Marriage in Medieval Times



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Marriage in Medieval Times

By Rachelle Carter


When someone says the word marriage today we think about two people who are in love and who want to spend the rest of their lives with each other. Marriage is a serious commitment, one that isn't taken lightly for most people. One wouldn't likely marry a stranger they just met for instance. In the Medieval Times, however, marriage was quite different. Women didn't have a choice as to who they would marry. Most of the time they didn't even know the man before they were married. Marriage was different in other ways back then too. There were many reasons a marriage could not take place, and strict rules for whether or not a divorce was allowed. Despite the differences in various aspects of marriage, the marriage ceremony has stayed rather similar over the years. We also carry on some of the same traditions in today's society.

In the middle ages marriages were done by arrangement. Women were not allowed to choose who they wanted to marry. However, sometimes men were able to choose their bride. Marriage was not based on love. Husbands and wives were generally strangers until they first met. If love was involved at all it came after the couple had been married. Even if love did not develop through marriage, the couple generally developed a friendship of some sort. The arrangement of marriage was done by the children's parents. In the Middle Ages children were married at a young age. Girls were as young as 12 when they married, and boys as young as 17. The arrangement of the marriage was based on monetary worth. The family of the girl who was to be married gives a dowry,or donation, to the boy she is to marry. The dowry goes with her at the time of the marriage and stays with the boy forever (Renolds).

After the marriage was arranged a wedding notice was posted on the door of the church. The notice was put up to ensure that there were no grounds for prohibiting the marriage. The notice stated who was to be married, and if anyone knew any reasons the two could not marry they were to come forward with the reason. If the reason were a valid one the wedding would be prohibited (Rice).

There were many reasons for prohibiting a marriage. One reason was consanguinity, if the two were too closely related. If the boy or the girl had taken a monastic or religious vow the marriage was also prohibited. Sometimes widows or widowers took vows of celibacy on the death of their spouse, and later regretted doing so when they could not remarry. Other reasons which also prohibited marriage, but were not grounds for a divorce, were rape, adultery, and incest. A couple could also not be married during a time of fasting, such as lent or advent. Nor could a couple be married by someone who had killed someone (Rice).

The church ceremony in the middle ages took place outside the church door before entering the church for a nuptial mass. During the ceremony in front of the church doors the man stood on the right side and the woman stood on the left side, facing the door of the church. "The reason being that she was formed out of a rib in the left side of Adam (Amt, p.84)." The priest begins by asking if anyone knows of any reason the couple should not be married. He also asks this of the man and woman so they may confess any reasons for prohibiting their marriage (Amt, p.84).

The ceremony proceeds with the priest saying, "N[ame] wilt though have this woman to thy wedded wife, wilt the love her, and honor her, keep her and guard her, in health and in sickness, as a husband should a wife, and forsaking all others on account of her, keep thee only unto her, so long as ye both shall live? (Amt, p.84)" Then the priest, changing the wording of "as a husband should a wife", asks the same of the woman. Both the man and the woman should answer by saying "I will (Amt, p.84-5)." At this time the woman is given by her father. The wedding continues with the saying of vows. Both the man and the woman, with the exception of the words wife and husband, say, "I N. take thee N. to my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness, and in health, till death do us part, if the holy church will ordain it: And thereto I plight thee my troth (Amt, p. 85)." At this time the are given to the priest to bless them. He gives them back and the ring exchange occurs. They bow their heads and the priest gives them a blessing. As husband and wife they enter the church, where they kneel before the altar. At the altar the priest gives a prayer and a blessing, thus ending the marriage ceremony (Amt, p.85).

Many of the things that took place during the time of a wedding have become traditions, and are currently practiced today. The marriage ceremony, for example, contains much of the same wording as was used in the middle ages. Today, the man and the woman stand on the same sides of the altar as they did in the middle ages. The wedding ceremony of today also includes a ring exchange, and the ring is put on the fourth finger, the same finger it was placed on during the middle ages. Even nuns marrying the church wore a ring on their fourth finger. In the middle ages a couple and their families would have a large feast after the wedding, this is still carried on in today's society (Rice).

One advantage we have today is the acceptance of divorce. People today can get divorced for practically any reason. In the middle ages there were few reasons the wedding could be dissolved. One reason was if either the man or woman were not of legal age, 12 for girls and 14 for boys. If the husband or wife had previously made a religious or monastic vow or were not Christian, the marriage would be dissolved. The last reason a marriage could end was if the woman, not the man, was incapable of sexual relations (Rice).

Marriages in the middle ages were done by arrangement. Most of the time the man and women did not know each other prior to their wedding. The marriage involved a dowry, and a ceremony beginning at the chute door and proceeding into the church. After the couple were married there were few reasons for divorce which were strictly adhered to. Over time marriages have carried on similar traditions and have also changed to involve the man and woman in deciding who they want to marry, and most importantly: LOVE.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Amt, Emilie. Women's Lives in Medieval Europe.New York, Routledge:1993

 (Click here to go to huge section on Medieval, Celtic & Norse marriage ceremonies, handfasting, law of marriage etc...)


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Law, Sex, and Christian Society in Medieval Europe

 "Jesus said remarkably little about sexual conduct, and sex was not a central issue in his moral teaching. But Jesus' followers during the first four or five generations after his death were far more concerned about sexual morality than Jesus himself had been."

  "Despite claims to the contrary, Christian sexual ethics have been neither uniform nor static."

  "Three major patterns of sexual doctrine underlie the diverse beliefs about sexual morality that have been current in Western Christendom since the patristic period. One pattern centered on the reproductive function of sex and established nature and the natural as the criterion of what was licit; the second focused on the notion that sex was impure, a source of shame and defilement; the third emphasized sexual relations as a source of intimacy, as a symbol and expression of conjugal love. Medieval writers placed greater emphasis upon the first two patters, but at various times prior to the Reformation, and in many segments of Christian society since then, all three approaches and the consequences deduced from them have been held and taught in various combinations."

  "Married couples among the Roman elite lived in a social system in which the family, as modern societies think of it, did not exist. The Roman familia meant a household, not a family in the modern sense, and households came in a great variety of sizes and shapes. Among the wealthy and powerful, the household often numbered hundreds of persons and things: children, servants, slaves, livestock, and other property were all part of the familia, although his wife and children were members of it and, like the servants, and slaves, oxen and geese, and the rest of the familia, they belonged to the paterfamilia. Among the poor, however, households were apparently small, since they included no slaves or servants and little property. The familia of the humble often consisted simply of a woman and her children. Again, the male head of household was not part of his own familia."

  "Paul's treatment both of illicit sex outside of marriage (porneia) and of marital sex itself was influenced by his conviction that the end of the world was imminent."

  "The great Biblical exegete, Origen (ca. A.D. 185-253/55), and the anonymous author of the Gnostic Gospels according to the Egyptians, for example, believed that Adam and Eve had been innocent of sexual temptation or even sexual feelings in Paradise."

  "Few early patristic writers bothered to account for the dislike and revulsion that characterized their treatment of sex. They plainly felt that no explanation was required, that sex was so filthy and degrading that the reason for condemnation of it was self-evident."

  "Marriages of the clergy posed special problems for Christian authorities. Although a few early writers expressed a preference that clerics not marry at all, nearly every third-century Christian clergyman whose marital status is known seems to have been married. The first effort to prohibit clerical marriage appeared in the canons of Elvira in the early fourth century."

  "Augustine and his contemporaries among the Fathers considered sex a grave moral danger in part because they believed that sexual feelings and urges, particularly the reactions of the genital organs, were not fully under the control of the human will."

  According to Augustine, "Prior to the Fall sexual organs had been under conscious control; but just as our first parents rebelled against God, so after the Fall our genitals rebelled against our will. Humans then became incapable of controlling either their sexual desires or the physical reactions of their gonads."

  "He ["St." Jerome] also furnished generations of misogynist writers with a battery of elegant vituperation and ferocious mockery directed against the foibles and follies of women.

 Patristic discussions of the place of sex in the Christian life are shot through with a fundamental ambivalence about the place of women in the scheme of salvation. Augustine agreed clearly and emphatically with other patristic writers in requiring that men observe the same norms of sexual conduct as women. At the same time, however, Augustine, like other patristic authors, considered women frankly inferior to men, both physically and morally.

 . . . "I fail to see what use woman can be to man," Augustine said, "if one excludes the function of bearing children." "

  "Cassian and others elaborated schemes of discipline to ward off dangerous sexual impulses. These plans regulated diet, clothing, social contacts, sleeping habits, posture, and other aspects of daily living with the aim of eliminating physical, mental, or emotional stimuli that might trigger responses and sexual desires. . . .

 The one means of fighting off sexual temptations at which practically all authorities drew the line was castration. Although one or tow extremists - Origen was the best known - had advocated and even practiced this radical method of combating sexual temptation, orthodox opinion held that this solution carried a good thing too far. Both the so-called Canons of the Apostles and the genuine canons of the Council of Nicaea (325) prohibited the practice."

  "Patristic writers assumed, as Roman law did, that consent made marriage. They rejected the notion that consummation was an essential part of marriage. It made no difference whether a couple ever went to bed together; so long as they consented to marry one another, that was what counted. If consummation was not essential, it might follow that sexual impotence constituted no reason for holding a marriage invalid, and Augustine at any rate seems to have subscribed to this view.

 Christian authorities warned married couples that they should have sex only for proper reasons. Augustine pointed to the Old Testament prophets as examples for married persons of his own generation. The prophets, he claimed, made love to their wives rationally and solely for procreative purposes. Since marital sex is a favor, not a right, couples should avoid making love merely for enjoyment or because they felt like it. Only propagation of the species, Augustine warned, entitled them to make use of the marital privileges blamelessly.

 But while Augustine and his contemporaries cautioned against intercourse for pleasure, they also reminded their married hearers that they were obliged to give their spouses sex on demand. The marital debt was a right that either party could claim. the partner from whom it was demanded must accede to the spouse's request, and doing so was no sin. The other partner might sin in asking payment of the sexual debt for wrongful reasons or at inappropriate times, but the spouse who complied did not share the guilt. If a couple agreed by mutual consent to cease having sexual relations and one of them later had a change of mind, however, the other party had no obligation to honor a demand for the resumption of marital intercourse. A mutual decision to forego sexual relations canceled the marital debt, and neither party could thenceforth rescind that decision.

 The marital debt created a parity of rights and obligations between spouses. Each had an equal right to demand that it be paid; each had an equal obligation to comply with the other's demands. Equality of the sexes in marriage meant equality in the marriage bed, but not outside of it. Just as each spouse was entitled to sexual service from the other on demand, so each was entitled to require sexual fidelity from the other. Neither had a right to seek sexual fulfillment outside of marriage, even if the other party was, for example, absent or ill and thus sexually unavailable.

 Cessation of marital relations did not break the bond of marriage, just as the beginning of sexual relations was irrelevant to the contracting of marriage. The evident aim of patristic matrimonial theory was to separate marriage as far as possible from its sexual component, defining it as a contractual union, separate and distinct from the sexual union of the married persons."

  "Classical Roman law, as we have seen, based the existence of marriage on affectio maritalis. Where marital affection existed between a couple, they were married; when marital affection ceased, the marriage ended. In the post-classical period this concept of marriage underwent a slight but important change. Marriage in postclassical law continued to be contracted by consent, which implied martial affection; but once created, the marriage continued until the relationship ended by death or divorce. Classical Roman marriage, accordingly, required continuing consent of the parties, while postclassical marriage needed only initial consent."

 "Ordinary people who chose not to devote their lives to ascetic observances were often advised that their best defense against the ever present urge to copulate was to marry early. For this reason St. John Chrysostom warned parents to see to it that their children married soon after they reached the age of puberty.

 All sexual relations outside of marriage amounted to fornication."

 When intercourse was forbidden:

When one's wife is menstruating, pregnant, or nursing
During Lent, Advent, Whitsun Week, or Easter week
On feast days, fast days, Sunday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday
During daylight
If you are naked
If you are in church
Unless you are trying to produce a child

And be careful - no fondling, no lewd kisses, no oral sex, no strange positions, only once, try not to enjoy it, and wash afterwards (purify oneself from the pollution)

  "Practical considerations, mainly economic, supported the drive for an unmarried clergy. Married clergy, the reformers declared, were expensive to maintain - married priests, after all, had to provide food, clothes, and housing for those bawling babies and slatternly wives, and the church's resources were thereby frittered away, not in the service of God, but in catering to the whims of the wives and children of married clerics. Even worse, married priests, bishops, and others would be tempted to treat their ecclesiastical offices as family property and to convert the sacred dignity into the family heritage. This last was close to the mark. Sacerdotal dynasties were common, almost the norm, in some regions of eleventh-century Europe, and had been commonplace for centuries."

  ". . . marital sex must not be "unnatural" which Gratian apparently took to mean anal copulation and perhaps oral sex as well. Unnatural sex in marriage was worse than adultery or fornication, according to sources that Gratian cited. His objection was not primarily that anal and oral sex were contraceptive; rather he reprobated these types of intercourse because they were an inappropriate use of the sex organs, and that, he believed, ran counter to natural law. Intercourse in a "natural fashion but with contraceptive intent Gratian classed as a very slight sin, a moral blemish, much like such other minuta peccata as excessive talking, eating after one's hunger was sated, registering annoyance at an importunate beggar, or oversleeping, and as a result being later for divine services."

  "The marital debt was one area in which Gratian not only conceded but absolutely insisted that men and women enjoyed equal rights before the law. The wife had every bit as much right to demand sexual dues from her husband as he did from her. This parity in respect to the conjugal debt was Gratian's most emphatic venture in the direction of equality between the sexes."

  "Several decretists noted the irony and apparent inequity of allowing men who had kept concubines to be ordained, while denying orders to those who had contracted two legitimate and perfectly legal marriages."

  "The twelfth-century has been called the century of love, because of the celebration of love in the poetry of the period."

  Under Pope Alexander III's reforms: "Sexual intercourse created a bond that precluded subsequent marriage between either party and members to the other party's immediate family. Further, once married persons had consummated their union, Alexander was prepared to force them to continue sexual relations so long as either party desired them. Even if one party contracted leprosy, the sexual obligation remained in force. The pope further held that couples who had exchanged consent before reaching the minimum age for marriage were bound by their agreement if they had sexual intercourse; consummation thus outweighed the impediment of minority. Likewise a conditional marriage became binding if the parties had intercourse, whether or not the stipulated conditions had been fulfilled - again, sexual relations healed a defect in marital consent."

  "Europe in 1198 was spotted with festering patches of heresy. In the manufacturing towns of northern Italy and southern France the unordained and untrained followers of Peter Waldo were preaching and teaching an alarming brand of Christianity that denied the special authority of the clergy and cast doubt on the spiritual value of the sacraments. Elsewhere, Cathar heretics attacked the benevolence of the Creator by proclaiming that the material world was intrinsically evil; they maintained that only the spiritual realm, on which they seemed to feel they had a monopoly, had been created by an all-good deity."

 Speaking of sexual offenses in the 14th and 15th centuries

"The popular belief that simple fornication between unmarried persons was neither a sin nor a crime persisted, although this had been classified formally as heresy since 1287."

 "Several authorities maintained that when a woman committed adultery, her husband was at fault and should be punished as much or more than she was, but I have yet to see a case in which that was done."

 "Dowry represented the married woman's claim to financial security, but that security might be jeopardized by her own actions or those of her husband. The married woman who committed adultery stood to lose her dowry, and the beneficiary in that case was her husband, who received part or all of it as compensation for his humiliation."

  "The sixteenth century Reformation was not entirely centered on abstract issues of theology, such as justification by faith, or on ecclesiological problems, such as the plenitude of papal power or the priesthood of all believers. Problems involving sexual conduct were also at issue in the struggles between Protestant and Catholic.

 Roman Catholic and Protestant beliefs differed sharply on questions about the sacramentally of marriage, clerical celibacy, divorce and remarriage, and ultimately about the aims and purposes of human sexuality itself. The Catholic reaction, both in its reform mode and in its Counter-Reformation mode, tended to sharpen rather than blunt the difference between the two camps."

 ". . . most Protestants regarded celibacy as an oddity, graced with no special prestige or privilege. Protestant writers treated sex as a normal part of conjugal relationships, a sign of love between husband and wife, rather than a failing that required a procreative purpose to excuse it. For Protestants, marriage was a basic Christian institution, approved by Scriptures, and integral to a full human life. Reformers praised the beauty, dignity, and morality of married life as a central feature of Christian society; but at the same time, they also taught that marriages could be terminated for good cause. Since marriage for them was no sacrament, questions that troubled Roman Catholic writers when dealing with divorce and remarriage created fewer difficulties for Protestant theologians."

  "Long before the time of Jesus, philosophers and rulers had learned to be wary of sex. this fiery passion must be controlled lest it disrupt settled households and property arrangements and undermine the social harmony of communities."

  "Writers who take reproduction as the sole or primary goal of sex have virtually without exception dealt with human sexuality from an exclusively male perspective. Men are normally fertile from puberty to late old age, and male orgasm accompanies the emission of sperm. Thus the view that sex and reproduction are inextricably joined together reflects the experience of most men. Women experience sex differently. Females are fertile only for a fraction of their adult life, from puberty to menopause. The biological cycle of the human female, unlike that of most other animals, does not involve a close link between ovulation and the female sex drive. Moreover, orgasm for women is primarily a function of the clitoris, which has no reproductive function at all. thus the link between sexual satisfaction and reproduction is relatively weak from a woman's viewpoint. Reproductionist writers about sexual morality have historically rejected this point of view. Indeed, they have rarely even considered it."

  "The model of sexuality that lays primary emphasis on the impurity of sex also remains vigorous." page

  "Advocates of the pollution model of sex attach only secondary importance to procreation; hence they tend not to emphasize "nature" as a criterion of sexual morality, nor are they greatly concerned about contraception. Unlike procreationists, pollutionists strongly favor limiting marital relations by restricting the times, seasons, places, and circumstances in which sex is allowed."

  "The third model of sexuality views marital sex as a source of intimacy and affection, as both a symbol and a source of conjugal love. Subscribers to this school of thought regard sexual pleasure more positively than do adherents of the other two models."

  "Writers at different periods during the Middle Ages adopted elements of each of these models of human sexuality, as we have seen, in varying combinations and with varying degrees of enthusiasm.

  "Since the Reformation, Protestant Christians have often emphasized the third model of sexuality, although some Protestant authorities (notably the Puritans) stressed the impurity view."

  "Catholic tradition has consistently opposed many varieties of sexual expression - it condemns premarital and extramarital relationships, remarriage following divorce, and all types of deviant sexual practices, including oral and anal intercourse (either homosexual or heterosexual) and masturbation - and classifies them as grievous sins."

  "These three factors - the continuity of the socioeconomic environment, the continuing identification of the erotic with the sacred, and the inertia of the law and its institutions - not only help to explain the continuity of medieval sexual teaching, but are useful in understanding the historical development of that teaching itself."

  "While the medieval church's marriage and sex policies may have helped to increase ecclesiastical wealth, it does not necessarily follow that the system was designed in order to achieve that goal, although some Protestant reformers suspected that it had been. We are more likely dealing with an unintended result of the Church's urge to protect the sanctity of sex, rather than with policy consciously created to enrich the ecclesiastical establishment.

 The leaders of the medieval church, although occasionally sensitive to the problems and moral dilemmas of their flocks, were often indifferent to the social implications that their policies created. Nowhere was their indifference more marked than in matters concerning reproduction and family life. . .

. . . Virtually all restrictions that now apply to sexual behavior in Western societies stem form moral convictions enshrined in medieval canonical jurisprudence."

  'The history of changing concepts among Christian leaders and intellectuals about the nature of human sexuality and about the kinds and varieties of sexual practices that are consistent with Christian beliefs suggests that dogmatic ascertains about the unity, consistency, and invariably of Christian sexual morality must be treated with skepticism. "Christian sexual morality" has encompassed a wide range of inconsistent views."

  "The failure of medieval efforts to eradicate fornication, concubinage, premarital cohabitation, adultery, and sodomy through legal prescriptions, even where those prescriptions were backed by serious enforcement efforts, is rather sobering. It suggests that simply enacting theological principles into law is not likely to be a rewarding exercise."

What were weddings like during the Middle Ages?

So long as the couple made the vows before a witness, the marriage was valid--no priest had to be present (although this is increasingly not the case after the 13th century).



Weddings during the Middle Ages were considered family/community affairs. The only thing needed to create a marriage was for both partners to state their consent to take one another as spouses. Witnesses were not always necessary, nor was the presence of the clergy. In Italy, for example, the marriage was divided into three parts. The first portion consisted of the families of the groom and bride drawing up the papers. The bride didn't have to even be there for that. The second, the betrothal, was legally binding and may or may not have involved consummation. At this celebration, the couple exchanged gifts (a ring, a piece of fruit, etc.), clasped hands and exchanged a kiss. The "vows" could be a simple as, "Will you marry me?" "I will." The third part of the wedding, which could occur several years after the betrothal, was the removal of the bride to the groom's home. The role of the clergy at a medieval wedding was simply to bless the couple. It wasn't official church policy until the council of Trent in the 15th century that a third party [c.f. a priest], as opposed to the couple themselves, was responsible for performing the wedding. In the later medieval period, the wedding ceremony moved from the house of the bride to the church. It began with a procession to the church from the bride's house. Vows were exchanged outside the church (BTW, the priest gave the bride to the groom...I don't think she was presented by her father) and then everyone moved inside for Mass. After Mass, the procession went back to the bride's house for a feast. Musicians accompanied the procession.

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A word on historical English weddings. Traditionally, in front of the church door, the groom would, in front of witnesses, announce his bride's dower--that portion (usually 1/3) of his holdings she would be allowed to use should he die before she did (she could also inherit land and property, but this was a different thing). They would then go in for the solemnization of vows (very short) and the nuptial mass.

For much of Western history, marriage was an exchange of property, i.e. the woman was being given by her father to her husband. The union of property & money & lineage were what was being celebrated --- not so much the union of two lovers. Hence, "real" medieval & Renaissance wedding ceremonies were simple legal unions, sanctioned by the Church, and done with as many important people as possible to witness it.
"Real" ceremonies of the time were not terribly intricate in Western Europe & the UK, so I think it would be much more interesting, charming, and enjoyable to make up your own medieval-ish or Renaissance-esque wedding ceremony. Weddings are filled with 'traditions' such as the tossing  of the bouquet, the garter toss, the bride wearing white  dress and veil, the lighting of the unity candle, the  exchange of wedding rings, etc.  Just how far back do these 'traditions' really go?  Do any of them stem from medieval or renaissance times?

The expression "tie the knot" comes from Roman times when the bride wore a girdle that was tied in knots which the groom had the fun of untying. Diamond engagement rings were given by medieval Italians, because of their belief that the diamond was created from the flames of love. Ancient Spartan soldiers were the first to hold stag parties. The groom would feast with his male friends on the night before the wedding. There he would say goodbye to the carefree days of bachelorhood and swear continued allegiance to his comrades.


Bridal showers were also meant to strengthen the friendships between the bride and her friends, give her moral support, and help her prepare for her marriage.
The idea to give gifts is fairly new, dating from the 1890's. At one shower, the bride's friend placed small gifts inside a Japanese parasol, and then opened it over the bride's head so all of the presents would "shower" over her. When word of this hit the fashion pages, people were so charmed, they decided to do the same at their showers.
The bridal party has many origins, one of which comes from the Anglo Saxon days. When the groom was about to capture his bride, he needed the help of his friends, the "bridesmen" or "brideknights". They would make sure the bride got to the church and to the groom's house afterwards. The bride also had women to help her, the "bridesmaids" or "brideswomen".
The white wedding dress was made popular by Anne of Brittany in 1499. Before that, a woman just wore her best dress.
In biblical days, blue (not white) represented purity, and the bride and groom would wear a blue band around the bottom of their wedding attire, hence something blue. It is unknown when wedding rings were first worn. They were probably made of a strong metal, like iron so that it wouldn't break easily which would have been a very bad omen. The ancient Romans believed that the vein in the third finger ran directly to the heart, so wearing the ring on that finger joined the couples hearts and destiny.
Weddings just wouldn't be complete without fertility symbols, like the wedding cake. Ancient Romans would bake a cake made of wheat or barley and break it over the bride's head as a symbol of her fertility. It became tradition to pile up several small cakes, one on top of the other, as high as they could, and the bride and groom would kiss over the tower and try not to knock it down. If they were successful, it meant a lifetime of prosperity. During the reign of King Charles II of England, it became customary to turn this cake into an enjoyably edible palace, iced with white sugar.
Tying shoes to the bumper of the car represents the symbolism and power of shoes in ancient times. Egyptians would exchange sandals when they exchanged goods, so when the father of the bride gave his daughter to the groom, he would also give the brides sandals to show that she now belonged to the groom. In Anglo Saxon times, the groom would tap the heel of the bride's shoe to show his authority over her. In later times, people would throw shoes at the couple, and now we just tie shoes to their car. (This information is from the book "A Natural History of Love," by Diane Ackerman)

Do the garter and bouquet tosses really date back to medieval times?

The garter toss is one of the oldest surviving wedding traditions. Back in medieval times, it was customary for friends, relatives, guests to accompany the bridal couple to the marriage bed. As time went on, this became rowdier and rowdier to the point that some guests were all too eager to help the bride out of her wedding clothes. To forestall such impropriety, the garters were quickly removed and thrown to the mob as a distraction. As time went on, it has evolved into the tradition we now know.

The wedding guests would follow the couple back to their room, and try to grab the bride's garter for good luck. Brides starting tossing their garter to the crowd as a means of self preservation! As society changed it became inappropriate to throw part of your underwear, and the bouquet was substituted. Sometime this century, the garter toss was added back in as a means of equalizing the tradition. Women could catch the bouquet and men could catch the garter. Why the groom can't throw part of his own costume is beyond me.

The sources I read indicated that in the past anything of a bride's was lucky--gloves, flowers, garters, etc. It was said that a man who gave his love the garter of a bride would be guaranteed faithfulness. The guests were so eager to get the garter, often the bride would be accosted at the altar by men who stole it from her. Smart brides began having men compete for the garter--usually a foot or horse race. Also, many would give out small colored ribbons called "favours" to guests as an attempt to avoid being turned upside down by men eager for their garter. I've also read that the guests would sit at the end of the bed with their backs to the bride and groom. Men would throw the bride's stocking over their shoulder and try to hit her nose, while women would do the same for the groom. Those with good aim were the next to be married. Sound like a fun wedding night?

 What is the story behind the wedding rhyme:
     "Something old, something new,
          Something borrowed, something blue,
          And a lucky sixpence for your shoe."
It's from the late 19th century, authorship unknown.

The following is from Oxford's -A Dictionary of Superstitions- (p.42-43): "Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue" was quoted in a 1883 newspaper and ascribed to "some Lancashire friends." Something old tradition- no pre-20th century citations. The editors point out a possible link to the belief that "something old" will protect a baby, first cited at 1659. No citations for "something new." Something borrowedsame 1883 paper (one issue earlier) "it is widely accounted


'lucky' to wear something...which has already been worn by a happy bride at her wedding."
Something blue- Wearing blue to express faithfulness traced back as far as a 1390 citation from Chaucer's "Squire's Tale." -Sixpence- appears twice, as "silver sixpence" and "lucky sixpence" (the third line scans with a more staccato rhythym than the first two.). There's 1774 record of a Scottish groom using a sixpence in his shoe to ward off evil from his rival, and an 1814 (Scottish again) citation that the bride "wear a piece of silver in one of her shoes" to ward evil from disappointed suitors. There are also 20th century citations to the bride's walking on a gold coin to produce
prosperity. For your curiousity, pre-1650 wedding superstitions included: 1549 the lifting over the threshhold; 1601 sun seen shining on the bride = good fortune; 1648 garters passed on to groomsmen and bridesmaids; 1604 bride's left stocking thrown (as modern bouquet); 1615 premature marriage producing premature death; 1592 unmarried elder sisters dancing barefoot at wedding party; 1634 one wedding brings another; stepping between couple unlucky (or even caused by the devil).

Handfasting refers to the old practice of trial marriages for a year and a day, supposedly prevalent in Scotland, Wales and Ireland. I've never actually run across other references to this other than Sir Walter Scott (19th cent.).

"When we are handfasted, as we term it, we are man and wife for a year and a day; that space gone by, each may choose another mate, or, at their pleasure, may call the priest to marry them for life; and this we call handfasting."

     -- Sir Walter Scott, _The Monastery_ (1820), ch. 25.

 

                   -------------------------



The old way in Great Britain for couples to pledge their betrothal was for them to join hands, his right to her right, his left to her left, so from above they looked like an infinity symbol. Done in front of witnesses, this made them officially "married" for a year and a day, following which they could renew permanently or for another year and a day. This was called "handfasting" and was used extensively in the rural areas where priests and ministers didn't go all that often. Sharing a cup and pledging their betrothal in front of witnesses used to accomplish the same thing (usually done in taverns) but was eventually outlawed in most of Europe.

"This custom of handfasting actually prevailed in the upland days. It arose partly from the want of priests. While the convents subsisted, monks were detached on regular circuits through the wilder districts, to marry those who had lived in this species of connexion."


      -- Andrew Lang,The Monastery

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ANCIENT NORSE SOCIETY

The juridical procedure in Norse society was complicated, but three ceremonial actions seem to have been necessary to make the marriage complete:

Engagement, which meant that the man and the woman were promised to each other. This was part of the deal, and economic compensation was necessary if one side wanted to break the engagement.

Wedding, where the bride was formally given to the bridegroom by her guardian, usually her father. This was done at a feast in the bridegroom's home. "I give thee my daughter" was the formula spoken by the guardian.

Bedding, where the couple went to bed together in the presence of witnesses. This was not a pornographic show. The witnesses left before any sexual action began. But the fact that the couple had gone to bed together was firmly established.

With Christianity came a different perspective. Marriage was now a sacrament, instituted by God and therefore something that concerned both church and society outside the two families. Mutual consent was demanded, and the husband was expected to be faithful. These were new ideas.

Medieval wedding ceremonies

The first part of the ceremony took place outside the church door. At cathedrals with several entrances, there was usually a designated "bridal door" for this. The actions done there corresponded to the functions of the old germanic ceremony. Even though it was now led by a priest, it was essentially a secular act by which the union of the families was confirmed.

When people had arrived at the church door, the men were placed on the right side and the women on the left. If the bride was a virgin, her hands were bare. If she was a widow, she wore gloves. In some countries the most important parts were conducted in the vernacular, in others everything was in Latin. In the latter case, the priest would read the words that the bride and bridegroom were supposed to repeat.

The ceremony at the church door began with the mutual consent of the man and the woman. The priest asked the man if he would take the woman for his wife. The man replied "Yes", and then turned to the woman and said: "I take thee, N. now to be my wife, in the name of the Lord". The same was then repeated for the woman.

Next, the priest blessed the ring. Only one ring was used, given by the man to the woman. The ring was sprinkled with holy water, the bridegroom took the ring and moved it so that it came to be placed in turn on the bride's thumb, index finger and long finger - where it stayed. This was accompanied by the priest (or the bridegroom) saying: "In the name of the Father - and the Son - and the Holy Spirit". Non-Scandinavian rituals have different wordings and movements, where the ring would end on what we call the ring finger.

Now the priest would bless the couple, after which the whole party moved into the church. According to some rituals, the couple held burning candles in their hands during the procession.

Inside, a "bridal mass" was celebrated. It consisted of prayers, hymns, bible reading, antiphonals, and culminated in the solemn bridal benediction. The couple kneeled at the altar and a fine piece of cloth (called a "paell" in Swedish) was held over them by four unmarried people. The blessing of the bride included many words from the Old Testament, particularly the apocryphic book of Tobias. It included wishes that she should be good to her husband like Rachel, wise like Rebecca, and faithful like Sarah. Let her be fertile, chaste and innocent, and let them both live to see their offspring to the third and fourth generation. The bridal benediction is very old - the first known example is from the 5th century.

After this benediction a mass (communion) followed. The ritual kissing of the bride belongs here, at the moment of the kiss of peace. The priest kissed the bridegroom, who kissed the bride, and then the bride passed the kiss on to the women while an assistant cleric brought it from the priest to the male side of the church (of course the men were on the south side and the women on the north side in the nave).

Interestingly enough, the formula "I now pronounce you man and wife" was not used everywhere. It occurs in late period German and French rituals, but there is evidence that in older times, the priest left the confirmation of the marriage to God: "May the God of Abraham, Isac and Jacob unite youI"

Afterwards, in the evening, there was the bedding. The Church adopted this pagan custom and converted it from a juridical act into a blessing of the matrimonial bed.

Remember also that medieval wedding gowns were usually not white, as far as I know.

I hope some of the above may be of use to you. If you want a medieval wedding, I suggest that you choose such medieval elements that are compatible with your faith and that are practically feasible, and try to incorporate them into whatever modern ritual your church is using. Having parts of the lIn regards to the query as to information on Italian Renaissance (especially Venetian) weddings, information on marriage itself in Venice may be found in both:

From the Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir: The betrothal was the big thing, with the actual nuptials merely a followup. This said, I would venture to guess that during the 12th century, the average couple would have any ceremony that felt right to them and their families (usually the declaration of dower, or a reading of the betrothal or nuptial agrement), even to the


almost-legendary jumping over a broomstick, followed by a mass, and of course by a party.

The Church always held that the essence of marriage was consent, and in that sense, a priest was not necessary. But for a number of reasons (one of them being that the Church was called upon, from time to time, to assess the validity of existing marriages, usually in royal cases where a king wanted to dump a wife, and it was very hard to do this with any semblance of validity unless there were witnesses), the Church began to require public witnesses on its behalf, and to move toward the requirement that a priest to be present and the marriage be formally acknowledged and recorded.

Hence what you say next:

>This said, I would venture to guess that during the 12th century,


>the average couple would have any ceremony that felt right to
>them and their families (usually the declaration of dower, or a
>reading of the betrothal or nuptial agrement), even to the
>almost-legendary jumping over a broomstick, followed by a mass,
>and of course by a party is simply not so. What they did had to satisfy the Church's requirements of the time, and in particular, had to satisfy the Church's witness that the requirement of serious present intent was fulfilled.

Tradition plays a tremendous role in setting ceremony; and in the middle ages, there is every evidence that it did so more, since religious conformity (denial of which is the basis for a huge percentage of modern variations) was the overwhelming rule.

Finally, the SCA normally assumes that its members are upper class. In the High Middle Ages, there are upper class Jews and Muslims as well as Christians in parts of Europe at various times. One might on rare occasion even find someone who professed himself openly to be atheist. But by that point, there are _no_ openly admitted upper class pagans in Europe.

In early Saxon days and through the 18th century, it was the poorer bride who came to her wedding dressed in a plain white robe. This was in the nature of a public statement that she brought nothing with her to her marriage and that therefore her husband was not responsible for her debts. Colors used for wedding dresses reflected the values that were ascribed to certain colors. Blue was used to show constancy. Green was an indicator of youth. A blue ribbon on the shoulder symbolized purity, fidelity and love. Two colors not used much in medieval wedding gowns were yellow and gold, the first because it symbolized jeolousy and the second because it symbolized avarice.

The following is a list of catalogs which have been suggested for inclusion in the Medieval and Renaissance Wedding Faq as sources of clothing and/or items with medieval flavor.

For medieval clothing, patterns and items:

Raiments
P.O. Box 93095
Pasadena, CA 91109

Renaissance Herald (was Renaissance Shopper)


P.O. Box 422
Riverside, CA 92502

Amazon Vinegar & Pickling Works


2218 East 11th Street
Davenport, IA 52803

Exclusively Weddings


1301 Carolina Street
Greensboro, NC 27401
1-800-759-7666

Harriet's, ETc


Millwood Crossing
381 Millwood Avenue
Winchester, VA 22601

Museum Replicas Ltd


2143 Gees Mill road
Box 840
Conyers, GA 30207
1-800-883-8838

The Noble Collection


P.O. Box 831
Merrifield, VA 22116

Hedgehog Handiworks


8406 Flight Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90045

Dancing Dragon 5670 West End Road, #4


P.O. Box 1106
Arcata, CA 95521
1-800-322-6041

Past Times


280 Summer Street
Boston, MA 02210-1182
1-800-242-1020

For paper products, parchment, invitations, and gifts:

Colorful Images
1401 South Sunset Street
Longmont, Co 80501-6755
1-800-458-7999

Catalogs for the Medieval and Renaissance Wedding Faq. The same request applies...if you have a copy of any of these catalogs or have ordered from the companies.

Whole Costumer's Catalog
PO Box 207
Beallsville, PA 15313

Carolina Stitches in Time


Box 10933
Winston-Salem, N.C. 27108
(919) 764-0790

Chivalry Sports


PO Box 18904
Tucson, AZ 85731-8904
Inquires (602) 722-1255
Orders 1-800-730-KING

JAS Townsend & Son


P.O. Box 415
Pierceton, IN 46562
(800) 338-1665

Mediaeval Miscellanea


6530 Spring Valley Drive
Alexandria, VA 22312
(703) 642 - 1740 and Fax: (708) 237-1374

The Queens Thimble


515 S. Evergreen Dr.
Mira Loma, CA 91752-1577
(909)360-6041

Sterling Silks/Sterling Cloth Company


701 Cleveland Avenue Southwest
Canton, Ohio 44702
(216) 456-0653

MacKenzie-Smith


9600 Business Park Dr. Suite 2
Truckee, CA 95734
(916) 587-5974

Campbells


RD 1 Box 1444
Herndon, PA 17830
(717) 425-2045

Alice Stephenson


2734 Mountain View W.
Tocoma, WA 98466
(206) 565-2893

House Morning Star


11246 S. Post Oak Rd. #217
Houston, TX 77035
(713) 729-7990

An anotated bibliography of pre-1650 costume sources (including books and periodicals) is available from:


Puffs and Slashes
c/o L. R. Fox
P. O. Box 443
Bloomington, IN 47402-0443
$2.50 per copy
 

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The period Scottish marriage was prefaced by the making of a marriage contract. On the day of the marriage, the couple and witnesses appear before a priest, declare that there is no hinderance to their getting married, and say "I, name, take, you name, as my husband/wife, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost".

Incorporate a blacksmith with anvil and hammer, as well as a Piper?

The blacksmith is actually an *English* tradition -- coming from the English couples running away to Scotland to get married (because until about 1940 all you had to do was consent to marriage in words of the present tense to get married in Scotland) and stopping at Gretna Green (one of the most southerly border villages) and snagging the blacksmith as a witness. *Scottish* couples didn't go to gretna green and its famous blacksmith, because they could get married anywhere they wanted to.

Of course, this was an irregular form of marriage -- perfectly legal and binding, but the authorities still did their best to make you solemnize it properly afterwords (ie, do the banns and church thing, even though you were already married).

 Handfastings were not weddings, nor were they "pagan"--they were a result of the fact that the Christian priests of the day had to act as "circuit riders", and one couldn't always have a priest handy to do a marriage whenever. Thus, you had a "handfasting", and the matter was then solemnized/rendered official when the priest made it 'round.

Technically you don't need a priest for a handfasting--all that's required is the agreement to a wedding contract between the two individuals involved. In Scotland, for most of period, if you agreed between the two of you that you were married, you were--this also applied to England (see the issue of whether Anne Boleyn or Catherine Howard had secretly arranged a marriage before their marriages to Henry).
Technically all you needed was to exchange consents in the present tense. No priests, no witnesses (though that would make it hard to prove), no marriage contracts. "I take you for my husband" "I take you for my wife". This constituted a marriage ceremony.

Usually the procedure went like this: the parties involved (or rather their parents/guardians) arranged a marriage contract, in which the various goods/monies/services each party would provide to the marriage were spelled out. Bans were posted so that anyone claiming a prior contract could come forward. If none introduced a prior claim, then the couple declared themselves married before witnesses--usually, though not necessarily, in front of a priest.

Usually the parents arranged the marriage contract.

Often, there was a handfasting at which the couple was betrothed (that's what handfastings are, betrothals, getting engaged to be married). This is usually when the marriage contracts were signed/witnessed/whatever.


The banns were posted/read/whatever. This would not only give notice for prior marriages to be made known, but also of any other impediments (like consanguinity, etc.) to be made known. For all I know, however, there may (also) have been a totally different motivation for the banns. I can't really say, as I don't know. But people didn't do banns unless they intended to have a church wedding.
The couple went to church, and, in the precense of the priest, at the door of the church, they exchanged consents in the present tense.

A blessing might be given, a nuptial mass was often celebrated.

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Marriage in the Middle Ages
by Laura Reynolds

Marriage is an institution that requires love, trust, devotion, and cooperation. It is a partnership that takes an enormous amount of hard work in order for it to be successful. The reward of having a successful marriage is knowing that your partner loves you with all his/her heart. This individual is someon e you can depend on in a time of need, or someone you can refer to as your best friend. The decision of choosing the person you will spend the rest of your life with may be the most important one you will ever make. However, imagine not being able to ma ke this decision for yourself.

 Today, when couples decide to marry, they usually prefer to wait until they are out of high school. Many more wait until they are close to their thirties to make a permanent commitment. However, in the Middle Ages, marriage was entered at an extremely early age. "Augustus' legislation assumed that many girls would join their husbands at the minimum legal age of 12 years (and clearly too, their husbands would be much older)" (Herlihy 17). The reasons for early mar riage hinged on the fact that women lived such short lives. Society figured that if young women married older men these women would die within a very short time of each other. "The Augustan marriage laws of A.D. 9 penalized women who had not delivered a baby by age 20" (Herlihy 17). These laws instilled into women that offspring should be produced before they reach their death. There was only one law that protected minors from marriage. "Augustus forbade the betrothal of girls under the age of ten, a nd limited the time of betrothal to two years" (Herlihy 17). The betrothal of the medieval period is compatible to the engagement period of our time.

Once the age for a woman to marry was attained, the procedure for finding her a husband began by her parents. "Marriage was by arrangement; no sensible family would allow the possession of valuable lands and property to be jeopardized by casual alliances" (Chamberlin 57). Relationships built on monetary worth rather than genuine love were not ve ry solid to begin with, and often were surely awkward until each of them became used to living with the other. The dowry was an exceptional part of the marriage transaction. "The dowry was the donation, which is given or promised by the wife or by her s ide to the husband or his side with the purpose, that it remain forever with him because of the burdens of matrimony" (Herlihy 14). If the classical dowry was more valuable in worth, the more appealing the woman, or offer of marriage was to an available gentleman.

 "First and foremost, wives brought lands and money to their husbands, and marriage proposals were frequently discussed in the most cold-blooded terms" (Smith 106). These couples needed to establish a bond between them eventually becau se essentially the two of them were strangers to each other. However, just because a marriage was based on these terms did not necessarily mean acquired love was not possible. "Despite the hard-headed practicality which dominated the marriage market, ro mance was often present. Courtship and romantic love, however, tended to follow the marriage agreement, not precede it" (Smith 110). Even if love was not eventually established in the relationship, admiration and friendship usually was. "The institutio n of the classical dowry imposed the chief costs of establishing the new household upon the bride or her family" (Herlihy 73). The role of the groom was to make a final decision on his choice for a bride, unless of course, his parents had chosen for him. "There is no hint of a contribution from the groom's side, or of any informal exchange of gifts" (Bennett 172). Even if he or his family wanted to, it was not allowed. "Laws forbade altogether conveyances between the spouses, except for the dowry itse lf" (Herlihy 15).

"Roman law recognized two types of legal marriage. The first and oldest was called in manu (under the hand). This form of marriage transferred the father's patria potestas (the power of life and death ove r her) over the girl into the hands of the husband" (Herlihy 9). This type of marriage was prominent, but as the emergence of free marriage came about in manu gradually began to fade out in popularity. "Under free marriages, the bride remained, t o be sure, under the technical authority of her father. But she could seek formal emancipation, and her father's death would at all events make her a person, sui iuris, to conduct her own affairs" (Herlihy 9). The wedding ceremony of today is a highly extravagant, as well as, a celebrated event in most cases. It is a day of merriment between family and friends of both bride and groom. In medieval times this ceremony did not take place at first, and when it eventually did it was nowhere near as elaborate as the ceremonies of today. "The Church was slow to develop rituals of marriage. Christian rituals of marriage appear in both East and West only toward the end of the fourth century" (Herlihy 13). Even though the wedding ceremony finally a ppeared across the world, no ritual was exactly alike. "In the East, the most characteristic ritual was the placing of crowns upon the heads of both bride and groom; in the West, the nuptial blessing, imparted by the priest, became the central religious ceremony" (Herlihy 13). At the beginning, marriage ceremonies were performed in the bedroom, but in or at a church. This seems the earliest appearance of the common medieval practice: the blessing of the couple infacie ecclesie, at the door of the churc h" (Herlihy 14).

 Once the couple was married, the woman's role was very important. She was often left in charge of the household while her husband went away on trips. "The slightly better education which women were receiving enabled them to pla y a more active part in society, and the wife stepped out of the background she had long occupied" (Chamberlin 57). Through marriage, women were gaining a sense of power. They had more say in family affairs then they ever did. Husbands put their trust in these women, they referred to as their wives, to manage and control a majority of family affairs. "Marriage had always been a crucial stage in a woman's life, for at marriage a girl became a domina, the 'lady' of a house, part of whose internal authority was placed into her hands" (Duby 12).

 These women were slowly becoming business women. They handled the finances, along with much of the hard labor around the house. "After marriage these women came to play a very active role in the managing of the family fortunes. Husbands were often absent on business for long periods, and the day-to-day running of the family estates fell to the women of the household" (Smith 107). Not only did these women have to handle the fact that their mate was far away, but they must take into account that they may not return. While all this was on their mind, they were still expected to conduct business, do chores, and take care of the children. "The wife's duty was as a charitable and competent economic manager by portraying her distributing alms, supervising the household production of food, supervising workers such as the dairy women, milking cows, and churning butter" (Bennett 147). These women definitely had to be responsible and organized in order to keep things together. Men had obviously put much of their trust into their wives even after they had not known them for a very significant period of time. She was, in a sense, the glue that held the family together.

"Marriage was dissolved by divorce, death, captivity, or by any other kind of servitude which may happen to be imposed upon either of the parties..." (Amt 34). Divorce was a widely used alternative if a marriage was absolutely not working out. However, the women were not allo wed to make the decision. "Laws continued to allow husbands to divorce their wives, but not wives their husbands. The husband had only to draw up a libellum repudii, or document of repudiation, in which he formally renounced the obligations he had assum ed in the original marriage contract" (Herlihy 51). A woman was forever attached to the institution of marriage; divorce was not an option for her. "A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. If the husband dies, she is free to be married to wh om she wishes, only in the Lords" (Amt 20). In some cases women can retain their dowry. "When a divorce takes place, if the woman is her own mistress, she herself has the right to sue for recovery of the dowry. If, however, she is under control of her father, he...can bring the action for the recovery of the dowry" (Amt 33). Though divorce was fairly easy, a few stipulations were given before remarriage. "Those who intend to estrange their wives shall wait four months (for cooling off); if they r econcile, then God is Forgiver, Most Merciful. If they go through with the divorce, then God is Hearer, Knower. The divorced women shall wait three menstruations (before marrying another man)" (Amt 299-300). Divorce has many similarities and differences from today's society. Divorce is not an easy decision, regardless of what time period it may occur in.

 Marriage is a bond between two people. Whether the two people enter into this institution because they are in love or because of other reasons , such as in medieval times, it remains just as much as a challenge. Both individuals carry an enormous amount of responsibility in a marriage. However, for all the bad times, there are good times that can also be recalled. These joyous times are what s uccessful relationships thrive off of. Although marriages in the Middle Ages may have many contrasts with the marriages of today, the concept is basically the same. The only major difference is that today we are more advanced in our techniques regarding marriages.


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