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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Medieval Wedding Traditions

Planning a wedding is a major undertaking! It costs a lot of money and frazzles your nerves, right? We sure were frazzled when my son got married. The week before his wedding the florist doubled the price of the flowers, the caterer cancelled, and the maid of honor was hospitalized. Yeah, we were frazzled. I bet it was that way for medieval brides too. Here’s the lowdown on a medieval wedding.

Let’s start with the engagement ring. The tradition of diamond engagement rings started with the Archduke Maximilian of Austria when he gave a diamond ring to Mary of Burgundy in 1477. Italians favored diamond engagement rings because they believed that diamonds were created from the flames of love. Naturally, not everyone could afford diamond rings. Peasants often broke a coin in two parts with the bride keeping one and the groom the other.

In Britain, a gold wedding ring was given to the bride’s family, and during the ceremony a gold ring was put on and taken off of three of the bride’s fingers before being placed on the third finger of her left hand. Three times symbolized the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The ring was worn on the third finger because of the ancient Romans who believed that the vein in the third finger ran directly to the heart. The wearing of rings on that finger joined the couple's hearts and destinies.

Now what about the dress? Every bride wants a pretty dress, usually white or off-white, but things were different in the medieval era. In that era a bride’s color of choice would be blue because blue was the color of purity back then. If she couldn’t have a blue dress, the bride and groom would decorate their clothes with blue ribbons or perhaps a blue band at the bottom of their attire. Velvet was a popular fabric for wedding dresses, some of which were relatively low cut. White wasn’t really popular until centuries later when Queen Victoria wore a white dress to be married in. Peasants often had no special dress. They simply wore their best.

Veils signified purity after the Crusaders brought the custom back from the Holy Land. They were also supposed to protect the bride from the evil eye. Brides also made headpieces of flowers-orange blossoms if you were rich-to wear in your hair. By the way, a bride usually wore her hair loose which was one of the only if not the only time she did so.

Then as now, brides wore a blue garter. It was the custom for wedding guests to accompany the bride and groom to their marriage bed. Rowdy guests often tried to grab a portion of the bride’s clothes. To keep them busy the bride threw her garter. Why did the people want a part of the bride’s clothes? Because tradition held that any man who gave his love bride’s clothes would be guaranteed faithfulness.

Brides also carried a bouquet which had a practical purpose. People didn’t bathe back then as often as we do, so if the groom smelled bad the bride could put the bouquet under her nose.

What about the attendants? The maid of honor sure had a lot to do. For a week or so before the wedding the maid of honor was at the beck and call of the bride, doing just about everything for her. She helped with the decorations, prepared the bouquet, and helped the bride into her dress on the wedding day.

The best man was chosen by the groom to help him fight off any disgruntled suitors who might cause trouble for the bridal couple.

Now for the food. A feast always followed the wedding ceremony even if the couple was poor. Here’s the menu from an Italian wedding in 1488: pastries with pine nuts and sugar; other cakes made with almonds and sugar (similar to marzipan); asparagus; sausages and meatballs; roast partridge and sauce; gilded and slivered whole calves’ heads; capons and pigeons; ham, roasted suckling pig, and wild boar; whole roast sheep with sour cherry sauce; variety of roasted birds; chicken with sugar and rosewater; a mixture of eggs, milk, sage, flour, and sugar; quinces; preserves made with sugar and honey; ten different tortes with candied spice.

Drinks probably included water, ale, beer, mead, milk, and wine. The newly married couple would drink honeyed mead for a month after the wedding which is where the term honeymoon comes from.

Okay, I know we aren’t finished, but this post is getting kind of long so I’ll finish it next week. Then we’ll talk about gifts, entertainment, makeup, and the ceremony itself. See you then.


Hywela Lyn said...

What a fascinating post, Elaine, I do love to learn about medieval times.

Elaine Cantrell said...

So do I. I wouldn't want to live back then, but it's great to read about.