We come to the fifth and final portion of my series about marriage during the Georgian and Regency periods.
Here are the links to all FIVE parts of the series —
The Ceremony and Vows~~
The previously mentioned simplicity and standardization of an Anglican marriage ceremony meant there was scant deviation. Held in the parish church where at least one of the soon-to-be-marrieds lived, the couple and guests would either walk or ride in a carriage – depending on the distance – and may or may not be together. The belief in superstitions of bad luck if seen before the vows were passé, but traditions continued to be clung to and since the bride and groom dwelt apart they probably traveled to the chapel separately.
Once at the chapel, I couldn’t find definitive proof as to whether the couple walked down the aisle arm-in-arm, or if the bride walked the aisle alone to meet her groom at the altar, or if the father escorted. I read a couple of bloggers claiming a Regency Era bride walked alone or with the groom, yet historical traditions are clear that the father escorting and giving away is an ancient tradition. Also, the official vows (as I’ll cover in a second) include this line of instruction: “The Minister, receiving the Woman at her father’s or friend’s hands, shall cause the Man with his right hand to take the Woman by her right hand.”
My personal conclusion to this is that, once again, there were no absolutes. This portion of the ceremony would vary depending on the situation and desires. From thereafter, no matter how they approached the altar and the rector, the procedure was straightforward.
Traditional Anglican marriage vows came directly from The Book of Common Prayer. Originally published in 1549 under the rule of King Henry VIII, The Book of Common Prayer was revised in 1662 and has undergone minimal revisions since. Containing prayers and songs as well as the words of structured liturgical services of worship, “The Solemnization of Matrimony” is merely one portion of the book. I should also note here that The Book of Common Prayer, along with the Bible, was owned by nearly every citizen, not just the clergy, so well-known.
The 1662 Book of Common Prayer can be read online by clicking the link. Select the “Table of Contents” and then select the “Solemnization of Matrimony” for the details. As you will see, it is very specific. Historically there were slight variances between the England and Scotland versions, and minor alterations depending on which revision a clergyman owned, but these did not affect the marriage vows in any significant way.
Were the couple unable to insert their own words if they wished? As I noted above, I am not a big believer in absolutes, so will not submit that it never happened. I can say with fair certainty that IF the bride and groom interjected a personal message, it was rare and would not negate or be in lieu of the official vows. The Book of Common Prayer solemnization of matrimony was required for the marriage to be legally and spiritually binding.
So, the vows were recited and repeated. A ring was blessed and placed onto the bride’s finger as the groom declared, “With this ring I thee wed, with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.”
*sigh…. Isn’t that lovely?
At this point, I was going to discuss a bit about the rings. However, as I delved into the topic, I uncovered loads of interesting information. So instead of diverting here, I created a PowerPoint essay with loads of images along with the history. To view, here is that link: Sealed With a Ring, A History of Wedding and Engagement Rings.
The vows were followed by the taking of communion, and then the clergyman reciting Scriptures on marriage and saying prayers. There wasn’t a “you may kiss the bride” moment, or ringing introduction of the newly married couple. No wild cheers or clapping either. The solemn ceremony ended on the same note, lasting until the parish registry was filled in.
Wedding Breakfast ~~
Interestingly, research into what precisely the “wedding breakfast” contained revealed a startling fact: the term was not universal in the early decades of the 19th century, and practically unheard of before. According to John Jeaffreson’s 1872 publication Brides and Bridals, and George Monger’s elaboration in Marriage Customs of the World, the term was gradually popularized as the century progressed. Still, whether referred to as the bridal- or wedding- feast, breakfast, luncheon, dinner, or banquet (all terms used at varied times and places) there isn’t any debate about an after-ceremony celebratory reception to honor the newlyweds with food, wine, entertainment, and cake!
Due to the ceremony occurring early in the day, attendees would either fast or eat lightly prior to the ceremony. In this sense the meal was “breaking their fast” or the first substantial meal of that day, hence the evolution to the term. Listing a “typical” wedding breakfast menu is impossible. Just as today, the choice of dishes served depended upon finances, individual style, regional tastes and favorites, and skill of the people cooking. The luncheon may be very simple or an elaborate feast with rare imported fruits and fine cuisine. In general, the era was one of temperance, as noted before, but it wasn’t a concrete rule or law!
Wedding Celebration ~~
At this point it bears noting that historically a wedding was an event worthy of great celebration. The wealth of wedding-related customs we still practice today have roots in the long-ago centuries. The diversity of cultures and classes in Britain translated to a plethora of traditions and entertainments. The bottom line, in my opinion, is to avoid blanket expectations on what a “typical” wedding party would entail.
Except for the cake! We can be almost one-hundred percent sure there would be a wedding cake! The history of wedding cakes is as long and interesting as the one on wedding rings, so I’ll save that for a later essay. For now, trust me that there would be a cake, and whether small or large, plain or grand, it would be the focal point. Cutting the cake and distributing the pieces was a necessary task steeped in symbolism.
In addition to the food and cake, a wedding reception would include entertainment. This might be no more than a fiddler or piano player, but it could also be a minstrel group or larger orchestra. Depending on the newlyweds’ plans for their wedding night, the celebration might include dancing. Marriage between persons of importance often included a complete ball or soiree, and the lower class county folks might grab onto the opportunity for a community revelry.
Whatever the level of amusements, at some point the couple must bid adieu. Even if merely walking upstairs or driving a short distance, a final and formal toast for luck would be extended. Goodbyes and additional congratulations done, the new Mr. and Mrs. were off to begin their life together!
The Honeymoon ~~
Literally, the “honeymoon” originally referred to the first month of marriage (a moon) when sweetness ruled between the lovers. Not until about 1800 did the word begin to mean a specific post-wedding holiday, and the concept truly did not catch on until the 1900s. Also called the “bridal tour,” one purpose was for the couple to visit those relatives who were unable to attend the wedding. This might have included widespread or Continental travel with sightseeing as a perk, but not as a standard.
Most common during the Regency was for the couple to settle into their home, quietly passing the heady weeks of exploration and fresh love in comfortable surroundings.
And there you have it! The series is complete… sort of. For the next two Mondays – April 21 & 28 – I continue the topic with in-depth coverage of Wedding Ring history and the story behind the Wedding Cake. Be sure to come back for those! Beyond that, I will revisit the topic of wedding history in further posts here and there. It is a fascinating topic!