Dear Dowry: Crazy Historical Trades for Brides.

Before the whole "old, new, borrowed, and blue" wedding tradition hoo-ha, there was another must-do part of any nuptials: the dowry. And through the years, lots of things have been given or received to sweeten the blessed deal. Here are a few things that have changed hands in exchange for (or in addition to) brides.

1. Foreskins: David and Michal

If you know where to look, you can find all kinds of crazy stuff in the good book. So grab your King James Version and flip to chapter 18 of the first book of Samuel for the story of David [wiki] (yes, that David, with the stone and the sling and the Psalms) and Michal. After David smote the heck out of Philistine badass Goliath, he went to live with King Saul of Israel. Saul, afraid of David and troubled by evil spirits, began to plot his murder. When Saul's daughter Michal [wiki] revealed her love for David, Saul made her a deal: Have David bring back 100 Philistine foreskins, and he can marry you. Now Saul had no particular affinity for foreskins; he just wanted David to get killed trying. But Dave and his posse, with God's help, brought back 200 for the good king. Saul couldn't help but bless his daughter's marriage to such a go-getter.

2. Heads: The Dayak of Indonesia

Journey to the Indonesian island of Borneo and you'll find an indigenous tribe of people called the Dayak [wiki]. But try not to overstay your welcome, as the Dayak were historically headhunters and cannibals. In fact, their economy seems to have been predominantly skull based. If, for example, someone wanted to marry a chief's daughter, the suitor would have to impress the chief by presenting him with three or four enemy skulls. This modern tribe had given up their headhunting ways - that is, until recently, when settlers from the overpopulated Indonesian island of Madura were caught encroaching on the Dayak's traditional land. The late-1990s ethnic struggle proved that old habits die hard. Thankfully, though, things seem to have simmered down since, as the Dayak have figured out better ways to get a head.

3. Political Prisoners: Ramses and the Hittites

In the 13th century BCE, there were two superpowers in the Middle East: the Egyptians and the Hittites. And, as rival superpowers are wont to do, they hated each other. The main bone of their contention? The city of Kadesh, which served as a strategic linchpin located in modern-day Syria. After decades of fighting, King Hattusili III ascended to the Hittite throne, and he saw the wisdom of bargaining with the great Egyptian pharaoh Ramses II [wiki]. So, he proposed a treaty. Ramses agreed to marry Maat-Hor-Nefuru-Re (or Manefrure), Hattusili's eldest daughter, and in exchange he got an alliance with the Hittites, control of Kadesh, and the release of all political prisoners. Not a bad deal. But what did the blushing bride get out of it? Well, the lucky gal got only what every princess dream of .. to be the primary consort in a harem of more than 200 wives and concubines.

See also: Ramesses II: Anatomy of a Pharaoh, His Family (Specifically, his Women)

4. 100 Knights and a Table: Guinevere

The story of King Arthur [wiki] has been told by many, and one of the best-known version is Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur. In his version, the famous Round Table was given by Uther Pendragon, its original owner, to a fella named Leodegrance, who happened to have a daughter by the name of Guinevere [wiki]. When Guinevere was married off to a certain King Arthur, she brought to the marriage a most unusual dowry: the Round Table and, just for good measure, 100 knights to sit around it. But this was one serious table: it could seat 150. So magician Merlin threw in the rest of the knights to fill it. One hopes the happy couple registered for 150 place settings at Ye Olde Crate & Barrel.

5. England: "The Dowry of Mary"

Of all England's nicknames - Jolly Olde, Blighty, etc. - perhaps one of the most obscure is "the Dowry of Mary." At first blush, this may seem to refer to some medieval queen who married a king and got England as a wedding present. But it actually refers to the Virgin Mary. The story is linked to England's pious King Edward the Confessor [wiki], who, upon dedicating Westminster Abbey in 1055, allegedly offered England to the Virgin Mary as her "dowry" with the words "Dos tua Virgo pia, haec est, quare rege, Maria" (Thy Dowry this, O Virgin sweet, then rule it, Mary, as is meet). Legend has it that, a few years later, Mary responded to this piety by appearing to Lady Richeldis de Faverches in the tiny village of Walsingham, asking her to build a replica of the House of the Anunciation. This house became a major pilgrimage destination until it was destroyed unceremoniously during the Reformation.

6. India and Tea: Catherine of Braganza

In 1661, Catherine of Braganza [wiki], the daughter of Portugal's King John IV, was married off to King Charles II of England [wiki]. The marriage was meant to cement the alliance between the two countries, and in exchange for taking Catherine's hand, Charles (and therefore England) received Tangier and Bombay. And while the natural deepwater harbor at Bombay became the headquarters of the British East India Company and a perfect foothold for England's growing colonial ambitions, the cities themselves might not have been Portugal's most treasured gifts in the exchange. Aside from the land (and a bride), Charles was also gifted a chest of tea from the far-flung Portuguese colonies. The present quickly turned him into an enthusiastic "tea" totaler, and drinking the steamy beverage soon became all the rage throughout England.


From mental_floss' book Forbidden Knowledge: A Wickedly Smart Guide to History's Naughtiest Bits, published in Neatorama with permission.

Be sure to visit mental_floss' extremely entertaining website and blog!

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