What does it mean to veil a widow in medieval Yorkshire?

+12 votes

In a section of "Marriage Licences, Etc." in https://archive.org/stream/testamentaebora05claygoog#page/n359/mode/2up/search/bosvile, this entry says:

1484-5, Jan 5.  Commission to William bishop of Dromore to veil Margaret Simms of Barnsley, widow.

 What does it mean that she was veiled and what is the significance of the commission?  This occurred in Yorkshire.

WikiTree profile: Margaret Symmes
in Genealogy Help by Kerry Larson G2G6 Pilot (183k points)
retagged by Darlene Athey-Hill
In some places I believe it was a symbol of her morality.  "Virtuous women" would tear the veil from the heads of prostitutes, so if a widow had children, likely she needed the veil as a form of attestation that she was a moral person.

What the commission meant I have no idea, unless the veiling was being done for religious profession.  (Many widows "took the veil" as a statement that they had no desire, or intent, to marry again.)  My research into mediaeval times (years ago) indicated that a widow normally veiled herself, while the unmarried girls/women making profession were veiled by clergy.
I added the England tag to bring this to the attention of England project members.

5 Answers

+20 votes
Best answer

Bishops were supposed to have permission to 'veil' a widow, in other words making a declaration of her chastity, as this took her off the marriage market and if she was an heiress, any money she had with it.  This allowed her more control over her life and prevented her from a forced marriage. Here is an interesting article about widows.

PDF article on Widowhood

by Jeanie Roberts G2G6 Pilot (128k points)
selected by Kerry Larson
+5 votes
I think this indicates she was entering religious life.  Many women entered as lay or religious into a convent after a husband's death.
by Kathy Rabenstein G2G6 Pilot (291k points)
+3 votes

I am not sure exactly what it means. It could have religious significance eg entering holy orders after her husband's death.  There is a bit of interesting information about veils on Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Veil

by Joan Whitaker G2G6 Pilot (136k points)
My maternal grandmother, born in Nova Scotia, lost her husband in 1944 in B.C. Whenever she went out in public she dressed in black and wore a veil. I took it that she was in mourning and, also,until she passed away at 104 in 1989, she never formally socialized with men.
My grandmother customarily wore black and a veil for six months when a relative died.
+6 votes

There have always been consecrated widows in the Catholic Church. Vita Consecrata pub.1996 by Pope John Paul II states in #7 of the Introduction.
'Again being practised today is the consecration of widows, known since Apostolic times (see 1Tim 5:5, 9-10 & 1 Cor. 7:8) as well as the consecration of widowers. These women and men, through a vow of perpetual chastity as a sign of the Kingdom of God, consecrate their state of life in order to devote themselves to prayer and the service of the Church.' 
It is mentioned in this link but the text above is taken from the document.

by Christine Frost G2G6 Pilot (125k points)
+7 votes
"The said Margaret, immediately after the death of the deceased, her husband, took the mantle, veil and ring before the suffragan of the archbishop of York and swore and vowed chastity before him and many others, to live chastely without a husband all her life."  https://www.british-history.ac.uk/inquis-post-mortem/vol10/pp209-228
by Lois Tilton G2G6 Pilot (144k points)
Nice find Lois.

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