Trial marriages were very common in Scotland, up to the fifteenth century. This custom was known as, ” handfasting “ or ” hand-in-fist “.

At annual fairs unmarried men and women would choose a mate, with whom they would live, for a year and a day. At the end of this time, if they were happy with one another, they could stay married for life. However, if not, they could go their own way and each find a new partner.

The country was predominately Catholic and priests would travel the countryside looking for these ‘temporary’   marriages. So, ready to bestow the vows, on those prepared to stay together.

If the couple wished to separate, and a child had already been born, or had been conceived, then the woman was to give it up. The child would live with its father, and be taken care of by his clan. It would, also, take a lawful position within his natural heirs. It would not be treated as illegitimate.

The custom declared it had been conceived within the bounds of a just and joyful marriage.  

This was not always so happily settled. It appears when a Mac Donald of Sleat, chief, rejected his Macleod of Dunvegan, lady, the chief of the Macleod’s declared,” If there is to be no wedding bonfire, then there will be one to solemnize the divorce”. The Macleod’s proceeded to burn down the MacDonald lands. This created a feud of great magnitude between the two clans, and for months they fought, killed and destroyed one another.

By the middle of the fifteenth century the Scottish Reformation swept the country. The Kirk-Session of Aberdeen in 1562, decreed all hand-fasting to be socially unacceptable. All parties still in this temporary situation were to be married, apart from those living in the highlands. At the start, it was too difficult to enforce the new ban, in these areas.

The Reformation involved Catholic Scotland breaking away from the Papacy of Rome. Protestantism came to Scotland, in the form of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland. 

King James VI, whose mother, Mary Queen of Scots was a catholic, had in fact, been brought up a Protestant, by his governors. Mary, who had signed an agreement to be the only practicing catholic, while she was Queen, was forced to abdicate in 1567 , in favour of her thirteen-month old son.

Once the Reformation took hold, and the whole of Scotland adopted the new religion, the practice of choosing a mate for a year and a day became nonexistent, throughout the country.





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