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A dowry (also known as trousseau or tocher or, in Latin, dos) is the money, goods, or estate that a woman brings to her husband in marriage. It contrasts with bride price, which is paid to the bride's parents, and dower, which is property settled on the bride herself by the groom at the time of marriage. The same culture may simultaneously practice both dowry and bride price. Dowry is an ancient custom, and its existence may well predate records of it.

History

Originally, the purpose of a dowry was to help a husband to feed and protect his family, and to give the wife and children some support if he were to die. Even in the oldest available records, such as the Code of Hammurabi, the dowry is described as an already-existing custom. Regulations surrounding the custom include: the wife being entitled to her dowry at her husband's death as part of her dower, her dowry being inheritable only by her own children, not by her husband's children by other women, and a woman not being entitled to a (subsequent) inheritance if her father had provided her dowry in marriage. If a woman died without sons, her husband had to refund the dowry but could deduct the value of the bride price; the dowry would normally have been the larger of the sums.

One of the basic functions of a dowry has been to serve as a form of protection for the wife against the possibility of ill treatment by her husband and his family. In other words, the dowry provides an incentive to the husband not to harm his wife.

In Europe

Dowry was widely practiced in Europe. In Homeric times, the usual Greek practice was to give a brideprice. Dowries were exchanged in the later classical time (5th century BC). Ancient Romans also practiced dowry, though Tacitus notes that the Germanic tribes practiced the reverse custom of the dower.

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 wooers ceased to woo her on 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.

Folklorists often interpret the fairy tale Cinderella as the competition between the stepmother and the stepdaughter for resources, which may include the need to provide a dowry. Gioachino Rossini's opera La Cenerentola makes this economic basis explicit: Don Magnifico wishes to make his own daughters' dowry larger, to attract a grander match, which is impossible if he must provide a third dowry.

One common penalty for the kidnapping and rape of an unmarried woman was that the abductor or rapist had to provide the woman's dowry. Until the late 20th century this was sometimes called wreath money, or the breach of promise. (See raptio and bride kidnapping.)

Providing dowries for poor women was regarded as a form of charity by wealthier parishioners. The custom of Christmas stockings springs from a legend of St. Nicholas, in which he threw gold in the stockings of three poor sisters, thus providing for their dowries. St. Elizabeth of Portugal and St. Martin de Porres were particularly noted for providing such dowries, and the Archconfraternity of the Annunciation, a Roman charity dedicated to providing dowries, received the entire estate of Pope Urban VII. As the French crown provided dowries for many of the women persuaded to travel to New France for marriages and settlement there, they were known as filles du roi (daughters of the king).

In some parts of Europe, land dowries were common. In the County of Bentheim, for instance, parents who had no sons might give a land dowry to their new son-in-law. It was commonly given with the condition that he take the surname of his bride, in order to continue the family name.

The Portuguese crown gave two cities as dowry to the British Crown in 1661 when King Charles II of England, Scotlandmarker and Irelandmarker married Catherine of Braganza, a princess of Portugalmarker. They were Mumbaimarker (Bombay) in India and Tangiermarker in Moroccomarker.

In Victorian England, dowries were seen among the upper class as an early payment of the daughter's inheritance. Only daughters who had not received their dowries were entitled to part of the estate when their parents died. If a couple died without children, the woman's dowry was returned to her family.

In some cases, nuns were required to bring a dowry when joining a convent.

In Asia

Dowry is a common practice in many Asian countries, including Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. In India, where incidents of bride burning and dowry death acquired notoriety, the payment of a dowry has been prohibited under in 1961 Dowry Prohibition Act in Indian civil law and subsequently by Sections 304B and 498a of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

Bride burning

Bride-burning is a form of domestic violence practiced in Bangladeshmarker, Indiamarker, Pakistanmarker and other countries located on or around the Indian subcontinent. A category of dowry death, bride-burning occurs when a young woman is murdered by her husband or his family for her family's refusal to pay additional dowry. The woman is typically doused with kerosene, gasoline, or other flammable liquid, and set alight, leading to death by fire.

Virendra Kumar and Sarita Kanth point out that bride burning has been recognized as an important public health problem in India. They say that it is a historical and cultural issue accounting for around 600-750 deaths per year in India alone. In 1995 Time Magazine reported that dowry deaths in India increased from around 400 a year in the early 1980s to around 5,800 a year by the middle of the 1990s. A year later CNN ran a story saying that every year police receive more than 2,500 reports of bride burning.

See also



References

  1. dowry – Definition from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
  2. Marina Warner, From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales And Their Tellers, pp. 213–4 ISBN 0-374-15901-7
  3. Gail MacColl and Carol McD. Wallace, To Marry An English Lord, pp. 166–7, ISBN 0-89480-939-3
  4. Kumar, Virendra, and Sarita Kanth, 'Bride burning' in The Lancet Vol. 364, pp s18-s19.
  5. Pratap, Anita, Time Magazine, September 11, 1995 Volume 146, No. 11


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