A beautiful old custom I discovered while writing NAKED: A Novel of Lady Godiva was the Anglo-Saxon custom of the morgengifu or ‘morning gift’.
The morning gift was given to a bride by her husband the morning after their wedding. It could be land, money, goods or jewels. More than a mere dowry, it defined the power relations in a marriage and between the two families of the bride and groom joined in wedlock. Negotiations could be heated and many alliances (and misalliances) were built.
“Silently he rolled away and reached over to where his belt laid cast aside on the floor. My eagle gold beside it.A small leather pouch. He held it out it to me.
“The morgengifu. Your morning gift.”
My brow furrowed. “But we’ve set our terms.” Was he revoking our agreement?
He shrugged and pressed the package into my palm.
Slowly I untied the long cord.
A ring. A dull gleam of gold. Carved swirls. A large smooth gem in the centre, egg shaped. I held it up to the light.
The gem glowed red as a wood berry. “It’s beautiful.”
I’d not expected such a courtesy of him, just as I hadn’t expected the pleasure he’d given me.
I slipped the ring onto my finger. “Thank you,” I said, made shy. “Where did it come from?”
“It was my mother’s. It’s Mercian made.”
So he’d brought it with him to Coventry. The eagle belt too he must have had with him. He must carry them with him always, a family keepsake.
“And now you give it to me.”
Quote from NAKED: A Novel of Lady Godiva
In NAKED, Godiva’s morgengifu is more than the ring she receives by surprise from her new husband. Historical documents from the 11th century show Godiva’s name as a female landowner. Her status as a landowner indicates that she inherited her own estate. Godiva had a lot to offer … and a lot to lose.
Marriage was a risk for Anglo-Saxon noblewomen like Lady Godiva. As Lord Leofric puts it in NAKED: “There’s something you have forgotten.” Moving nearer still, he closed the gap I’d stretched between us. His breath warmed my cheek. “The morgengifu is given to a woman by her husband the morning after their wedding night. Not before. To wed is to gamble. In our language even the words have the same meaning.”
Godiva vows to protect her land and her people, whatever the cost. As you’ll discover, her marriage gamble could cost her virtue, her heart … or her life.
This post first appeared on Susanna’s Morning Room. Thanks Susanna!
Find out more about my heroine Lady Godiva! Available at Amazon and all good bookstores.