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Marriage in Latvia in the 19th Century

Previously, I wrote about the rules of divorce, but there were just as many regulations governing marriage. Who was allowed to marry, and when, and with whom?

19th century married couple

Marriage in Latvia at the end of the 19th century was regulated by the laws of the Russian Lutheran Church, Baltic private laws, and, in relation to peasants, the peasant laws. These laws stipulated that marriage could be entered into by:

  • Men upon reaching the age of 18

  • Women upon reaching the age of 16


However, several restrictions prevented marriage:

1. Minority: Individuals who had not reached the age of 21 could only marry with the permission of their parents, stepparents, or guardians. Parents could forbid their adult children from marrying only for special reasons or based on church laws. Such reasons could include incurable diseases, immoral behavior, significant age differences, considerable differences in upbringing and education, non-affiliation with the Christian faith, etc.

2. Close Kinship: According to the evangelical Lutheran church law, marriage was prohibited between direct relatives (father, mother, grandfather, grandmother, son, daughter, brothers, sisters, half-brothers, and half-sisters and other). Marriages between certain more distant relatives (niece or nephew, widow of uncle or aunt) also required the permission of the consistory.

3. Other Reasons:

  • Mentally ill individuals

  • Soldiers and civil servants without the permission of their superiors

  • Parents with adopted children until the adoption was legally annulled

  • Guardians with their wards without the permission of the orphan's court

  • Christians with non-Christians

  • Individuals already married, unless the marriage was ended by death or court decision

  • Divorced individuals who were forbidden to remarry by the divorce decree, except when the innocent spouse had died, disappeared, remarried, or gave permission for the guilty party to remarry

Marriages Between Different Faiths

Marriages between members of different Christian denominations were allowed without special government permission. The rules of the Orthodox Church were stricter. If one of the parties was Orthodox, the other had to sign a promise that the children would be baptized and raised according to the Orthodox Church's regulations. Such marriages had to take place in an Orthodox church.

Lutherans could marry Muslims (then referred to as Mohammedans) or Jews only with the permission of the consistory.

Non-Christian brides or grooms had to promise to baptize and raise their children as Christians—either Lutheran or Orthodox. Moreover, in such mixed marriages, the Muslim groom had to renounce polygamy.

Orthodox and Catholics were entirely prohibited from marrying non-Christians.

Civil Marriages in Russia

In other Western European countries, civil marriages (marriages officiated by state officials) had been known for some time (in France, influenced by the revolution, since 1792). In Latvia (then part of the Russian Empire), this was rather an exception. Registration at state institutions was mandatory for unrecognized denominations, such as Old Believers (raskolniki) and Baptists.

Russian laws stipulated that Old Believers and Baptists who wished to marry had to notify the police authority. The police would then post a notice seven days before the marriage to check if there were any objections. If there were none, a marriage certificate was issued, and the couple, accompanied by four witnesses, went to the police authority. There, their marriage was legally registered. Except for these cases, Russian laws did not provide for civil marriages, and all other marriages were concluded and dissolved only according to church laws.

Civil Registration After Independence

Registration at state institutions without mandatory church marriage in Latvia became possible after the establishment of an independent state in 1918. Civil registry offices in Latvia began operating in 1921.

This entry is based on the article "Marriage in Life and Law" (1897) by A. Gruzītis, which is available in Latvian here and here.




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