Late Roman and early medieval law regarded all three of these things somewhat equally. In all cases the punishment was severe, usually death or the confiscation of property depending on the woman’s status, both if she were a nun. Any marriage between the two, even if the woman and her family consented, even if they had already been betrothed, was prohibited. In cases of abduction or elopement, there was not necessarily the assumption that any sort of sex had occurred.
By the 11th century it began to be defined as a specifically sexual crime and the question of the woman’s consent to sex** became central in defining what kind of offense had occurred. Canon law regarded raptus as an offense against the woman and allowed for the excommunication of the offender. It also forbid marriage between the two people involved, even if the woman consented to it. Civil law, meanwhile, viewed it as an offense against the woman’s father, in many places allowed for capital punishment,*** and in some places ran directly counter to canon law and required a woman to marry her rapist. Some lawyers regarded what we would now call spousal rape as a crime, others did not. All of them insisted on the return of a married woman to her spouse.
Over the course of the 12th and 13th centuries, the requirement that a woman noticeably resist and protest became more and more important. The restrictions on subsequent marriage were loosened as well, though the woman’s consent was imperative.**** It was a crime to rape one’s betrothed but not one’s wife, though the later was considered a mortal sin. The penalties remained mostly the same: capital punishment in some cases, loss of property in most. In most places, Sicily being the notable exception, the law also provided no protection for prostitutes.
By the 14th and 15th centuries, the legal term raptus had come much closer to the modern definitions of rape. Elopement and abduction were still considered related but lesser crimes, and the woman’s protests and resistance were key elements in defining the difference.
*Seduction was a separate, though related issue. Some of what we call rape now would have fallen under seduction rather than raptus.
**Not to running away. Her consent there defined the difference between abduction and elopement.
***In practice, of course, this was very much affected by class differences. A merchant who raped a noblewoman would be lucky to escape with his life. A lord who raped a peasant could get away with just giving her a dowry or even without any penalty at all.
****Her family’s consent was not. Her father could disinherit her, but several legal texts include the requirement that he give her a dowry anyway provided she married someone of the appropriate station.
Brundage, James A. Law, Sex, and Christian Society in Medieval Europe. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.
Jewell, Helen M. Women in Dark Age and Early Medieval Europe c. 500-1200. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.
Marriage Canons in The Decretum of Gratian - Catholic University of America