Medieval Betrothal

Most wealthy men married when they were over 30. A son came into his inheritance on marriage, so parents often delayed the ceremony as long as possible. Women married earlier, usually when they were about 20, but were sometimes betrothed (promised in marriage) as young as seven.

For the rich, marriage was the alliance of two families. It usually started with a business meeting to discuss the dowry (in medieval times this was a payment made by the groom to the bride’s father). Representatives of the two families agreed on the terms of the contract with a handshake.

Only then did the couple meet.

There was then a meeting to read the contract, followed by the “ring day” (marriage ceremony) in the church porch. It was like a modern wedding service, except that the bride always promised to “obey”, and also to be “bonere and buxom” (pleasant and easy-going). Finally, the wife rode to her husband’s house on a white horse.

Poor people usually married at the church gate, althogh a promise – or even a rush ring tied around the girl’s finger – was sufficient. Witnesses threw grain and sawdust over the couple to wish them a prosperous marriage and then they celebrated with feasting and a riotous charivari (dance).

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