Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)



Committee Chair(s)

Leonard N. Rosenband


Leonard N. Rosenband


Peter Mentzel


Christopher A. Conte


The marriage process for the poor in nineteenth-century Bavaria involved a delicate interplay between cultural bias, economic constraint, the prejudice of social rank, and the will to power in the peasant community by those who controlled marriage. This study follows Leonhard Büttner and his fiancée, Margaretha Weiss. Leonhard was a day laborer who had few marriage options due to his poverty and low social status. The insanity of Margaretha's father restricted her marriage choices. Cultural, financial, and legal limits prevented the couple from marrying, and they chose to have children out of wedlock in 1812 and 1816.

The dating traditions of the time allowed pre-nuptial sex by those who were serious about marriage and many brides of the day were pregnant at the marriage altar. Bavaria had high monetary requirements for marriage that made the bond inaccessible to the poor. As a result, illegitimate children were common. The situation led many in poverty to develop a subculture tolerant of bastardy.

In the opening decades of the nineteenth century, the changing legal environment led the king of Bavaria to decriminalize fornication and establish a new civil law code with the intent to treat everyone equally. The practitioners of the civil order denied the local communities their traditional right to approve marriages. Instead, new civil judges reviewed and granted marriage rights. In 1816, Leonhard Büttner applied to the new civil judge for permission to marry his fiancée, Margaretha Weiss, but the court became distracted for two years as it searched for evidence of Leonhard's draft status. In 1818, the king of Bavaria restored the right of the communities to approve all marriages; then, after a town gave sanction to a couple, marriage cases were passed on to the civil judges for their final ruling.

In 1821, after Margaretha Weiss' parents died, Margaretha received her dowry, which was enough to meet the monetary requirements for marriage. Leonhard and Margaretha applied to marry again, but were denied, as no community would give Leonhard rights of residency. The pastor of the local Lutheran church intervened and persuaded the town council to allow the marriage. In the final assessment, a pre-class tradition of hate outweighed economic concerns or cultural tradition as the factor most influential in the Bavarian marriage process.



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