I don´t know from where I got the idea to write about this now, as May, as you know by now, is quite a sad
month from the perspective of this blog and others with an interest in the history covered here. But maybe a look at weddings may be a welcome distraction.
I´ve chosen the medieval wedding, which in many ways was quite different from the weddings that we see today.
In medieval times, betrothal was something important, and while the nobility and royalties could arrange betrothals while the future bride and groom still were in the cradle, or maybe not even born, (the legal age for the actual marriage was 12 for girls and 14 for boys) the common thing was that the betrothal took place around 40 days before the actual wedding. At the betrothal, the groom was required to do a payment, a kind of deposit, which further strengthened his commitment to the bride. Should he back out for whatever reason, he was obligated to pay a fee, four times the sum or its equivalent, that he had originally paid. There was also the dowry, gifts of money or goods made from the bride’s family to the new household.
It wasn´t always as straight forward as this though, that the families of two youngsters came to an agreement and the wedding went ahead. There was a number of reasons that could put the whole thing to a halt, one of which was the question of consanguinity which meant that the couple was too closely related, which was more often than not the case for royalty and higher nobility, in which case one could appeal to the Pope for a dispensation.
Today, it is tradition – even if it has begun to be supplemented for a more relaxed attitude towards clothes and colour – that the bride wear white. This was not the case in medieval time; the colour that above all others represented chastity and modesty was blue.
The wedding dress was blue, the senior Maid of Honour attended on the bride a week ahead of the wedding and the veils were brought to Europe by knights returning from the crusade, and this as well was supposed to demonstrate chastity and purity as well as protect the bride from the evil eye.
It is often mentioned that the woman had little say in the choice of husband, but fact is that if the pair were both young at the time of betrothal or wedding, the boy/man had very little say as well. An adult man was of course more free to marry for love, but it did happen that women as well took their destiny in their own hands, on example of which is a woman which I´ve often had, and will have, reasons to mention here is of course Margaret Beaufort, who was well aware that she needed to be married to have a position in the society in which she lived, but still managed to be in charge of whom she married at least in the two last of her four marriages.
While love didn´t have a strong part in the reasons for marriage, if you had landholdings even in a little scale, and even more so if you were rich, the objective was to marry your children off to partners that could increase your and, in the long run, their wealth. Maybe that was at least one advantage of being poor, the chance you could marry someone you were actually in love with was greater.
However, there is quite a few testimonies that a kind of love could arise also in marriages of convenience, and once again I will refer to Margaret Beaufort and her marriage to Henry Stafford.
After the wedding ceremony and the festivities, a public bedding of the couple sometimes could take place, maybe more often in the upper and royal classes than for example among the peasantry. This entailed the couple being undressed and brought to bed by the wedding guests, something so intrusive that few of us would accept it today. This could also include the inspection of the bed linen the day after to make sure the bride had actually been the virgin she was expected to be.
This post has mostly been aimed at being entertaining, and I admit to mostly surfing around the internet to find the information I needed. The links on which I base my text can be found below.
Women’s Lives in Medieval Europe – Emilie Amt, New York, Routledge:1993