Several years ago a relative of mine discovered in a genealogical search that one of his ancestors had two wives–at the same time.
His ancestor was a polygamist.
Not a member of the Mormon, Muslim or Old Testament Jewish faith. He was a Christian in seventeenth century Germany, and polygamy was not just legal, it was sanctioned by one of the great religious leaders of that time and place, Martin Luther.
I stumbled upon this topic for today’s post from the July 12 edition of HistoryOrb.com:
July 12, 1843, Mormon leader Joseph Smith says God allows polygamy
Actually, a Wikipedia article says that it was on July 17, 1831 that Smith received a revelation allowing polygamy.
According to a USA Today article, studies have found polygamy present in 78% of the world’s cultures, generally practiced as polygyny, one man and multiple women. The practice of polyandry, one woman and multiple men, is very rare.
In this illustration, the areas in blue allow polygamy.
And what does any of this have to do with romance?
The short answer–and I’m not being political, religious, or in any way divisive, just looking at this from the viewpoint of this romance writer–the short answer is nothing. Polygamy is simply unromantic.
For my relative’s ancestor, the practice of polygamy followed a February 14, 1650, decree by the parliament at Nurnberg. The Thirty Years War left so many widows and orphans that every man was allowed to marry up to ten women. In the 1980s I spoke to an Iranian man about the practice of polygamy in that country. The state allowed each man up to four wives, he said, primarily because of the number of widows and orphans created by the Iran-Iraq War.
Polygamy also allows for communities to expand population rapidly–no need to explain the reproductive efficiency of polygyny. Apparently, there are also efficiencies to polyandry in the societies that practice it, for example, keeping family-owned tracts of land intact by having all the brothers of a family marry one wife, and allowing for better protection of children by providing more than one father. A very interesting article in The Atlantic discusses polyandry in depth.
Historian Kathleen Flake studied the polygamy practiced by early Mormons and says that while the Protestant ideal of marriage focused on romance and devotion, “Mormons stood in opposition to these ideas of romantic oneness.”
Polygamy falls in with the “corporate merger” idea of marriage, the kind of marriage our Regency heroines rebel against.
Certainly love in the form of affection, friendship, agape could always be possible, but romance, or eros, that overwhelming desire to be united to the one you love?
What do you think? I’ve said that I think polygamy is unromantic, but I’ve read many books where love grows in a marriage of convenience. I also know that there are many ménage books out in the market, though I admit I haven’t read any of them. Have you? Do these stories reach the same level of emotional satisfaction as a two-person romance? I’d love to hear your thoughts.