Life in Elizabethan England Next

More Wedding Customs

A bride is not expected to wear a white dress. It can be any fashionable or current color and cut. White as a color for brides does not become entrenched until the 19th century.

Depending on the social status of the families, the bride might have a new gown made, or simply wear her best clothes, freshened up with new ribbons or flowers. She certainly wears flowers in her hair. However, the dress is a gown like any other. It is not a unique style, unsuitable for any other use and sentimentally preserved for later generations. Even a specially-made gown would become part of the lady's ordinary wardrobe.

The costs of the wedding festivities are generally borne by the bride's father. In less prosperous neighborhoods, the food may be supplied by the neighbors, pot-luck style or cooked in the church house.

Sometimes the costs of the day are defrayed by holding a bride ale, usually in the churchyard. There the bride sells cups of ale for as much as her friends will pay. This is not the same thing as a "bridal shower", and is not limited to female attendance

Various social elements of the parish also hold church ales occasionally as a fund-raising event.

Crying the Banns

The intention to marry must be announced in the church three times; that is, on three consecutive Sundays or holy days, in the same parish.

If the two people live in different parishes, the banns must be read in both. This allows time for any objections to be raised or pre-contracts to be discovered.

Any marriage not published before-hand is considered clandestine, and illegal.

There is no set form of wedding invitation. People do, however, send messages to their friends and relations, and gifts are cheerfully received. If the wedding is at Court, everyone simply understands they are expected.

The Bridal Procession

Any bridesmaids (i.e., the bride's maids) help the bride to prepare, then they, the bride, the groom, the families, and all the guests assemble, and go in procession from the house or houses to the church.

The bridal procession is generally noisy, accompanied by musicians, laughter, and bawdy jokes. Town councils have been known to complain about the noise and general disorder.

If the groom is not part of the procession, he meets the bride either at the side door of the church or at the altar.

They all enter the church at once and stand through the ritual.

The wedding is always a religious ceremony, conducted by a minister. No getting married in the Registry, or at a Justice of the Peace, and no running off to Gretna Green.

The words of the English service are essentially the same then as now, since they come from the Book of Common Prayer of 1559.

Since the church is open, anyone can attend as long as there is room, although fairly strict social order is observed. Poorer neighbors, tenants, and passers by stand at the back.

Contract, Dowry, Jointure

For noble and other propertied families, the most significant part of a wedding day is the signing of the wedding contract, which sets out the terms of dowry, jointure, and other elements for the financial security of both parties.

The dowry is an amount of money, goods, and property the bride brings to the marriage. It can also be called her marriage portion.

The jointure is an agreement by the groom 's family to guarantee specific money, property and goods to the bride if her husband dies before she does, aside from or in addition to what is in his will. Sometimes this agreement is assured by promises from the family's friends.

Viscount Montague provided his daughter Mary, who became Countess to the 2nd earl of Southampton in 1567, with a dowry of £1,333.

In 1591, Lord Compton demanded a dowry of £10,000 plus the redeeming of an £18,000 mortgage on his land from Sir John Spencer, Lord Mayor of London, whose daughter he wished to marry. Spencer fought it, but in the end, the marriage took place. This is not, however, the normal circumstance.

In many noble cases, the event is commemorated with individual portraits of the bride and groom, completed before the wedding. Many of the "unknown girl" pictures one finds were painted for such an occasion.

Some resources:
Cressy: Birth, Marriage, and Death
Duffy: Voices of Morebath
Pearson: Elizabethans at Home
Stopes: Southampton

::  Weddings and Betrothals
::  Marriage and Family
::  Children & Childhood
::  Heirs & Inheritance
::  The Marriage Ring


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MaggiRos
22 March 2008 pkm