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Dowry Dilemma

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Feyre: We can't afford a dowry. For either of you.
Nesta: We're in love.
Feyre: Love won't feed a hungry belly.

Congratulations! You've found the love of your life! You've overcome nearly all the trials lovers need to overcome and you're this close to announcing your relationship to the world. You already have a wedding date planned and everything.

There's just one problem.

Your family can't pay the dowry.

A dowry (or dowernote ) is an ancient practice, possibly predating the Code of Hammurabi. Basically, it's payment (in the form of livestock, goods, property, money, or any combination of the four) that the bride's family pays to the husband's family. This is usually done to ensure that the newlyweds have some "seed money" to start a household - i.e., they don't start their married life broke - or that the wife could have something she could live on should she outlive her husband (which was often). It's also useful incentive for the hubby to not be abusive, as the woman has certain rights to her dowry.

The practice of calling off a marriage - be it arranged or otherwise - due to the bride's family being unable to provide for her dowry was widely practiced in Europe and Asia. This presented a problem, especially to those who were marrying their daughter off for money. Thus, plots revolving around this trope often involve having to find the money for it or find another workaround.

The gender-inverted, less-done version is the bridewealth, in which the husband's family pays the bride's. Dowry and bridewealth are common in societies that favor arranged marriages. If the inheritance laws or customs are designed to keep the family wealth intact (e.g., primogeniture), then the dowry is a substitute for the bride's claims. Among renaissance Italian families, women were often considered a net loss and men a net profit because women took a dowry with them whereas men brought a dowry in.

A stereotypical situation is for a Funny Foreigner (usually from Qurac) to see a woman and instantly offer any number of barnyard animals to marry her, and be completely confused at the outrage, when five camels and a goat is an incredibly generous offer. Expect this trope to turn up in period pieces. Occasionally, the trope is inverted in the case of difficult, well-off brides, whose families are forced to raise their dowries just so someone will want to marry them.

Sister Trope to Unable to Support a Wife, another financial hindrance that gets in the way of a couple's happiness.


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    Fan Works 
  • Bequeathed from Pale Estates offers an Inversion: between the Reach being crippled by The Plague and Dorne's extremely good crops that year, food prices were set for an economic crash... until the Dornish take advantage of Lyarra and Oberyn getting together by offering their food surpluses to the North as Lyarra's bride price.
  • Unchained (Umei no Mai): Izuna deliberately invokes and exploits this by demanding that the Senju pay her clan Tobirama's dowry after the failed assassination attempt, specifically stating that they should show exactly how much they value him. At the time, the Senju clan have rather limited means to provide a dowry that's suitably large enough for somebody marrying into a noble clan. What's more, they're also trying to indirectly convince Tobirama to support their interests over the Uchiha by providing him with some way of establishing partial independence from Izuna.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In 2 States Ananya saves a wedding from being cancelled over the groom's excessive dowry demands, by shaming the groom over the obvious disparity of attractiveness between him and his very beautiful bride and pointing out that he couldn't find such a fine girl by himself so asking for more stuff on top of a pretty bride and the already substantial amount of goods and money he had received was an excess of greed.
  • In Lajja, Maithili is marrying her college sweetheart, and her soon-to-be in-laws are demanding an extremely lavish dowry...which her family cannot afford. If they can't come up with the money, the wedding will be off...and Maithili and her entire family will be disgraced. Vaidehi advises her to talk to her fiancé, but he won't stand up to his parents. They encounter a prostitute arguing with customers who are trying to cheat her out of money, and she says she's only doing this because she doesn't want her sister to end up like her — shamed, rejected, and selling sex because her family can't pay a dowry (implying that she may be Maithili's older sister, though this is never confirmed in the movie). Not only that, but some of the groomsmen try to rape Maithili and then start Slut-Shaming her. Maithili finally stands up to her would-be in-laws and calls out her fiancé for not standing up to them, and the wedding is off.
  • Variation in The Last Duel. The young and beautiful Marguerite de Thibouville is a traitor's daughter with a big dowry, two conflicting traits for any upstanding servant of the king seeking a wife. Jean de Carrouges, a minor lord who needs to refill his coffers and sire an heir, decides it's worth it and marries her — however, he is upset because the resulting dowry isn't as big as he thought it would be. His former brother-in-arms Jacques le Gris had confiscated some parts of it to pay de Thibouville's debts to the crown prior to the wedding. This is one of the many factors that fuels Jean's feud with Jacques.
  • Inverted in The Quiet Man, where the argument over a dowry provides the conflict. The husband cares nothing about the dowry that his brother-in-law refuses to pay, but his wife is very upset about her husband not receiving her dowry and is mad at her husband for not demanding it (not for the sake of the money itself, but what it represents).
  • Played interestingly in the Indian film Vivah. The heroine Poonam is so lovely and good tempered her perfectly arranged fiance Prem's family gleefully pass over that she is an orphan without dowry, even explicitly saying "we don't care about the dowry, we just want the girl." Meanwhile her cousin Rajni does have a substantial dowry and is just as nice, but because she has darker skin than expected for a girl from her caste and social class her family finds that their money isn't enough to lure a good enough match for her.

  • Shows up in many of Jane Austen's works (at a time when the trope was Truth in Television), as her protagonists are often the daughters of not-particularly-wealthy gentlemen who cannot afford to give their daughters large dowries.
  • In Jeff Guinn's The Autobiography of Santa Claus, this situation happening to three girls who each have a potential husband but no dowry to give them due to their father's financial stress caused Nicolas to begin his gift-giving career by sneaking into each girl's stocking enough money for a dowry.
  • Belisarius Series: Tahmina's dowry could have been an extortionate sum that bankrupted the Persian Empire, but instead was simply a horse and a horse-bow, in reference to a saying that a Persian should teach his son to "ride a horse, to shoot a bow and to despise all lies."
  • In The Black Swan, (Lackey's version of Swan Lake), Odile von Rothbart realizes that the former swan maidens won't be able to find husbands without a dowry. She solves the problem by dividing her father's ill-gotten wealth among them.
  • Discworld:
    • In Snuff, Vimes has the concept of a dowry explained to him, after running into a family of young women who worry about not finding husbands for this reason (in addition to suffering from Thinks Like a Romance Novel). He gets very angry.
    • The "funny foreigner" gag shows up in Jingo, where it is meticulously lampshaded ("This is another test, isn't it ... ?") and analyzed; the foreigner knows exactly what he's doing.
      "For Mrs. Boggis?" Vimes waggled a hand dismissively. "Nah ... four camels, maybe four camels and a goat in a good light. And when she's had a shave."
    • Discworld dwarves (or at least Copperhead ones) have their own variant on this trope: Dowries amongst dwarves are paid by the couple to their respective fiancee's parents, essentially "buying" their partner from their family. This represents the new couple's financial independence and ability to get by on their own hard work, by paying back the cost of raising, feeding, and educating the child, adjusted for backpay if the dwarves have been working for their parents (the parents usually respond with gifts for the happy couple and the like, but the dowry is mandatory by tradition). Goodmountain and his fiancee from The Truth came to the city to make money for their dowry, and in the climax William uses this tradition as a basis for offering his father a "Begone" Bribe so he can cut himself free from him and his family.
  • The Mercedes Lackey Dozen Daughters series centers around a small kingdom whose ruler has thirteen children before finally having a male heir. Since he can't afford twelve royal dowries, the daughters are instead given a first-rate education in any craft they care for and then expected to make their own way in the world once they reach adulthood.
  • In L. Sprague de Camp's An Elephant for Aristotle, set in the age of Alexander the Great, the Greek hero falls for a well-born Persian woman, while the woman's brother falls for the hero's own sister. This creates many problems, given that both cultures have a bias against foreign marriages, but one is that Greeks give dowries, while Persians give bride payments. Weirdly, it takes the hero's smart brother to point out the obvious solution.
  • A large part of the plot in Tomie dePaola's book Helga's Dowry. An attractive but poor troll maiden named Helga finds that she may not be able to marry her boyfriend Lars without a dowry to match that of her rival, Inge (which would in turn condemn her to wander the earth forever), so she sets out to earn one. Ultimately, she does but winds up ditching Lars, having realized he's more interested in her goods than her. She doesn't wind up needing it, as the Troll King wants to marry her, and he already has much more than he needs.
  • Sostratos' sister had this difficulty in Over the Wine-Dark Sea.
  • In the Daughter of the Empire trilogy of the The Rift War Cycle, Mara of the Acoma very nearly inverts this trope. She has quite a substantial dowry, but her estate's suffered such a huge military loss that the problem is finding an adequate protector who A) isn't an enemy and B) is willing to shoulder the burden of protecting the estate without gaining control. Mara decides to Take a Third Option.
  • Sherlock Holmes has a situation where a lady is looking for her recently-disappeared fiance. It turns out her stepfather was abusing her poor eyesight to play the part of the fiance so that he could both not pay the dowry and keep her income close at hand.
  • Vorkosigan Saga: Mark has the difference between bride-price and dowry explained when he offers to pay Koudelka for continuing to date his daughter.

    Live-Action TV 
  • On The Borgias the titular family needs to arrange a politically favourable marriage for Lucretia but is lacking the money for a dowry. They engage in political murder-for-hire to raise the money.
  • Bridgerton:
    • The Featheringtons can't afford dowries for any of their daughters because Lord Featherington is Trapped by Gambling Debts.
    • Edwina Sharma has a generous dowry...paid for by her maternal grandparents, provided she marries someone who's blue-blooded like they are. She is unaware of this and Kate tries to give her the best of both worlds by only having Edwina meet with noblemen she might get along with.

  • Alluded to in the song "Matchmaker" in Fiddler on the Roof.
    Did you think you'd get a prince?
    Well, I do the best I can.
    With no dowry, no money, no family background
    Be glad you got a man!
  • The Miser. Harpagon, the titular miser, is willing to marry his daughter off to a nobleman instead of the man she wants because he has accepted to marry her without a dowry, and his son to a rich widow.
  • Inverted in The Taming of the Shrew where Katherine's father can't get anyone to marry her no matter how large the dowry is since she is such a shrew. Then Petruchio comes to town and the only thing he cares about is the dowry.

    Video Games 
  • Assassin's Creed II: An inverted example. Due to her temper, Giovanni (Ezio's father) was forced to raise Claudia's dowry by 1,000 florins, since she scared off all of her suitors.
  • Played for Laughs in Dragon Age II: During one of the companion quests, after many unsuccessful yet hilarious methods of courting one of her guardsmen, Guard-Captain Aveline resorts to presenting herself with a dowry to the guard's mother with Hawke being the one presenting her. It's Lampshaded by Merrill if she is in your party.
    Merrill: Don't be silly! A dowry would only matter if you were courting him!
    Aveline: Merrill...
    Merrill: (gasps) You're courting him!

    Real Life 
  • St. Nicholas was said to have thrown purses filled with gold into the house of a man who could not afford the dowries for his three daughters under the cover of night so the man would not be embarrassed at having to accept charity.
  • Richard II of England caused considerable controversy by disregarding this dilemma when he married Anne of Bohemia, the daughter of Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV, without a dowry, even subsidizing her travel to England. One chronicler infamously described Anne as "a purchase rather than a gift, since the English king laid out no small sum for such a small scrap of flesh." Richard was seemingly more interested in the political and cultural prestige of an alliance with the Empire than with immediate financial benefits, and on a personal level, at least, it paid off, as he and Anne had a Perfectly Arranged Marriage (she also appears to have won over her subjects, as she was a good influence on the often-hot-tempered Richard). Anne's unpopularity at the time of her arrival, however, underscores the importance of dowry in Altar Diplomacy.