9 Interesting Truths About 14th Century Weddings
If you were a time-traveller from 1317, you would be mystified by modern weddings. Hen parties? Bridesmaids? Wedding cake? What has any of those to do with getting married? In the less-complicated time of 14th century weddings, it was much simpler. Here are some guidelines for a bride getting married seven hundred years ago.
Age of Consent
If you’re thinking about marriage, you have to be of an age to understand what’s involved. You’ll be at least twelve years old. Don’t worry though, you probably won’t be expected to share your husband’s bed for at least another two years.
If you’re an aristocrat or royalty, you might have been betrothed to your husband-to-be since you were a small child, possibly as young as three. He might not be much older, or he might already be a widower with grown children. If you’re not an aristocrat, your parents might have discussed your prospects with friends and neighbours, but there will be no formal agreement.
Unless you’re at the very bottom rung of society, your father will provide a dowry. This could be money, land, property, or a cow. This will go some way to recompensing your husband for taking you off your father’s hands. The dowry will become your husband’s property and you will have no say in how it’s managed.
Who You Can Marry
Fortunately the rules about who you can marry changed a hundred years ago. In those unenlightened times, you could not marry anyone who shared a great-great-great-great-great-grandparent with you. Or to someone who shared a great-great-great-great-great-grandparent by marriage with you. I think you’ll agree that it would not have been easy to find out if you were related to your intended to that degree. Nowadays things are much easier. As long as you don’t have a great-grandparent in common, you can marry whomever you like.
Despite the church’s best efforts, being married in a church or by a priest is neither fashionable nor necessary. You can get married wherever you want, indoors or out. You can even get married in bed. This last might not be advisable, however, as there might be some disagreement later about whether or not you really are married.
That Special Dress
A young woman should look her best on her wedding day, but there are no rules or fashions. You can wear your prettiest kirtle and gown. If you ignore the advice of those older and wiser than you and marry in bed, you can wear nothing at all.
It’s a good idea to have as many witnesses as possible at your wedding. This means that there can be no dispute later about the validity of the marriage. The church suggests two, but these are harsh times and both could easily die before they’re needed. Choose the most public place that you can. In most villages, this will be the church porch. Modern church porches can accommodate twenty or more people. If your church does not have a porch, standing outside the door will suffice. Everyone in the village who is released from their labours at the time will be able to get into the churchyard to hear your vows and those of your husband.
The quality of the feast will depend on the time of year you marry. You won’t be marrying in Lent or on a fasting day, so you’ll be able to eat meat if any is available. Other than that you’ll make use of whatever is ready to be harvested in the garden or the field. Or what has been stored from last year. You, or your mother, will have brewed a strong beer for the occasion, so your guests might be more drunken than you’re used to seeing them. Don’t worry, you and your husband will leave early, for there is one more thing to do before you’re properly married.
Now You’re Married
Depending on your circumstances, it might prove difficult to consummate your marriage. Your husband is unlikely to have a house to which to take you and even more unlikely to have a bed. If you’re going to live in his parent’s house, you might have a corner somewhere where you can spread a blanket over a couple of straw-filled sacks. You will not have your own bedchamber and you might be sharing a room with his parents and siblings.
Once the marriage is consummated, you are well and truly married and cannot be separated this side of death…unless one of you is a bigamist. If that’s the case, things will become very complicated. But that is a whole other story…
April Munday is the author of romances set in the fourteenth century. She lives in Hampshire, where many of her stories are set. In her head, she lives in the fourteenth century, but only in her head; she has learned far too much about life in the Middle Ages to want to live there in reality. She is inspired by the remnants of the past which are part of her local landscape. Her latest series, The Soldiers of Fortune, is set after the Battle of Poitiers, which changes the lives of four brothers.