proven otherwise.” 6

The first of these trials was that of Sally Clark—a lawyer who had lost two children to SIDS. The first was her elder son Christopher at 11 weeks, the second Harry at 8 weeks of age. During the trial, medical opinions were divided on whether these deaths were natural. Meadow served on the side of the prosecution, giving testimony that would later fuel the controversy on MBP. During his testimony he gave evidence that the odds of two SIDS deaths occurring in the same family were 73 million to one. Mrs. Clark was given a guilty conviction and sentenced to life in prison.

Sally Clark appealed her conviction twice, first in 2000 and again in 2002. She won the second conviction and was released from prison. The statistical figure given by Dr. Meadow became the center of the controversy. His claim was disputed by the Royal Statistical Society. The president of the society wrote to the Lord Chancellor stating that there was “no statistical basis” for this figure. Once genetic and environmental factors were taken into consideration, the odds of a second SIDS death were stated to be closer to 200 to one. After the second appeal, the opposition spokesman for health, Lord Howe, described MBP as:

One of the most pernicious and ill-founded theories to have gained currency in childcare and social services in the past 10–15 years. It is a theory without a science. There is no body of peer-reviewed research to underpin MBP. It rests instead on the assertions of its
inventor. When challenged to produce his research papers to justify his original findings, the inventor of MBP stated, if you please that he had destroyed them. 7

Although Dr. Meadow was to stand by his evidence, he later admitted to having been insensitive, particularly when comparing the odds of both boys’ deaths to those of four different horses winning the Grand National in consecutive years at odds of 80–1.

Other cases, continued controversy

In 1998, Dr. Meadow served as key witness in the trial of Donna Anthony, accused of the death of her 11-month-old daughter Jordan in February of 1996 and her 4-month-old son Michael in March of 1997. She was sentenced to life imprisonment based on the prosecution’s accusation of Ms. Anthony’s attempt to draw attention to herself. Her first appeal in 2000 was unsuccessful.

In 2002, Angela Cannings was wrongfully convicted of the murder of her two sons, 7-week-old Jason who died in 1991 and 18-week-old Matthew who died in 1999, both presumably of SIDS. A previous child of Cannings, 13-week-old Gemma had also died of SIDS in 1989, although her death was not part of the trial for murder. Based only on her suspicious behavior, Cannings was convicted to life imprisonment for having smothered her children. The prosecution stated that there was no genetic predisposition to SIDS in the family. Meadow served as key witness, testifying that Cannings was suffering from MBP. Meadow stated to the jury that the children could not have died of crib death since they had been previously healthy—a contradiction to other expert opinions regarding the deaths as typical presentations of SIDS. He also claimed the double death was extremely unlikely, though he did not present statistical figures. A guilty verdict was handed by the jury.

Sally Clark’s successful appeal in 2002 began to grow controversy around Meadow and his testimonies. In June of 2003, Meadow once again testified in a child abuse case, this time against the pharmacist Trupti Patel, accused of the death of three of her infants. Patel was found not guilty. Solicitor General Harriet Harman barred Meadow from court work, alerting prosecution lawyers of the criticism to Meadow’s evidence.

In December of 2003, the Cannings conviction was overturned. Despite having lost a prior appeal, the case was brought once again to appeal based on the results of Clark and Patel. New evidence demonstrated that the paternal ancestors of Cannings had lost an unusually large number of infants from unexplained deaths, plausibly establishing a genetic predisposition to SIDS.

Following the Cannings case, 28 cases were referred to the Criminal Cases Review Commission. The previously mentioned case of Donna Anthony was overturned in April of 2005. She had served six years in jail for her original conviction.

Dr. Meadow’s fall

Beginning in June of 2005, Dr. Meadow was brought before the British General Medical Council (GMC) for a practice tribunal. The council ruled that Dr. Meadow’s conduct had been “fundamentally unacceptable” and that he was guilty of “serious professional misconduct.” 8 On July 15, 2005, Dr. Roy Meadow was struck from the medical register. To the GMC, it was critical the public maintain confidence and trust in expert witnesses, justifying the severity of the penalty. Dr. Meadow left the tribunal without comment.

Despite the ruling, many still defended and supported Dr. Meadow. Professor Sir Alan Craft, president of the Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health, said the decision to strike off Dr. Meadow was “saddening,” and he stated, “He has had a long and distinguished career in pediatrics in which he has undoubtedly saved the lives of many children. We must be clear however that this hearing focused solely on the evidence he gave in one particular court case. It does not reflect upon the rest of his career.” 8

Following the GMC’s decision, Dr. Meadow launched an appeal. In February of 2006, High Court judge Mr. Justice Collins ruled in Dr. Meadow’s favor, overturning the decision to strike him from the medical register. He agreed that Dr. Meadow’s testimonies were to be scrutinized and criticized, but not that his actions were “serious professional misconduct.”

Dr. Meadow is certainly not the first physician in history to raise adverse scrutiny and criticism and only time will tell whether Dr. Meadow will be remembered for his advocacy for children’s health and well-being or for his role in the jailing of innocent women and the separation of children from their families.

Though MBP is recognized in the DSM-IV, much controversy still underlies its acceptance both in the medical community and society as a whole.


  1. R. Asher, “Münchausen’s Syndrome,” Lancet 1 (1951): 339–341.
  2. “Baron Münchhausen,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 2010.
  3. R. Meadow, “Munchausen syndrome by proxy—the hinterland of child abuse,” Lancet 2 (1977):343–345.
  4. “Munchausen Syndrome,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 2010.
  5. T. F. Parnell and D. O. Day, Munchausen By Proxy Syndrome: Misunderstood Child Abuse (London: Sage Publications, 1998).
  6. BBC News, “Profile: Sir Roy Meadow” (17 February, 2006). http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/low/health/4432273.stm. (Accessed 20 February, 2010).
  7. “Roy Meadow,” State Master Encyclopedia, 2010. http://www.statemaster.com/encyclopedia/Roy-Meadow. (Accessed 20 February, 2010).
  8. BBC News, “Sir Roy Meadow struck off by GMC” (15 July, 2005). http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/low/health/4685511.stm. (Accessed 20 February, 2010).

NEREIDA ESPARZA, MD, is finishing her last year of Family Medicine residency at the MacNeal Family Practice Residency Program in Berwyn, Illinois. Originally from Chicago, she hopes to continue to practice in the local area after her graduation.

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