When people marry today, they can choose where they marry, be it a religious building, registry office or even by taking their vows whilst sky diving and anywhere in between, as long as an officiating officer is present.
In the Georgian period marriages had to take place in a religious venue, presided over by a religious official, unless you chose to elope over the border to Gretna Green, Scotland.
Forthcoming marriages were usually announced by banns read out in church. If the couple wanted more privacy, then they would apply for a Marriage Licence, which, if you could afford it, could be purchased for a whole variety of reasons such as – they were in a hurry as the bride being pregnant or that the couple were of different social standings, so perhaps a master marrying his servant, or there was a large age gap. There may have been opposition from the family, or the parties may have been of different religions. It could even have been that they had married overseas and wanted it to be legitimatised by the Church of England. Paying for a licence made it a quicker and easier option.
According to the Constitutions and Canons Ecclesiastical, marriages could only take places between the hours of 8am and midday. So perhaps with a marriage licence you would opt for the earliest time available, so you could simply ‘tie the knot‘ and slip away without anyone noticing.
Usually there were only one or two marriages per day in London churches, far less in local parish churches, but on extremely rare occasions as many as 8 could take place, but this would have made each one an extremely hurried affair, literally giving the couple enough time to make their vows and leave in order to allow the next wedding to take place. Not ideal nor romantic, in my opinion.
I was recently reading about the life story of the Scottish poet and ballad writer, David Love, who, although Scottish, spent much of his life in Nottingham, when I came across some details of his first marriage which took place in Scotland and he described how different marriage in Scotland was, compared to England.
In David’s own words:
Marriages in Scotland are not performed as is done in England, there is no ring put on the bride’s finger, no repeating of words after the minister, no common prayer book to read out of, nor any form of words till the minister bids them join their hands; the minister then says “Are you willing to have this woman to be your wedded wife” he bows as a token of his willingness: then he says to the woman “Are you willing to have this man to be your wedded husband” she makes a courtesy; the minister then says “ the presence of God and these witnesses I pronounce you man and wife, for whom God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.” The minister then begins with an exhortation concerning the marriage-state, how each is to behave, respecting their duty to one another, concluding with prayers suitable to the occasion.
Today, the tradition is to throw the wedding bouquet, David tells us though, that in his time, the tradition was to throw one of stockings of the bride. Then the process was repeated by the groom. (Hmm, I’m not so sure that throwing a man’s sock today would be seen as lucky though!)
Having read David’s account, I thought I would take a look at some of the other wedding customs of the Georgian period.
I came across this interesting piece in the Carlisle Journal, October 1846 which explains some of the tradition practised in the north of England (a similar article also appeared previously in 1823).
Marriage ceremonies in the north of England – The day of marriage has always been, and it is to be hoped, in spite of disconsolate old maids and love-crossed bachelors, will ever continue to be, a time of festivity.
Among the rustics in Cumberland, the is plentiful music, dancing and revelry. Early in the morning, the bridegroom, attended by his friends on horseback, proceeds in a gallop to the house of the bride’s father. Having alighted, he salutes her, and then the company breakfast together. The repast concluded, the whole nuptial party depart in cavalcade order towards the church, accompanied by a fiddler, who plays a succession of tunes appropriate to the occasion. Immediately after the performance of the ceremony, the company retire to some neighbouring ale house, and many a flowing bumper of home brewed is quaffed to the health of the happy pair. Animate with this earthy nectar, they set off at full speed towards the future residence of the bride, where a handkerchief is presented to the first who arrives.
In some of the country villages in the county of Durham, after the connubial knot is tied, a ribbon is proposed as the subject of contention, either for a foot or a horse race, supposed to be a delicate substitute for the bride’s garter, which used to be taken off while she knelt at the altar; and the practice being anticipated, the garter was generally found to do credit to her taste and skill in needlework.
In Craven, where this singular sport also prevails, whoever first reaches the bride’s habitation is ushered into the bridal chamber and having performed the ceremony of turning down the bedclothes, returns, carrying in his tankard of warm ale, previously prepared, to meet the bride, to whom he triumphantly offers his humble beverage, and by whom, in return, he is presented with the ribbon, as the honourable reward of his victory.
Riding for the kail
Another ancient marriage ceremony of the same sort, still observed in the remote parts of Northumberland, is that of ‘riding for the kail’, where the party, after kissing the bride, set off at full speed on horseback to the bridegroom’s, the winner of the race receiving the kail(today, written as kale), or dish of spice broth, as the chief prize.
The wedding ring
I have no idea whether there is any truth in this one from the Cheltenham Chronicle October 1815, but I do like it.
This custom was introduced by the ancients, who used to present their mistresses with a ring, meaning thereby to express as a ring has no end, so there shall be no end of that love which is necessary to constitute connubial felicity; and it was put upon the fourth finger of the left hand because anatomists affirm, that there is a vein in it having direct conveyance to the heart, which is the source of love and affection.
It was also custom to that ring was directed first to be put on the thumb, afterwards the second, then upon the third and lastly on the fourth finger, where it would remain. The Perthshire Courier of September 1824, also stated:
Married women are so rigid, not to say superstitious, in the notion concerning their wedding rings, that neither when they wash their hands, nor at any other time, will they displace it from this finger, extending, it should seem, the expression of ‘till death do us part’ even to this golden circlet, the token and pledge of matrimony.
I have previously written about wedding cakes and you find more about the first tiered wedding cake, by clicking on this link.
The bridal party after leaving the church repair to a neighbouring inn, where a thin currant cake, marked in squares, though not entirely cut through, is ready against the bride’s arrival. Over her head is spread a clean linen napkin; the bridegroom standing behind the bride, breaks the cake over her head, which is thrown over her and scrambled for by the attendants.
This sounds potentially rather messy, I would have thought, so perhaps not one for today’s brides given the cost of today’s wedding dresses.
The bridal pie was so essential a dish on the dining table after the celebration of the marriage, that there was no prospect of happiness without it. This was always made round, with a very strong crust, ornamented with various devices. In the middle of it was a fat, laying hen, full of eggs, probably intended as an emblem of fertility, which was also garnished with minced and sweet meats. It would have been deemed an act of neglect or rudeness if any of the party omitted to partake of it. And on this occasion, it was the etiquette for the bridegroom always to wait upon the bride, from whence it is supposed the term bridegroom took its origin.
According to the Morning Post, December 1815:
Honey moon – it was the custom of the higher order of Teutonics, an ancient people who inhabited the northern parts of German, to drink mead, or Metheglin, a beverage made with honey, for thirty days after every wedding. From this custom comes the expression “to spend the Honey Moon”.
The Wedding Breakfast; National Trust, Waddesdon Manor