Spoiler: Preview for Episode “Searchers” / Hell On Wheels, and what’s a Levirate Marriage?

While you watch the preview for “Searchers”, I’ll go and get the first-aid kit…

Declan Toole, so the script tells us, lost his wife and his son Patrick to influenza, and has now come to Hell on Wheels to marry Eva, his deceased brother Gregory’s wife, and raise the child as his, “as it’s custom in Ireland”. Whether he does it because it’s custom, because he’s seriously concerned for his SIL and niece or wants to replace his own family, we don’t know (yet). I hope for a noble motivation rather than a sinister one, though.

Marrying your brother’s widow only became legal in the UK in 1921 (“Deceased Brother’s Widow’s Marriage Bill”, 1924 in Northern Ireland the “Deceased Brother’s Widow’s Marriage Act”. The more you know!) I couldn’t find anything about Ireland or the USA, but as with so many things, people probably didn’t give a fig for the law and married, anyway.

Religion aside, the reasons were of a practical nature. For one, land, money and kids were kept within the family (hence this kind of marriage being mainly found in clan-based, patriarchal societies), for the other it’s an insurance for widows and their children if their husband and provider dies. Plus the whole “one blood, one family” thing. It’s all very archaic, yet still happening around the world. And it makes for great TV drama.

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