History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

18 October 2006

Ten Tidbits about Medieval Weddings

Okay, I'll admit it: I hate research. Well, unless it involves a trip to the UK or something like that. But, I do find it absorbing. Finding interesting details is like discovering a gem in the sand.

I like funky lists, so here goes:

Ten Tidbits about Medieval Weddings

1. In the early days, most weddings were outside on the steps on the church. After vows were exchanged the couple went inside for mass. As the middle ages wore on, more couples were married inside the church. One's place in society determined how far inside the church one could have the ceremony.

2. Gloves were frequently given as wedding presents to the guests. www.drizzle.com/~celyn/mrwp/mrwed.html

3. Here is a recipe for Sugared Almonds, a traditional wedding feast treat: http://www.godecookery.com/begrec/begrec54.htm

4. Marriages could be prohibited if the couple was too closely related or they had taken a religious vow.

5. Blue instead of white was the color of purity, but wedding dresses could be any color.

6. Brides often went without a veil and wore their hair down. This would sometimes spark debates about whether or not it was proper for women to be in church with their heads uncovered.

7. A couple could not be married during lent or advent or other fasting days.

8. The man stood on the right side, the woman on the left because she was "formed out of a rib of in the left side of Adam."

9. Garter tossing dates to the middle ages when the wedding guests would follow the couple back to their room. www.dfwx.com/medieval_cult.html It was done to protect the bride from the raucous crowd.
10. At some points in the middle ages it was forbidden to have sexual intercourse when you were naked.

Ya gotta wonder about number ten. Who was enforcing that anyway? LOL!


Blogger Unknown said...

Great post Jessica. I love the fact that those Jordan almonds you always see at weddings have roots that go back so far.

7:22 AM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

Hi Jessica,

Thanks for posting! I read somewhere that during the middle ages, a betrothal was as good as a marriage ceremony, eg the couple could actually consumate the vow before the wedding ceremony and the feast and that was totally acceptable. Any thoughts on that? Makes for a good set-up in a romance....


7:52 AM  
Blogger Laura Vivanco said...

In the early days, most weddings were outside on the steps on the church. After vows were exchanged the couple went inside for mass. As the middle ages wore on, more couples were married inside the church. One's place in society determined how far inside the church one could have the ceremony.

Similar to funerals. Only the very rich/influential were buried inside the Church, and the nearer to the altar the better. Most people were buried outside, in the graveyard. But as the Middle Ages wore on, more and more people, from more diverse social backgrounds, began to be buried inside churches.

Re number 10, at least in theory this sort of thing would be enforced because people had to make a full confession of their sins to a priest. However, people didn't tend to go to confession very often - it could be just once a year, around Lent/Easter. And although there were extremely detailed penitentials (manuals for confessors) it's not clear how they were used (i.e. how many priests actually read them and used them to guide the direction of a confession). And there were frequent complaints that some priests, particularly in rural areas, didn't know enough Latin to understand everything they were saying during the mass (my sources were Castilian, but I suspect that there similar problems in other parts of Europe), and if that's the case, one has to wonder how much their parisioners knew about the finer details of canon law.

Re 4, the nobility sometimes took advantage of the laws of consanguinity in order to get marriages annulled. So it was rather useful for them. As with number 10, I'm not sure how strictly enforced/observed this was by all members of medieval society. At some points in history there were so many prohibited degrees of consanguinity that it must have made it very, very difficult for people living in small communities (or for the nobility) to find someone to marry who wasn't too closely related. So I expect quite a lot of people broke the rules. It's not an area I've studied, though, so I don't know that much about it.

Oh, and you didn't need a priest to be present to be married:

By late medieval church law, a contract of marriage was the speaking, by the prospective husband and wife, of the words of consent to the union ("I William take you Agnes as my wife"; "I Agnes take you William as my husband"), words that in themselves made the sacrament of marriage, regardless of where they were spoken or whether or not a priest was present. (McSheffrey 2006).

8:37 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

Re number 10: I have this sense that total nudity didn't always have the same erotic meaning it has now, and that people kept on their shirts and shifts a lot more than they do now. Which I've never been able to do enough with, but which I find irksome and provocative. And I find #2 very interesting as well. Gloves are so sexy. I love the idea of gloves as a wedding gift.

12:16 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

On thinking about the nudity question, the first book that came to mind was Georges Duby's "A History of Private Life" series. As a secondary resource overview, it's a good start toward understanding views of the body. (This is something I am interested in because of the medical implications.)

Then poking around, I came across this bibliography of sex, love, weddings and marriage (oh wait, did I get those first two out of order?):


3:26 PM  

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