School of Divinity

Kate's role in marriage making

The Breadalbane Letters show Kate was extremely active in the negotiations over the marriages of her children. This runs counter to the previous assumption that the male head of the house always took the predominant role.

Strategic importance

Securing suitable marriage alliances was an essential component within a noble family’s strategy. Marriages were designed first and foremost to promote the interests of the lineage and a good match frequently made the difference between the long-term success or failure of the house.

When considering a prospective partner the personal feelings of the intended bride and groom were taken into consideration, but the couple were expected to give priority to the needs of their respective houses. Being an alliance between two lineages, marriage negotiations were conducted between the families rather than the couple themselves.

In many instances the need for an alliance was more pressing than the need for the actual marriage. Negotiations could take place when the couple were far too young to marry and an ante-nuptial contract would be agreed.

In subsequent years such contracts were frequently abandoned when circumstances had altered and alliances with other houses seemed more attractive.

Legal provisions

Legal agreements were concluded to transfer money and land between the two houses, with the bride’s family providing her with a tocher (dowry), normally in cash and paid in instalments. In exchange, the grooms family would settle land, the wife's terce, or third, upon the bride.

Other provisions concerning future offspring were often included as part of the contract.

Kate's role

The marriages of four of Kate's children were arranged before 1583 and the Letters reveal her role in two of them: the crucial marriage of Black Duncan, the eldest son and heir and the all-Campbell match between Anne, Kate's 4th daughter of Katherine and John, son and heir of James Campbell of Ardkinglas.

No correspondence has survived concerning the betrothal on 24 May and marriage on 5 September 1574 of Kate and Colin's daughter Margaret to James Cunningham, grandson of the 4th earl of Glencairn (GD112/25/36-9; RMS IV 2254).

Kate's 4th son, Archibald was betrothed to Margaret, daughter of Andrew Toscheoch of Monzie, in August 1581 (GD112/25/40) but this local match generated no letters.

After the death of his parents, it was left to Black Duncan to negotiate marriages for the remainder of his younger brothers and sisters.