Viking Women could divorce their husbands
While the law did not require that a woman consent to her marriage, it seems to have been a very good idea to get her approval, for in the sagas, “all five marriages made contrary to the stated will of the girl are unmitigated disasters, ending with the passing, maiming, or divorce of the husband”. The Icelandic law code,GrÃ¡gÃ¡s, allows divorce in only three cases. The first was if the couple gave each other “large wounds” or meira sar metiz, generally defined as those wounds which penetrated the brain, body cavity or marrow. The second was the case in which a couple was too poor to support themselves and had to rely on their families for support, in which case they could be forced to divorce by their kin, or a divorce might be granted “if one spouse with little or no money of his- or her own was suddenly charged with the support of poor relatives”, thus enabling the solvent member of the partnership to escape with his- or her goods safe from predation by in-laws. The third legal provision for divorce was if a husband tried to take his wife out of the country against her will. If one of these conditions was not cited,GrÃ¡gÃ¡s states that “no divorce shall exist”. This may be due to the fact that the redactions ofGrÃ¡gÃ¡s which we possess today have been influenced to some degree by canon law, for the sagas list a whole variety of grounds for divorce which are not mentioned in the law code.
The reasons given in the sagas for divorce would be familiar to any modern-day divorce court. First were problems with relatives, such as a family feud, or one spouse failing to treat the family of the other “with due consideration”. Family violence was also a reason for divorce, especially in those parts of Scandinavia heavily influenced by Christianity where divorce was harder to obtain. Aside from the “large wounds” cited inGrÃ¡gÃ¡s, a spouse might seek a divorce because the other partner made mocking verses about him or her, excessive anger or jealousy displayed by one spouse, or if one partner slapped the other. Slapping a spouse, especially in front of witnesses, was considered extremely humiliating. TheGulaÃ¾ing Law of Norway made special provisions against a husband slapping his wife: if a man struck his wife in front of witnesses, she could not only claim monetary compensation for the blows equal to what he would have received had another man struck him, the wife had the right to divorce the husband on top of the fine after the third slap. Slapping a wife is the most common reason given for a divorce in the sagas.