A MEDIEVAL WOMAN'S LIFE - AT HOME
- BIRTHS - WEDDINGS - DIVORCE - DEATHS - MANNERS - EDUCATION - EMPLOYMENT
CLOTHES - ITEMS OF CLOTHING - DRESS ACCESSORIES FABRICS & SEWING BEAUTY, HEALTH & HYGIENE MY TALKS MY SEWING MY ARTIFACTS BIBLIOGRAPHY LINKS
Weddings and The Medieval Woman
CLOTHING - WEDDING JEWELLERY - BETROTHAL - LEGALITIES OF MARRIAGE -
WEDDING CUSTOMS - FEASTS - FLOWERS - WEDDING GIFTS
The word wedding comes from the Old English
wed, to pledge. Prior to 1100AD most marriages did not include a religious
ceremony. A public announcement, kiss and consummation were all that
was required. The legal coming of ages for marriage was 12 for a girl
and 14 for a boy, although many peasant women did not marry but stayed
with her parents or worked for her older brothers in return for food
The language of love stated that green was the colour of young love and blue was the traditional symbol of purity, making these two colours a popular choice with brides. Dresses of white, a colour associated with mourning, were almost never worn. Traditionally, a band of blue ribbon would be worn by the bride and groom, giving us the origins of something blue. Garters were worn by every woman as part of her daily clothing to keep her hose fastened securely just under the knee. These became an important part of a bride's outfit as at the end of the evening when the couple departed for the bedchamber, guests would try to take the garter for good luck. A man who gave his beloved the garter of a bride was said to have assured her ongoing faithfulness.
A marriage brooch was sometimes worn given by the husband to his new bride. Johannes de Hauville wrote:
Pictured at right is a Marriage Brooch
dated at around 1430 from the Vienna Kunsthistorisches Museum. It is
made of gold, enamel and precious stones and probably comes from Germany
For the nobility and the wealthy, grooms
were often significantly older than their brides, who could be as young
as 13 or 14. Noble women occasionally had the option of not wedding
for the first time until the age of 24, but this was a rarity.
The peasants and working classes tended to marry into their own age and status demographic, preferring to choose healthy women who would bear children well and be fit enough to work alongside him if needed, as well as manage the domestic household. The Lord's permission needed to be sought before a marriage could take place and if marrying outside of his holdings, a fine or merchet may be exacted. More than 75% of the population were married before the age of 19 although amongst peasant men, sometimes a son did not marry until the death of his father where he inherited his fathers assets which put him in a position to marry. Wedding contracts were usually drawn up with particular regard to the bride's dowry and it's inheritance rights in the event of her death. Inheritance and property were two reasons why arranged marriages were contracted at such an early age, although sometimes an proposed merger of families was to form an alliance. Shown at right is a detail from a 13th century manuscript.
A woman had the right to refuse an arranged marriage by buying her way out of the betrothal contract, however this was often a sum beyond the reach of the average woman unless she sold her worldly possessions. In 1207, this sum was set at a hefty 20 marks for widows and substantially more for women to remain single or have the right to choose their own husbands. This would leave a woman in a state of being financially unable to support herself and so the marriage went ahead. There are records of women who did successfully escaped arranged marriages. It is recorded that:
Records show that although some women took their husband's surname as their own, not all did. In the case of heiresses, the groom took the name of the wife, thus keeping the traditional family holdings in the same family name. One sample of this is the case of the remarriage of Sarah, the widow of Robert le Wyte. Her second husband was afterwards known as Gilbert le Wyte.
Upon the announcement of the betrothal,
it was often customary for the bride to receive a ring with both names
engraved on it and for the groom, a sleeve from her dress or a stocking.
These were both intimate gifts, a hint of things to come and highly
those of noble class, the wedding procession to the church was often
accompanied by minstrels. The order of the procession depended on which
family was the wealthiest- the bride preceded if her family was higher
ranked with the groom and his family behind or vice-versa.
Before the marriage took place, the priest would meet the couple at the door of the church which had previously been closed to prevent entry and ask of them the relevant questions. Were they of age? Did they have parental consent? Were they not related in a way which would prevent them from wedding in accordance with the law, that is have a common great great grandparent? The dowry would be read aloud and the groom would present his betrothed with a small bag of gold coins to distribute to the needy. This symbolised his willingness to give her financial management on his behalf. There would be a short sermon on the steps, vows exchanged, the ring placed on the bride's finger, coins distributed by the bride and then the church doors would be opened for all to enter. Prayers and a mass were said under a canopy or cloth, then the kiss of peace was given by the priest to the groom which was passed to his new wife. Children of the union produced after the betrothal might be included under the cloth. The blessing was pronounced and the service itself ended. It must be noted that although the church considered premarital children legalised in the eyes of God, lawyers felt otherwise.
The custom of placing a child in a bride's arms to wish her fertility and a gold florin in her shoe to bring financial prosperity could also be performed after the wedding service. In the case of the 15th century wedding of Margery Rygon and George Cely, three live rabbits were let loose as a gesture of fertility for the bridal couple.
The bride's family was responsible for the dowry which, in the case of the wealthy, was usually money and land holdings. Commoner's dowry would most likely include household utensils, tools, furniture, clothing and livestock. If the husband deceased or the marriage was annulled, the dowry reverted to the bride. This would then be passed down to her sons. If the widow remarried, the dower reverted back to the husband's remaining family.
If a couple were poor, they might be treated to a bride-ale by their family and other well-wishers. Guests would not only bring food for the feast itself but often assist with goods and money to help them set up house. Shown at right is a detail from an illumination, 1405-1415, Marriage Feast At Canna.
It was also traditional for the groom to give a present to his new wife after the marriage was consummated to compensate the for the loss of virginity. This could be any number of items, including small and valuable pieces of furniture. The groom or his family was responsible for providing a suitable home including income, although in many cases the groom would have been working alongside his father in a family business or trade for a number of years prior to his nuptials.
Gifts would be given to the couple only after the ceremony has taken place, usually at the marriage feast. Guests would often also receive a small gift from the couple which reflected the status of the guest, not of the couple. A gift would also be given to the priest who performed the ceremony.
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