Time for part-three of my five-part series on marriage in the Georgian to Regency Eras. Today I shall move on to the wedding ceremony participants and the preparations to be beforehand hand. Here we go!
To understand wedding preparation during the Regency, you must start by erasing everything you envision as part of a modern-day wedding. English weddings prior to the Victorian Era were small, understated events. The primary purpose of the ceremony was the religious solidification of the marriage contract. For the most part, everything was approached with this serious aspect foremost.
The simplicity factor was one reason why the time between proposal to marriage could be very short. For most couples, the two weeks waiting for the three readings of the Banns was plenty of time. A longer courtship period would likely be the result of concerns such as ensuring a house to live in, financial security, and similar practicalities rather than needing time to plan the ceremony itself.
Unless a special license was procured, or one was of a faith other than the Anglican Church, the wedding procedure was fairly standard. Those couples of extreme wealth and importance might have a glitzier arrangement and grander celebration, but never the ostentatious affairs we have today.
Location and Timing of the Wedding— A wedding could take place on any day of the week. All weddings took place in the parish chapel where at least one of the two persons lived. Per Hardwicke’s Marriage Act of 1753, weddings occurred during canonical hours of eight AM to noon.
Since most members of the ton could claim London as their residence, and lived in the fashionable districts such as Mayfair, Grosvenor, and St. James, many Regency weddings took place at Saint George’s Church in Hanover Square. From 1725 when St. George’s was established, thousands of weddings were conducted there. In 1816 alone there were 1063 weddings!
Decorations— Flowers have always been an integral part of any special ceremony. Weddings are no exception. Brides commonly held flower bouquets, perhaps of a simpler variety then we see today, but tied with ribbons and/or lace. Decorating of the church itself was unlikely. Again, the ceremony was solemn and churches were sacred places of worship.
Wedding Guests— It was unusual for anyone outside the immediate family and closest friends to attend the ceremony. If family members lived further away they would be invited, and time may be allowed for travel, but no one would think badly if they chose not to come. The only requirements were the clergyman, parish clerk to ensure formal logging in the register, and two witnesses.
Local citizens often waited outside the church, ready to cheer and congratulate the newlyweds. It was common for these folks to form a processional behind the couple, shouting well-wishes all the way back to their house. The painting above, from 1883, is an excellent example. Note that the cluster of people following the bride and groom is small compared to the number watching from the sidelines.
Invitations— If sent at all, invitations were handwritten by the bride. Depending on her creativity, the invitation may be fancy, but more often it was a basic letter giving the facts.
Bride’s Attendants— A bride was typically assisted by one or two female attendants. The number tended to increase if the bride was of higher society. These women helped the bride in various ways – penning invitations, getting dressed – and one was designated the official witness for the parish registry. She could be married or unmarried.
The term “bridesmaid” or more commonly “bridemaid” without the S, was in use since the 1500s. “Maid of Honor” was akin to “lady in waiting” so more specifically referred to royal attendants. The use of “maid of honor” in relation to a bridal attendant was a late 19th century, American addition. The term “matron of honor” to specify a married attendant is an Americanism not seen until after 1900.
Flower girls— surprisingly, are an ancient tradition dating back to Rome. Very popular during Medieval and Elizabethan times, having a young girl dressed in white (for purity) preceding the bride to scatter petals, sweet herbs, and seeds (for fertility) was essential. The practice waned during the sedate wedding proceedings of the Georgian Era, although it was not unheard of. By the Victorian period the flower girl again became important, and remains so to this day.
Groom’s Attendants— Same as with the bride, the groom enlisted close friends to lend a hand. With the ceremony being a quiet event and no such thing as a bachelor party or extensive reception to give a speech at, their duties were minimal. One man was designated as the “best man” to stand with the groom and serve as an official witness.
Historically the groomsmen were “blade knights” who served as protectors of the bride and guards for the couple during their vulnerable hours preceding and following the ceremony. This wasn’t as necessary by the civilized Regency! We see this same tradition today in military weddings where a sword wielding “honor guard” form the saber arch for the couple to walk through.
Here are the links to all FIVE parts of the series —