Saturday Feb. 20, 2021’s Smile of the Day: Orkney and Shetland Islands
On this Day:
In 1472, Orkney and Shetland were left by Norway to Scotland, due to a dowry payment.
The Northern Isles are a pair of archipelagos off the north coast of mainland Scotland, comprising Orkney and Shetland. The climate is cool and temperate and much influenced by the surrounding seas. There are a total of 26 inhabited islands with landscapes of the fertile agricultural islands of Orkney contrasting with the more rugged Shetland islands to the north, where the economy is more dependent on fishing and the oil wealth of the surrounding seas. Both have a developing renewable energy industry. They also share a common Pictish and Norse history. Both island groups were absorbed into the Kingdom of Scotland in the 15th century and remained part of the country following the formation of the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707, and later the United Kingdom after 1801. The islands played a significant naval role during the world wars of the 20th century.
Tourism is important to both archipelagos, with their distinctive prehistoric ruins playing a key part in their attraction, and there are regular ferry and air connections with mainland Scotland. The Scandinavian influence remains strong, especially in relation to local folklore, and both island chains have strong, although distinct, local cultures. The place-names of the islands are dominated by their Norse heritage, although some may retain pre-Celtic elements.
In the 14th century, Orkney and Shetland remained a Norwegian province, but Scottish influence was growing. Jon Haraldsson, who was murdered in Thurso in 1231, was the last of an unbroken line of Norse jarls, and thereafter the earls were Scots noblemen of the houses of Angus and St. Clair. In 1468 Shetland was pledged by Christian I, in his capacity as King of Norway, as security against the payment of the dowry of his daughter Margaret, betrothed to James III of Scotland. As the money was never paid, the connection with the crown of Scotland became permanent. In 1470 William Sinclair, 1st Earl of Caithness ceded his title to James III and the following year the Northern Isles were directly annexed to Scotland (per Wikipedia).
A dowry is a transfer of parental property, gifts, property or money upon the marriage of a daughter (bride). Dowry contrasts with the related concepts of bride price and dower. While bride price or bride service is a payment by the groom, or his family, to the bride, or her family, dowry is the wealth transferred from the bride, or her family, to the groom, or his family. Similarly, dower is the property settled on the bride herself, by the groom at the time of marriage, and which remains under her ownership and control.
Dowry is an ancient custom, and its existence may well predate records of it. Dowries continue to be expected and demanded as a condition to accept a marriage proposal in some parts of the world, mainly in parts of Asia, Northern Africa and the Balkans. In some parts of the world, disputes related to dowry sometimes result in acts of violence against women, including killings and acid attacks. The custom of dowry is most common in cultures that are strongly patrilineal and that expect women to reside with or near their husband’s family (patrilocality). Dowries have long histories in Europe, South Asia, Africa and other parts of the world.
Anthropologist Jack Goody’s comparative study of dowry systems around the world utilizing the Ethnographic Atlas demonstrated that dowry is a form of inheritance found in the broad swath of Eurasian societies from Japan to Ireland that practice “diverging devolution”, i.e., that transmit property to children of both sexes. This practice differs from the majority of Sub-Saharan African societies that practice “homogenous inheritance” in which property is transmitted only to children of the same sex as the property holder. These latter African societies are characterized by the transmission of the “bride price”, the money, goods or property given by the groom or his family to the parents of the bride (not the bride herself).
Dowry was used in England. However, the right of daughters to inherit and of women to hold property and other rights in their own name made it a different instrument than on the Continent. The Salic law, which required females to be disinherited and disenfranchised from land ownership, did not apply in England. Single women held many rights men did. The most famous example of this English female inheritance and agency right is perhaps Elizabeth I of England, who held all the rights a male monarch did.
While single women held rights to hold property equivalent to those of men, marriage and married women were affected by the Norman Conquest changes to the law in the 12th Century. Coverture was introduced to the common law in some jurisdictions, requiring property of a wife to be held in the husband’s name, custody and control. The Normans also introduced the dowry in England replacing the earlier custom of the new husband giving a morning gift to his bride. At first the husband publicly gave the dowry at the church door at the wedding.
If the husband died first, which was frequent, there was a Widow’s dowry of one third of the husband’s lands at the time of his marriage; the income, and in some cases, the management of the lands, was assigned to her for the rest of her life. This concept is included in the Great Charter, and along with the recognition of female inheritance and absence of the Salic law, and women, particularly single women, holding many rights equivalent to those men held, manifests English law differing fundamentally from the law of the Continent, especially the law of the Holy Roman Empire.
Thirteenth-century court records are filled with disputes over dowries, and the law became increasingly complex.
The English dowry system permitted most noble families to marry off their daughters and thereby gain extended kin and patronage ties. Marriageable daughters were a valuable commodity to ambitious fathers, and the English aristocracy sent few of their eligible daughters to convents.
Failure to provide a customary, or agreed-upon, dowry could cause a marriage to be called off. William Shakespeare made use of such an event in King Lear: one of Cordelia’s suitors gives up his suit upon hearing that King Lear will give her no dowry. In Measure for Measure, Claudio and Juliet’s premarital sex was brought about by their families’ wrangling over dowry after the betrothal. Angelo’s motive for forswearing his betrothal with Mariana was the loss of her dowry at sea.
In Victorian England, dowries were viewed by some members of the upper class as an early payment of the daughter’s inheritance. In some instances, daughters who had not received their dowries were the only female heirs entitled to part of the estate when their parents died. If a couple died without children, a woman’s dowry was often returned to her family.
Coverture never applied universally in Britain and was repealed in the 1800s. This effectively ended the concept of dowry as the property of a single woman was either retained by her after marriage or its income became marital property under joint control with a husband (not under his sole control as in coverture) (per Wikipedia).
First, a Story:
Did you hear about the racy men’s clothing store that opened on the Shetland Islands? It is called Kilty Pleasures…
Second, a Song:
OK I know that the Isle of Skye in Scotland is not part of the Northern Isles but rather the Hebrides.
However, there are commonalities. They are both north Scottish Islands and both have a strong Scandinavian and Norse history.
The Norse held sway throughout the Hebrides from the 9th century until after the Treaty of Perth in 1266. However, apart from place names, little remains of their presence on Skye in the written or archaeological record. Apart from the name “Skye” itself, all pre-Norse place names seem to have been obliterated by the Scandinavian settlers. Viking heritage, with Celtic heritage, is claimed by Clan MacLeod. Norse tradition is celebrated in the winter fire festival at Dunvegan, during which a replica Viking long boat is set alight (per Wikipedia).
The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is an annual series of military tattoos performed by British Armed Forces, Commonwealth and international military bands, and artistic performance teams on the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle in the capital of Scotland. The event is held each August as one of the Edinburgh Festivals.
“The Skye Boat Song” is a late 19th-century Scottish song recalling the journey of Prince Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) from Benbecula to the Isle of Skye as he evaded capture by government troops after his defeat at the Battle of Culloden in 1746.
Sir Harold Boulton, 2nd Baronet composed the lyrics to an air collected by Anne Campbelle MacLeod in the 1870s, and the line “Over the Sea to Skye” is now a cornerstone of the tourism industry on the Isle of Skye.
Alternative lyrics to the tune were written by Robert Louis Stevenson, probably in 1885. After hearing the Jacobite airs sung by a visitor, he judged the words of this song to be “unworthy”, so made a new set of verses “more in harmony with the plaintive tune”.
It is often played as a slow lullaby or waltz, and entered into the modern folk canon in the twentieth century with versions by Paul Robeson, Tom Jones, Rod Stewart, Roger Whittaker, Tori Amos, and many others (per Wikipedia).
Here is the Skye Boat Song/Caledonia performed at the Edinburgh tattoo in 2017. I hope you enjoy this!
Thought for the Day:
“Scotland is the Canada of England!” – Rainn Wilson
Have a great day!
© 2020 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky