A Medieval Wedding


Since the beginning of civilization, societies have regarded wedding ceremonies as sacred for families; however, the freedom to choose a partner did not come until much later. In fact, parents would arrange marriages with their neighbors or other eligible suitors during the medieval period, despite the shift in the way that society saw women and love. Society evolved past the old way of thinking that women were nothing more than property, or a trophy to show to the world. More people started to see marriage as a union of the sexes between lovers of the same economic and social backgrounds. As with modern marriages, both of the families bonded together as relatives. Before the marriage, the bride brought a dowry, or a sum of money or goods, to share with her husband. Based on the sum of the dowry, the parents would come together to make a final decision to determine if the marriage would be a good fit between the two lovers. In general, the man would make the woman fall in love with him with his chivalry. In other words, he would display his courtesy, generosity, valor, and dexterity of arms by offering gifts, reciting poetry, and protecting the bride from all harm.

A conventional Medieval wedding ceremony was usually held at one of the parent's homes or in a church. The bride and groom would invite people by going door-to-door and asking guests to attend the upcoming ceremony, a wedding custom often referred to as bidding. People would dress in their best clothes for the wedding; however, the brides often wore blue, red, or gold, instead of the white gowns of today. The bride may have carried a sachet of potpourri or a prayer book. Herbs and fresh flowers were used for the sweet fragrances, such as rosemary, mint, roses, and orange blossoms. Garland and bouquets were used for decoration. The groom simply wore his best clothes that he would normally wear to church or to court. The soon-to-be newlyweds stood before a crowd, with the woman on the left and the man on the right. The officiant spoke to the crowd during the wedding ceremony and then gave the command to exchange rings. The bride or groom would have attended a confession if it were a Catholic wedding ceremony. In addition, the couple would have received a blessing from the officiant.

A medieval marriage consisted of several symbolic events, including a ceremony known as handfasting, or a joining of the hands between bride and groom to signify commitment. During a typical handfasting, the bride and groom would take opposite hands and join them together before tying their wrists together with a loose scarf. In addition to handfasting, newlyweds would have exchanged vows. The officiant may have recited passages from "The Holy Bible" or "The book of Common Prayer," to signify the commitment between the couple. If the wedding ceremony took place at the church, then it was usually hosted at the front door, instead of near the altar. The bride and groom would state their promises to love, honor, and cherish each other for as long as both of them shall live. After the ceremony, the parents hosted a wedding feast and served a huge selection of foods, such as roasted meats, pastries, fruits, and vegetables. The guests and family members provided small buns in place for the traditional wedding cake. Music was played at the wedding by popular musicians, a custom that rings true to modern wedding receptions.

Follow these links to learn more about medieval wedding traditions: