29th February 1288

Scottish women’s right to propose codified in law

There’s no reason why women shouldn’t be free to propose whenever they choose. In the Middle Ages, though, a woman proposing to her male partner would have been most irregular.

St Bridget, who lived in Ireland during the fifth and sixth centuries, is said to have taken this up with St Patrick, remarking that many women must wait much longer than they’d like for their men to get down on one knee. Eventually she convinced him that women should be given the right to turn the tables, but only once every four years – on leap year’s day.

Custom made official

Over the next several centuries, the tradition spread, including to Scotland where, in 1288, the custom became law. It’s often said that Queen Margaret instigated it as she was single at the time. However, she was also only five years old in 1288, so her lack of a husband wasn’t entirely surprising.

Any man proposed to could, of course, decline – just as a woman can refuse a proposal herself – but, if he did, he was liable to pay a fine. Traditionally, this was a dozen pairs of gloves, to cover up the fact that the woman wasn’t wearing a wedding ring.

No written record

Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to say with any certainty how much truth there is in any of the ‘facts’ of this story. St Bridget and St Patrick’s discussions took place too long ago for us to have an accurate record on this matter, and neither is there any official written record of the supposed law of 1288. The fact that Queen Margaret, to whom it is ascribed, was so young, also throws doubt on the matter. Could she have decreed it later in life only for the date to be lost? That seems unlikely, too, as she died aged seven in Orkney which, then, was still part of Norway.



Other events that occured in February

FREE Scotland history newsletter

Don't miss our weekly update on Scotland's fascinating history. We promise never to sell your data to anyone else, and there's a super-easy unsubscribe link on the bottom of each email so you can leave whenever you want.