Organized and compiled by BJ Kuehl for the and newsgroups.
Please email BJ directly with additions or corrections to the FAQ.

Medieval and Renaissance Theme Wedding FAQ: Questions about Traditions, Ceremonies, and Handfastings

1.1: Weddings are filled with 'traditions' such as the tossing of the bouquet and garter, the bride wearing white dress and veil, the exchange of wedding rings, etc. Just how far back do these 'traditions' really go?

1.2: What is the story behind the wedding rhyme:
          "Something old, something new,
          Something borrowed, something blue,
          And a lucky sixpence for your shoe."

1.3: We would like to be married in a medieval-style wedding and want to make it as real as possible, but we don't even know where to start. What were weddings like during the Middle Ages?

1.4: I'm not pagan but my boyfriend is, and he asked me if I'd like to take part in a Handfasting with him. I know the basics of the rite...366 days of a trial marriage sort of thing and, at the end of the 366 days, there is a choice of continuing the relationship or ending it...but I know very little about the ceremony. What things were done in a historical handfasting and in what order?

1.5: I'm getting married next September, and we plan to have a handfasting. I'm trying to gather ideas for the ceremony, decorations, etc. and would love to hear from anyone who has planned or attended a handfasting.

1.6: Is handfasting legally binding?

1.7: My best friend is planning a medieval peasant's wedding and I am in charge of locating appropriate wedding vows. Are there any websites that have samples of medieval vows or could someone please recommend some books?

1.8: Bibliography of Medieval & Renaissance Marriage Practices compiled by Kirsti Thomas

Medieval and Renaissance Theme Wedding FAQ: Questions about
Traditions, Ceremonies, and Handfastings

(c) The Medieval and Renaissance Theme Wedding FAQ was compiled
by and is maintained and copyrighted by Barbara J. Kuehl.  All
suggestions and additions should be emailed to her at  This document may be freely redistributed 
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1.1:  Weddings are filled with 'traditions' such as the tossing
     of the bouquet, the garter toss, the bride wearing white
     dress and veil, the lighting of the unity candle, the
     exchange of wedding rings, etc.  Just how far back do these
     'traditions' really go?  Do any of them stem from medieval
     or renaissance times?

From: (Bryan J. Maloney)
White wedding dresses were not "traditional" until the 19th 
century.  Red was quite popular in the 18th century.  Rings were
not part of the actual Christian wedding ceremony in the British
isles until the 19th century, although they were often exchanged
at the party after the ceremony.
From: (Jeanne Hinds)
THe garter toss is one of the oldest surviving wedding
traditions. Back in medieval times, it was customary for
friends, relatives, guests to accompany the bridal couple to the
marriage bed.  As time went on, this became rowdier and rowdier
to the point that some guests were all too eager to help the
bride out of her wedding clothes.  To forestall such
impropriety, the garters were quickly removed and thrown to the
mob as a distraction.  As time went on, it has evolved into the
tradition we now know.
From: (Shawna Rosen)
The wedding guests would follow the couple back to their room,
and try to grab the bride's garter for good luck.  Brides
starting tossing their garter to the crowd as a means of self
preservation!  As society changed it became inappropriate to
throw part of your underwear, and the bouquet was substituted.
Sometime this century, the garter toss was added back in as a
means of equalizing the tradition.  Women could catch the
bouquet and men could catch the garter.  Why the groom can't
throw part of his own costume is beyond me.
From: Mary Jane Nather 
The sources I read indicated that in the past anything of a
bride's was lucky--gloves, flowers, garters, etc.  It was said
that a man who gave his love the garter of a bride would be
guaranteed faithfulness.  The guests were so eager to get the
garter, often the bride would be accosted at the altar by men
who stole it from her.  Smart brides began having men compete
for the garter--usually a foot or horse race.  Also, many would
give out small colored ribbons called "favours" to guests as an
attempt to avoid being turned upside down by men eager for their
garter.  I've also read that the guests would sit at the end of
the bed with their backs to the bride and groom.  Men would
throw the bride's stocking over their shoulder and try to hit
her nose, while women would do the same for the groom.  Those
with good aim were the next to be married.  Sound like a fun
wedding night?
From: (FKindle) (Fred)
I have been photographing some weddings recently where the bride
& groom both toss the bouquet & garter at the same time.... It
works out great!  It's faster, the catch is better when it's a
surprise to the guys & ladies of who the other person is that
caught it...This works best when you stand back to back and each
throw at the same time. I only hope that you're either both
righty or lefty to avoid a collision... TRY IT.
From: ()
I was looking through the August/September issue of Modern
Bride, and they had a little sidebar called Wedding Customs.
"Many of today's wedding customs have evolved from the days of
ancient Rome, when evil spirits were believed to lurk about and
pose threats to the bride and groom...Bridesmaids dressed
similarly to the bride, and ushers' attire resembled the
groom's.  This was an attempt to confuse the spirits...If [they]
could not tell the bride and groom apart from the attendants,
they would not be able to carry out their plans."  About the
wedding ring:  The early Eqyptians...believed that a circle was
the symbol of eternity--a sign that life, happiness, and love 
have no beginning and no end.  A wedding ring was placed on the
third finger of the left hand because it was believed that a 
vein ran directly from that finger to the heart."  About the
wedding cake:  "Intended as a symbol of fertility...To ensure a
life of plenty, the Romans broke a thin layer of cake over the
bride's head at the end of the ceremony.  Crumbs were then
gathered by guests as good luck tokens."
>From Barbara Kuehl (
This is from
The white wedding dress was made popular by Anne of Brittany 
in 1499.  Before that, a woman just wore her best dress. In 
biblical days, blue (not white) represented purity, and the 
bride and groom would wear a blue band around the bottom of 
their wedding attire, hence something blue.  It is unknown when 
wedding rings were first worn.  The ancient Romans believed
that the vein in the third finger ran directly to the heart, so
wearing the ring on that finger joined the couples hearts and
destiny.  Weddings just wouldn't be complete without fertility
symbols, like the wedding cake. Ancient Romans would bake a cake
made of wheat or barley and break it over the bride's head as a
symbol of her fertility. It became tradition to pile up several
small cakes, one on top of the other, as high as they could, and
the bride and groom would kiss over the tower and try not to
knock it down. If they were successful, it meant a lifetime of
prosperity. During the reign of King Charles II of England, it
became customary to turn this cake into an enjoyably edible
palace, iced with white sugar.  Tying shoes to the bumper of the
car represents the symbolism and power of shoes in ancient
times. Egyptians would exchange sandals when they exchanged
goods, so when the father of the bride gave his daughter to the
groom, he would also give the brides sandals to show that she
now belonged to the groom. In Anglo Saxon times, the groom would
tap the heel of the bride's shoe to show his authority over her.
In later times, people would throw shoes at the couple, and now
we just tie shoes to their car.  (This information is from the
book "A Natural History of Love," by Diane Ackerman)

1.2:  What is the story behind the wedding rhyme:
         "Something old, something new,
          Something borrowed, something blue,
          And a lucky sixpence for your shoe."

From: (Carolyn Boselli)
According to my Bartlett's, it's from the late 19th century,
authorship unknown.
From: "'Riff' Beth Marie Mc Curdy" 
The following is from Oxford's -A Dictionary of Superstitions-
(p.42-43):  "Something old, something new, something borrowed,
something blue" was quoted in a 1883 newspaper and ascribed to
"some Lancashire friends."  Something old tradition- no pre-20th
century citations.  The editors point out a possible link to the
belief that "something old" will protect a baby, first cited at
1659.  No citations for "something new."  Something borrowed-
same 1883 paper (one issue earlier) "it is widely accounted
'lucky' to wear something...which has already been worn by a
happy bride at her wedding."  Something blue- Wearing blue to
express faithfulness traced back as far as a 1390 citation from
Chaucer's "Squire's Tale."  -Sixpence- appears twice, as "silver
sixpence" and "lucky  sixpence" (the third line scans with a
more staccato rhythym than the first two.).  There's 1774 record
of a Scottish groom using a sixpence in his shoe to ward off
evil from his rival, and an 1814 (Scottish again) citation that
the bride "wear a piece of silver in one of her shoes" to ward
evil from disappointed suitors. There are also 20th century
citations to the bride's walking on a gold coin to produce
prosperity. For your curiousity, pre-1650 wedding superstitions
included: 1549 the lifting over the threshhold; 1601 sun seen
shining on the bride = good fortune; 1648 garters passed on to
groomsmen and bridesmaids; 1604 bride's left stocking thrown (as
modern bouquet); 1615 premature marriage producing premature
death; 1592 unmarried elder sisters dancing barefoot at wedding
party; 1634 one wedding brings another; stepping between couple
unlucky (or even caused by the devil).

1.3: We would like to be married in a medieval-style wedding
    and want to make it as real as possible, but we don't even
    know where to start.  What were weddings like during the
    Middle Ages?

From: Susan Carroll-Clark 
So long as the couple made the vows before a witness, the
marriage was valid--no priest had to be present (although this
is increasingly not the case after the 13th century).
From: Kirsti  Thomas 
Weddings during the Middle Ages were considered family/community
affairs.  The only thing needed to create a marriage was for
both partners to state their consent to take one another as
spouses.  Witnesses were not always necessary, nor was the
presence of the clergy.  In Italy, for example, the marriage was
divided into three parts.  The first portion consisted of the
families of the groom and bride drawing up the papers.  The
bride didn't have to even be there for that.  The second, the
betrothal, was legally binding and may or may not have involved
consummation.  At this celebration, the couple exchanged gifts
(a ring, a piece of fruit, etc.), clasped hands and exchanged a
kiss.  The "vows" could be a simple as, "Will you marry me?" "I
will."  The third part of the wedding, which could occur several
years after the betrothal, was the removal of the bride to the
groom's home.  The role of the clergy at a medieval wedding was
simply to bless the couple.  It wasn't official church policy
until the council of Trent in the 15th century that a third
party [c.f. a priest], as opposed to the couple themselves, was
responsible for performing the wedding.  In the later medieval
period, the wedding ceremony moved from the house of the bride
to the church.  It began with a procession to the church from
the bride's house.  Vows were exchanged outside the church (BTW,
the priest gave the bride to the groom...I don't think she was
presented by her father) and then everyone moved inside for
Mass.  After Mass, the procession went back to the bride's house
for a feast.  Musicians accompanied the procession.
From: Susan Carroll-Clark 
A word on historical English weddings.  Traditionally, in front
of the church door, the groom would, in front of witnesses,
announce his bride's dower--that portion (usually 1/3) of his
holdings she would be allowed to use should he die before she
did (she could also inherit land and property, but this was a
different thing).  They would then go in for the solemnization
of vows (very short) and the nuptial mass.
I remember reading Chaucer [d.1400] in High School (the Wife of
Bath's Tale).  Part of the text (and this is the Wife speaking)
says "husbands at church door I have had five".  Due to the need
to ensure that everyone knew beyond a doubt that the couple were
married, weddings would take place outside the church (at the
door) rather than inside where only a few people could view it.
From: (Trystan L. Bass)
For much of Western history, marriage was an exchange of
property, i.e. the woman was being given by her father to her
husband.  The union of property & money & lineage were what was
being celebrated --- not so much the union of two lovers. Hence,
"real" medieval & Renaissance wedding ceremonies were simple
legal unions, sanctioned by the Church, and done with as many
important people as possible to witness it.  "Real" ceremonies
of the time were not terribly intricate in Western Europe & the
UK, so I think it would be much more interesting, charming, and
enjoyable to make up your own medieval-ish or Renaissance-esque
wedding ceremony.

1.4: I'm not pagan but my boyfriend is, and he asked me if I'd
     like to take part in a Handfasting with him.  I know the
     basics of the rite...366 days of a trial marriage sort of 
     thing and, at the end of the 366 days, there is a choice of
     continuing the relationship or ending it...but I know very
     little about the ceremony.  What things were done in a 
     historical handfasting and in what order?

From: Kirsti Thomas 
Handfasting refers to the practice of trial marriages for a
year and a day, supposedly prevalent in Scotland, Wales and
Ireland.  I've never actually run across other references to
this other than Sir Walter Scott (19th cent.).
From: (Raven (J. Singleton))
Here's the reference from Sir Walter Scott:
   "When we are handfasted, as we term it, we are man and wife
    for a year and a day; that space gone by, each may choose
    another mate, or, at their pleasure, may call the priest
    to marry them for life; and this we call handfasting."
     -- Sir Walter Scott, _The Monastery_ (1820), ch. 25.
From: (Tien-Yee Chiu)
The old way in Great Britain for couples to pledge their
betrothal was for them to join hands, his right to her right,
his left to her left, so from above they looked like an infinity
symbol.  Done in front of witnesses, this made them officially
"married" for a year and a day, following which they could renew
permanently or for another year and a day.  This was called
"handfasting" and was used extensively in the rural areas where
priests and ministers didn't go all that often.  Sharing a cup
and pledging their betrothal in front of witnesses used to
accomplish the same thing (usually done in taverns) but was
eventually outlawed in most of Europe.  In fact, the reference I
got that from mentioned only Switzerland because they were one
of the last to stop recognizing it as a legal marriage.
From: (Raven (J. Singleton))
   "This custom of handfasting actually prevailed in the upland
    days.  It arose partly from the want of priests.  While the
    convents subsisted, monks were detached on regular circuits
    through the wilder districts, to marry those who had lived
    in this species of connexion."
      -- Andrew Lang, note in his edition of _The Monastery_
From: (Sharon Krossa)
Hate to break it to you but, historically speaking, the rite of 
handfasting is very Christian and very unexciting.  The name 
comes from the medieval Scottish tradition of joining the hands
of the couple as part of the public betrothal proceedings.  It 
was *not* a kind of marriage, either permanent or temporary. (I 
emphasise this because many people, including myself until I 
started researching the subject, are under the misconception that
it was some kind of trial/temporary marriage.)  The real medieval
practice was that handfasting was a synonym for *betrothal*, that
is, for getting engaged to be married. IT WAS NOT MARRIAGE!  Not
_historically_. If modernly the term is also used to mean a form
of marriage, it is completely unrelated to the historical 
practice.  Anton [in Anton, AE (1958) Handfasting in Scotland.
_The Scottish Historical Review_ XXXVII.124: 89-102] gives some
nice primary-source details on the form of marriage ceremonies,
and references to procedures used. It seems that the major 
difference between a handfasting/betrothal and a marriage 
ceremony is that, at the betrothal, the couple promises to get 
married in the future while, in the marriage ceremony, they 
consent to marriage in words of the present (and thus, well, 
actually get married). The forms as quoted in Anton are 
remarkably similar, with really only a change in the tense of 
the couple's promises.  Who says words aren't powerful?  Make a 
slip of the tongue, and a couple could end up married instead of
just betrothed!  Here is the lowdown on the *historical* 
practice of handfasting:
If, in medieval Scotland, a couple consented to marriage in the 
present tense, then they were *married* -- they were not hand 
fasted, they were *married*. It did not matter if there were any
witnesses or not. Witnesses only made it easier to prove. It did
not matter if a priest was present, or not. It did not matter if
the marriage was blessed, or a mass followed, or not. It did not
even matter if the marriage was consumated, or not. (This was 
true in Scotland until 1940.)
If, in medieval Scotland, a couple formally became betrothed, 
that is, promised to marry each other sometime in the *future*, 
with witnesses, marriage contract, and ceremony, then they were 
handfasted, that is, they were *engaged* to be married.  They 
were *not* married.
If, in medieval Scotland, a couple had sex after a promise of 
future marriage, whether this promise was made publically at a 
formal handfasting/betrothal ceremony or was made privately with
no witnesses at all, then the couple was *married*, not 
handfasted, but *married*.  This is because the act of sex after
such a promise of future marriage was considered to amount to 
present consent to marriage. And all it took to get married was 
for the couple to consent to it in the present tense.  (This was
also true in Scotland until 1940.)
If, in medieval Scotland, a couple were married, they were 
married for *life*. There was no such thing as trial marriage.
There was no such thing as marriage for a year and a day. There 
was either being married, or not being married. Once they did 
the being married bit, they stayed married till the day one of 
them died. The only way out was to prove that they were never 
legally married in the first place. That means, one or both of 
them were either too young, too closely related to each other,
impotent at the time of their marriage, or already married to 
someone else at the time of their marriage. Even if they were 
too young, if they didn't stop living together as man and wife 
the day they became of age (12 for women, 14 for men), then they
were considered legally married from then on (amounts to present
consent, again).
All of the above is, of course, in a Christian context, because
Scotland was a Christian kingdom in the middle ages. The above 
forms of marriage were recognized by the Christian church in 
medieval Scotland. As far as I am aware, there is no information
whatsoever* about marriage practices in Scotland prior to its 
Christianization.  If someone has some primary source information
about pre-Christian Scottish marriage practices, I'd love to know
about it.

1.5: I'm getting married next September, and we plan to have a
    handfasting.  I'm trying to gather ideas for the ceremony,
    decorations, etc. and would love to hear from anyone who has
    planned or attended a handfasting.

From: cm369@FreeNet.Carleton.CA (D. Sabrina Baskey)
Handfasting nowadays is a neopagan wedding ceremony, the
equivalent of a Judeo-Christian marriage ceremony, uniting two
people in love.  The essential elements are thanking the
gods/Goddess for bringing this love into their lives; feeding
each other and giving each other a drink (to show their
commitment to caring for the other); and jumping over a broom.
The cutting of the wedding cake usually includes feeding each
other a small portion, and you can make a toast to each other
and drink out of the other's cup.  The only element that would
seem out of place in a Christian wedding is the broom.
Depending on the tolerance of your guests and your desire to
include this, you could do it as part of your reception, with
some little explanation.  Or you could do what I plan to do,
which is place a broom at the end of the "aisle", so that we can
jump it at the end of the recessional.  We plan to get married
in a garden, so I don't have to worry about who might disapprove
of me placing a broom in it, but this probably wouldn't work too
well at a church wedding.
From: (Lanfear)
We tied in several period wedding customs as part of our
ceremony.  One is to kiss three times while saying "I love thee"
after each kiss, and another is for the couple to jump over a
crossed broom and sword (held by the best man and the maid of
honor).  The symbolizes the cutting of ties to their parents and
the ties being swept away.
From: (Mystic)
I am sorry to point this out to you but Jumping over a broom
originated in the days of slavery.  Paganism was around a whole 
lot longer than that!
From: Cinnamon Minx 
We're going to do it outside, in traditional Scottish attire
(kilts and all! Whoopee! Love the legs, honey!) and we're
planning to have Celtic music and some Scottish food.  We don't
have all the details worked out yet, but once we decided how to
go, it started to evolve from there.
From: (Goosie)
We might opt for an outdoor civil ceremony with a celtic style
reception .  During the vows, we could have our friend
 bind our hands with a white
ribbon explaining the tradition to our guests.
From: (Amypamy)
We held our ceremony outside.  Our minister was incredible; she
had a voice that carried, and announced to all:  "Hear Ye, Hear
Ye!  The Wedding Ceremony is about to begin!"  We wanted our
guests to be participants, not spectators, so we had the
officiant gather them in a circle around an arch in front of
which we were to stand.  Mark walked in first, with his two
attendants walking side by side ahead of him.  Then my
attendants walked in, also side by side, then my father and me
until we reached his chair, at which point we kissed, and I left
him there to walk towards Mark on my own.  Mark held a sword in
his hand, and as I approached, we held the sword together, and
planted it in the ground.  That was our "altar".  The officiant
said a greeting, which gave meaning to the circle (enclosing the
spirit, etc.).  She then poured a libation as offering to those
who couldn't be with us (i.e., my mother has passed away).  We
then had two of the attendants come up and pass a cloth about
our clasped hands - we grabbed each other's right with our
right, etc., so the symbol formed was that of "infinity".  The
cloth was just a white cloth with a stylized Celtic knot sewn
on.  We stood that way while the officiant read our consents, we
repeated said vows, read some things, etc.  Our hands were
unbound by the other attendants, and then we did a ring
exchange.   After the ring exchange, we had the pronouncement,
and we walked out together while his best man grabbed the sword.
Altogether, I'd say the ceremony itself lasted about 15 minutes.
From: (Laura Mitchell)
We wrote our own vows and included a lot of symbolism about the
'circle of life', an important aspect to us.  See our ceremony
From: Kirsti Thomas 
I believe that part of the Orthodox Wedding Rite involves the
ceremonial binding of the couple's hands together.
From: (Morgan ap Rhys)
Here are the vows from a handfasting as written by a friend of
mine.  I personally find it one of the nicest I've seen.  This
is followed by the exchange of rings, or the tieing of the
hands, or whatever you have decided to use as the symbol of your
joining.  Use this as you see fit and enjoy.

    I am woman, cherish me.
    I give life to all things.
    It is I who bring bounty,
    From the green things in the fields
    To the wild creatures in the forest.
    I am light and laughter,
    I am Brigid, mother of All.

    I am man, respect me.
    I bring death to all things.
    It is I who am the reaper,
    I am the Lord of the Hunt
    And lord of the fields.
    I lead the dead to the Summerland,
    I am Herne, father of All.

    Love and honor us.
    Together we are life and death,
    Darkness and light,
    Joy and sorrow,
    Order and chaos.
    We are summer and winter,
    Spring and fall.
    We are growth and decay,
    Youth and age,
    Night and day,
    Female and male.
    Wherever one of us walks,
    The other will be not far behind.
    This is the way of things.
From: (Mothermay)
These vows are not traditional; they're only a couple a years
old. My husband and I wrote them:
    "(Insert name), you have embraced all aspects of my nature.
You love me completely, for both my strengths and my weaknesses.
You have given me the courage and faith to trust you, to let you
love me as an entire person.  You have allowed me to embrace all
aspects of your nature. You have let me love you completely, for
both your strengths and your weaknesses. You have shown courage
and faith in me, to trust me to love you as an entire person. I,
(name), take you, (another name), just as you are, and however
you may change, above all others, to share my life."
From: (John R. Snead)
Here is the text of our handfasting ceremony:

John: Tonight we return to each other the tokens of our time
apart. (This refers to the fact that before we were married,
we were living in different states.  The 'tokens' are necklaces
we gave each other.)
Becca: For tonight we pledge our love, and start our life
together.  (John places Becca's token around her neck, Becca
places John's token around his neck)
John: With this knife, I promise to stand beside you through
all the challenges of this life, to support you, and defend
you whenever you need me.
Becca: I accept your promise. (John kisses blade, puts it on,
and rises.  Becca kneels and holds her knife)
Becca: With this knife, I promise to stand beside you through
all the challenges of this life, to support you, and defend you
whenever you need me.
John: I accept your promise. (Becca kisses blade, puts it on,
and rises.  John takes up his cup and kneels)
John: With this cup, I promise to accept the love you pour upon
me, and to return that love in kind.  (Becca takes pitcher and
fills cup)
Becca: Drink, then, of my love.  (John drinks, places cup on
table, and rises,  Becca takes up her cup and kneels)
Becca: With this cup, I promise to accept the love you pour upon
me, and to return that love in kind.  (John takes pitcher and
fills cup)
John: Drink, then, of my love.  (Becca drinks, places cup on
table, and stands.  John pricks his finger [we used sterile
blood-test stylets available at most pharmacies], bleeds a drop
on the fire)
John: With this blood I ask the gods to bless this union. (Takes
cup from table and bleeds a drop into it)  With this blood I
bind my life to yours.  (John holds cup up, Becca places her
hands over his)
Becca: I drink of our life together.  (Becca drinks, John places
cup on table and stands.  Becca pricks her finger and bleeds a
drop on the fire)  With this blood I ask the gods to bless this
union.  (Takes cup from table and bleeds a drop into it)  With
this blood I bind my life to yours.  (Becca holds cup up, John
places his hands over hers)
John: I drink of our life together.  (John drinks, Becca returns
cup to the table and stands)

                       Vows before the gods

(The Priest and Priestess turn toward the others, the Priestess
to the right of the Priest.  They join hands, raising their arms
aloft at the same time)  Priest:  May the place of this rite be
consecrated before the gods.  For we gather here in a ritual of
love with the two who would be wedded.  John and Becca come
forward to stand before us and before the Gods.  (The Priest
picks up the wand (with the rings on it, one on each end) and
holds one end of it before him in his right hand, the Priestess
likewise holds the other in with her left hand, the rings on the
exposed wand between them) Place your right hands beside each
other, over this wand, and your rings.

Priestess: Above you are the stars below you the stone.  As time
does pass remember...  like a star should you be constant.  Like
a stone should your love be firm.  Be close, yet not too close.
Possess one another, yet be understanding.  Have patience each
with the other the other for storms will come, but they will go
quickly.  Be free in giving of affection and warmth.  Make love
often, and be sensuous to one another.  Have no fear, and let
not the ways or words of strangers give you unease.  For the
Goddess and the God are with you.  Now and always.

(After a pause of five heartbeats) Priest: Is it your wish Becca
to join your life with this man?
Becca: It is.
Priest: Is it your wish John to join your life with this woman?
John: It is
Priest: Then as the Goddess, the God, and the Old Ones are
witness to this rite, I hereby announce to all here that you are
husband and wife.

1.6: Is handfasting legally binding?

Handfasting is not a "legal" binding agreement between two
people unless that is what the couple wishes.  As a nonlegal
binding agreement, the period of "commitment" is one year and a
day after which the vows can either be renewed, the couple
become LEGALLY married, or go separate ways.
From: (Raven (J. Singleton))
Common-law marriage in general is still legally recognized in 
several of the United States: AL, CO, GA, IA, ID, KS, OH, OK, PA,
RI, SC, TX, UT, and even in DC (This list as of 1987, from the 
current World Almanac & Book of Facts).  Generally, this just 
takes both of you saying that you ARE man and wife, and conducting
yourselves accordingly.  No particular ceremony needed.  This
allows a man and woman in a deserted place with no-one else
around to marry -- and later have it be found legitimate, legal
and binding.(However, I am *NOT* a lawyer.  Look up the rules
for your *OWN* state.)

1.7:  My best friend is planning a medieval peasant's wedding
     and I am in charge of locating appropriate wedding vows.
     Are there any websites that have samples of medieval vows
     or could someone please recommend some books?

From: (Sorensen Lise D)
I had lunch with our medievalist yesterday, and have I got good
news for you!  There are two books -- in paperback, yet -- which
will supply all your needs regarding medieval vows and weddings.
The first book is _Women's Lives in Medieval Europe_, edited by
Emilie Amt. I recommend this book highly as general reading. It
is informative, and well-written. It is also useful as a guide
to medieval marriage ceremonies and customs.  The second books
is _Nuptial Blessing_ (1982) by Kenneth Stevenson [Oxford
University Press, New York]. In it are contained the various
forms of wedding vows and blessings of the Middle Ages with all
their regional and temporal variations. BTW, included in this
book is the blessing for the marriage bed. You see, very often a
couple wasn't married at the church, but a priest would come by
the family home (after the couple was ceremonially acknowledged
as wedded by their families) and bless the bed and wedding
chamber in the presence of both families and the newly-wedded
bride and groom. The priest and relatives would leave the room
(to continue partying in the rest of the house, or nearby), and
leave the couple to consummate their relationship in the newly
"sacralized" bed.
From: Kirsti Thomas 
Another good source is "Documents of the Marriage Liturgy" by
Searle, Mark, and Kenneth W Stevenson.  Collegeville, Minn.:
Liturgical P, 1992.  This is THE book to read for copies of the
vows themselves.  Includes Jewish ceremony and a number of
Christian liturgies from the Early Middle Ages to the present)
From: J. L. Spangler 
i've always loved this quote--we may put it in our programs.
   Doubt thou the stars are fire;
   Doubt that the sun doth move;
   Doubt truth to be a liar;
   But never doubt I love.
             (from Hamlet)
From: (Renee Ann Byrd)
A 1993 wedding I attended had a bit of medieval flavor to it.
According to the program, the wedding service was taken from the
1549 "Book of Common Prayer."
From: (Trystan L. Bass)
For an authentic Renaissance ceremony, point your Web browser at,
then go to wedding.  This is part of the archives of, and
the weddings-e-art file begins with two ceremony scripts drawn
from the 16th century "English Book of Common Prayer".
Actually, the format has not changed much (only the language),
so the modern book would be appropriate also.  For Renaissance
readings, anything in the King James Version of the Bible is
perfect.  The language is pure high Renaissance.  On this same
rialto site, there is another large wedding file with lots of
archived letters discussing the subject of period weddings.
Finally, for some romantic wedding poetry, look into:
Shakespeare's Sonnet 18 (Shall I compare thee to a summer's
day), Sonnet 116 (Let me not to a marriage of true minds admit
impediment), _Romeo and Juliet_, act 2, scene 2 (But soft!  What
light through yonder window breaks), and Christopher Marlowe's
"Passionate Shepherd to His Love" (Come live with me and be my
love and we shall all the pleasures prove).
From: J. L. Spangler 
Jennifer pulls her trusty Riverside Shakespeare from the shelf.
Here's Sonnet 29:
     When in disgrace with Fortune and men's eyes
     I all alone beweep my outcast state,
     And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
     And look upon myself and curse my fate,
     Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
     Featur'd like him, like him with friends possess'd,
     Desiring this man's art, and that man's scope,
     With what I most enjoy contented least;
     Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
     Haply I think on thee, and then my state
     (Like to the lark at break of day arising
     From sullen earth) sing hymns at heaven's gate,
     For thy sweet love rememb'red such wealth brings,
     That then I scorn to change my state with kings.
From: (Joe Bethancourt)
      The Form of Matrimony in the European Middle Ages
          As reconstructed by W. J. Bethancourt III,
(NOTE:  This is not intended to be represented as a true
medieval marriage rite, but rather a reconstruction (with such
alterations and interpolations as to make it acceptable in
modern usages) from available references for use within the SCA,
nor is it represented as a "official" rite of any Church, nor as
an official ceremony of the SCA Inc.  The sources used were the
Book of Common Prayer of HRM Elizabeth I of England, extracts
from the Sarum Rite and the York Rite, and various other lesser

At the day and time appointed for solemnization of Matrimony,
the persons to be married shall come into the porch of the
Church with their friends and neighbors; and there standing
together, the Man on the right hand, and the woman on the left,
with that person who shall give the Woman betwixt them, the
Priest shall say,

Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of
God to join together this Man and this Woman in holy Matrimony;
which is an honourable estate, instituted of God in Paradise,
and into which holy estate these two persons present come now to
be joined.  Therefore if any man can shew any just cause, why
they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or
else hereafter for ever hold his peace.

And also, speaking unto the persons that shall be married, he
shall say:  I require and charge you both, as ye will answer at
the dreadful day of judgement when the secrets of all hearts
shall be disclosed, that if either of you know any impediment,
why ye may not be lawfully joined together in Matrimony, that ye
confess it.  For ye be well assured, that so many as be coupled
together otherwise than God's Word doth allow are not joined
together by God; neither is their Matrimony lawful.  At which
day of Marriage, if any man do alledge and declare any
impediment, why they may not be coupled together in Matrimony,
by God's Law, or the Laws of the Realm; and will be bound, and
sufficient sureties with him, to the parties; or else put in a
Caution (to the full value of such charges as the persons to be
married do thereby sustain) to prove his allegation; then the
solemnization must be deferred, until such time as the truth be

If no impediment be alleged, then shall the Priest say unto the
Man:  N., Wilt thou have this Woman to be thy wedded wife, to
live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of
Matrimony?  Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honour, and keep
her, in sickness and in health; and forsaking all other, keep
thee only unto her, so long as ye both shall live?

The Man shall answer:  I will.

Then shall the Priest say to the Woman:  N., Wilt thou have this
man to be thy wedded husband, to live together after God's
ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony?  Wilt thou obey him,
and serve him, love, honour, and keep him in sickness and in
health; and, forsaking all other, keep thee only unto him, so
long as ye both shall live?

The Woman shall answer:  I will.

Thus ends the formal betrothal.  They shall then advance unto
the Altar, led by the Minister, who shall then turn to the
assembled company, and say:  Who giveth this Woman to be married
to this Man?

And the person who gives the Woman shall answer, and shall place
the Woman's right hand in the hand of the Minister, and then
shall retire.  Then shall they give their troth to each other in
this manner:  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, and to say after him as
followeth:  I,  N., take thee N to my wedded wife, to have and
to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer
for poorer, for fairer or fouler, in sickness and in health, to
love and to cherish, till death us depart, according to God's
holy ordinance; and thereunto I plight thee my troth.

Then shall they loose their hands; and the Woman, with her right
hand taking the Man by his right hand, shall likewise say after
the Minister:  I  N. take thee N to my wedded husband, to have
and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for
richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to be bonny and
buxom at bed and at board, to love and to cherish, till death us
depart, according to God's holy ordinance; and thereunto I
plight thee my troth.

Then shall they again loose their hands; and the Man shall give
unto the Woman a Ring, laying the same upon the Book with the
accustomed duty to the Priest and Clerk.  And the Priest shall
bless the Ring(s) in the following manner:  Bless these Rings,
O merciful Lord, that those who wear them, that give and receive
them, may be ever faithful to one another, remain in your peace,
and live and grow old together in your love, under their own
vine and fig tree, and seeing their children's children. Amen.

And the Priest, taking the Ring, shall deliver it to the Man, to
put it on the fourth finger of the Woman's left hand.  And the
Man holding the ring there, and taught by the Priest, shall say:
With this Ring I thee wed, (here placing it upon her thumb) and
with my body I thee honor, (here placing it upon her index
finger) and with all my worldly goods I thee endow; (here
placing it upon her ring finger) In the Name of the Father, and
of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

If it be a double-ring ceremony, let the Woman do the same as
the Man, giving him the ring, and repeating the same words as
he.  They both shall kneel down; and the Minister shall say:
Let us pray.  O Eternal God, Creator and Preserver of all
mankind, Giver of all spiritual grace, the Author of everlasting
life;  Send thy blessing upon these thy servants, this man and
this woman, whom we bless in thy Name; + that, as Isaac and
Rebecca lived faithfully together, so these persons may surely
perform and keep the vow and covenant betwixt them made, whereof
this Ring given and received is a token and pledge, and may ever
hereafter remain in perfect love and peace together, and live
according to thy laws; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

And here shall be said the "Our Father."  Then shall the Priest 
join their right hands together, and say:  Those whom God hath 
joined together let no man put asunder.

Then shall the Minister speak unto the people:  Forasmuch as N
and N have consented together in holy wedlock, and have
witnessed the same before God and this company, and thereto have
given and pledged their troth each to the other, and have
declared the same by giving and receiving of a Ring, and by
joining of hands; I pronounce therefore that they be Man and
Wife together, in the Name of the Father, + and of the Son, and
of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

And the Minister shall add this blessing:  God the Father, + God
the Son, God the Holy Spirit, bless, preserve, and keep you;
the Lord mercifully with his favour look upon you; and so fill
you with all spiritual benediction and grace, that ye may so
live together in this life, that in the world to come ye may
have life everlasting.  Amen.

And here the Minister shall turn the couple to the Company, and
they may kiss each the other, and then proceed from the Altar.
And if it be the wish of the couple to take Communion, they may
do it privately, following these ceremonies.

            Here endeth the Medieval Wedding
From: Kirsti Thomas 
My husband Jherek and I wrote our own vows.  They are posted at  Be aware that the
ceremony isn't historically accurate.  Some of the phrasings
(e.g. bonny and boxum at bed and at board) and rituals are taken
from period sources, but we also made up some of it ourselves.
From: (Tien-Yee Chiu)
According to Barbara Walker in _The Woman's Encyclopedia of
Myths and Secrets_, the original Anglican marriage service for
the wife went like this:  "I take thee to my wedded husband, to
have and to hold, for fairer or fouler, for better for worse,
for richer for poorer, in sickness or health, ***to be bonny and
buxom in bed*** and at board, till death us depart [sic]."  (A
curious clerical note made in the margin at a later date
explained that "bonny and buxom" really meant "meek and
obedient".  Somehow I don't think so.) (She attributes this
information to W. Carew Hazlitt, _Faiths and Folklores of the
British Isles_, p. 447, in case anyone cares to check up on it.)
From: (Rain)
There is an entire page of Handfasting information on the WWWeb,
It's not everything you'll want, but it's a fair place to start.
From:  BJ Kuehl (
Kirsti Thomas has compiled the following bibliography of books
on the topic of medieval wedding customs.  This bibliography is
also housed at:

1.8:                A (Rough) Bibliography of
          Medieval and Renaissance Marriage Practices
      (with some Celtic stuff thrown in for good measure)

            Compiled by Kirsti Thomas
This bibliography focuses on marriage customs in Western Europe,
dealing primarily with England, France, Germany and Italy.  I have not
included works on the topic of costume (with one exception), since
an extensive FAQ on historical costuming is frequently posted to  The FAQ is also available via FTP at
Several of the works are in languages other than English.  Since my
comprehension of Italian and French is minimal at best, I cannot
guarantee the usefulness of works in those languages.  I am also in the
process of reviewing the works cited here and will be revising this
bibliography as time allows.

Adams, Jeremy duQuesnay.  Patterns of Medieval Society.  Englewood
  Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1969.

Altieri, Marco Antonio.  Li nuptiali.  Rome, C. Bartoli, 1873.  Ed. Enrico
  (If you can read Italian, this seems to be one of the best primary
  sources on Italian Renaissance wedding rituals.  Originally written
  around 1509, it was reprinted in 1873 and does not seem to have
  appeared in print since.)

Bingham, Joel Foote.  The Christian Marriage Ceremony: Its History,
  Significance and Curiosities: Ritual, Practical and Archaeological Notes;
  and the Text of the English, Roman, Greek and Jewish Ceremonies.  New
  York: A. D. F. Randolph & Company, 1871.

Bolton, Brenda, et al., eds.  Women in Medieval Society.  Philadelphia: U
  of Pennsylvania P, 1976.

Brooke, Christopher Nugent Lawrence.  The Medieval Idea of Marriage.
  Oxford: Oxford UP, 1989.
  (Historical study of how marriage was viewed, legally, ecclesiastically
  and socially, and how it evolved)

Brundage, James A.  Sex, Law and Marriage in the Middle Ages.  Aldershot,
  England: Variorum, 1993.

Brucker, Gene A.  Giovanni and Lusanna: Love and Marriage in Renaissance
  Florence.  London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1986.

Centro italiano di studi sull'alto Medioevo.  Il Matrimonio Nella Societa
  Altomedievale: 22-28 aprile 1976. Settimane di studio del Centro italiano
  di studi sull'alto Medioevo 24.  Spoleto : Presso la sede del Centro, 1977.

Charsley, Simon R.  Wedding Cakes and Cultural History.  London:
  Routledge, 1992.

Cunnington, Phillis Emily, and Catherine Lucas.  Costume for Births,
  Marriages & Deaths.   New York: Barnes & Noble, 1972.
  (Brief discussions of clothing and customs from roughly the 11th to
  the late 19th centuries, focusing primarily on England.  Contains many
  direct quotes from period sources)

Duby, Georges.  Love and Marriage in the Middle Ages.  Trans. Jane
  Dunnett.  Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1994.

Duby, Georges.  Medieval Marriage: Two Models from Twelfth-century
  France.  Trans. Elborg Forster. Johns Hopkins Symposia in Comparative
  History  11.  Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1978.

Duby, Georges.  The Knight, the Lady, and the Priest: the Making of
  Modern Marriage in Medieval France.   Trans. Barbara Bray.  1st
  American ed.  New York: Pantheon Books, 1983.

Ennen, Edith.  The Medieval Woman.  Trans. Edmund Jephcott.  Oxford:
  Basil Blackwell, 1989.

Famiglietti  R. C.  Tales of the Marriage Bed from Medieval France
  (1300-1500).  1st ed.  Providence, RI: Picardy P, 1992.

Fischer, Andreas.  Engagement, Wedding and Marriage in Old English.
  Anglistische Forschungen 176.  Heidelberg: Winter, 1986.

Gaudemet, Jean,  Le Mariage en Occident: les Moeurs et le Droit .  Paris:
  Editions du Cerf, 1987.

Gerstfeldt, Olga von.  Hochzeitsfeste der Renaissance in Italien.
  Esslingen: P. Neff, 1906.

Gies, Frances, and Joseph Gies.  Marriage and the Family in the Middle
  Ages.  1st ed.  New York: Harper & Row, 1987.

Goldberg, P. J. P.  Women, Work, and Life Cycle in a Medieval Economy:
  Women in York and Yorkshire c. 1300-1520.  Oxford: Clarendon P; New
  York: Oxford UP, 1992.

Greilsammer, Myriam.  L'envers du Tableau: Mariage & Maternite en Flandre
  Medievale.  Paris: A. Colin, 1990.

Haines, Frank, and Elizabeth Haines.  Foreign Brides From Antiquity.
  Cumberland, Md.: Hobby House P, 1989.
  (The Haines present general examples of brides from various points
  in history (1600, B.C. - A.D. 1720)  Costumed dolls model the fashions
  in color photos.  Also includes detailed descriptions of costume, with
  line drawings of each item of clothing and brief descriptions of
  wedding customs.)

Herlihy, David.  The Social History of Italy and Western Europe,
  700-1500.  London: Variorum, 1978.

Holliday, Carl.  Wedding Customs Then and Now.  Boston: Stratford, 1919.

James, Edwin Oliver.  Marriage Customs Through the Ages.  New York:
  Collier, 1965.

Klapisch-Zuber, Christiane., Women, Family and Ritual in Renaissance
  Italy.  Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1985.

Lafon, Jacques.  Les Epoux Bordelais: 1450-1550, Regimes Matrimoniaux
  et Mutations Sociales. Demographie et Societes 16.  Paris,
  S.E.V.P.E.N., 1972.

Laiou, Angeliki E., ed.  Consent and Coercion to Sex and Marriage in
  Ancient and Medieval Societies.  Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks
  Research Library and Collection, 1993.

Lasker, Joe.  Merry Ever After: the Story of Two Medieval Weddings.  1st
  ed.  New York: Viking P, 1976.
  (children's book with nice color illustrations)

Molho, Anthony.  Marriage Alliance in Late Medieval Florence.  Cambridge,
  Mass.: Harvard UP, 1994.

Molin, Jean-Baptiste, and Protais Mutembe.  Le Rituel du Mariage en
  France du XIIe au XVIe Siecle . Theologie Historique 26.  Paris:
  Beauchesne, 1974.
  (One of the most frequently quoted works on the topic)

Powell, Chilton Latham.  English Domestic Relations, 1487-1653: a Study
  of Matrimony and Family Life in Theory and Practice as Revealed by the
  Literature, Law, and History of the Period.  New York: Columbia UP, 1917.

Rollin, Betty.  I Thee Wed: a Collection of Marriage Vows Past and
  Present, Here and There.  1st ed.  Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1961.

Roqueta, Joan.  Lo Ritual Occitan del Maridatge: Testimoni d'una
  Civilisacion Originala: Edicion Sinoptica e Critica de Tres Rituals amb
  Formularis en Lenga Occitana (Bordeu 1466, Caors 1503, Perigus 1536),
  Seguida d'una Analisi de Textes Occitans Medievals e d'una Prepausicion
  de Ritual Moderne del Maridatge en Lenga d'Oc.  Besiers: Centre
  Internacional de Documentacion Occitana, 1981.

Salamallah, the Corpulent.  Medieval Games.  2nd ed.  Albuquerque, N.M.:
  Raymond's Quiet P, 1982.
  (Games and sports you can try at the reception!)

Salisbury, Joyce E.  Medieval Sexuality: a Research Guide.  Garland
  Reference Library of Social Science 565.  Garland Medieval Bibliographies
  5.  New York: Garland, 1990.

Saslow, James M.  The Medici Wedding of 1589: Florentine Festival as
  Theatrum Mundi.  New Haven: Yale UP, 1996.
  (projected date of publication: 5-96)

Schott, Clausdieter.  Trauung und Jawort: Wandel einer Form.  Frankfurt:
  Metzner, 1969.

Schwerdtfeger, Anne.  Ethnological Sources of the Christian Marriage
  Ceremony.  Stockholm: Ceres, 1982.

Searle, Mark, and Kenneth W. Stevenson.  Documents of the Marriage
  Liturgy.  Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical P, 1992.
  (_The_ book to read for copies of the vows themselves.  Includes a Jewish
  ceremony and a number of Christian liturgies from the Early Middle Ages
  to the present)

Stevenson, Kenneth W.  Nuptial Blessing: a Study of Christian Marriage
  Rites.  New York: Oxford UP, 1983.
  (Chapter 2 is a good source for various rituals and ceremonies,
  while Chapter 3 deals with marriage customs during the Reformation)

Stone, Lawrence.  The Family, Sex and Marriage in England, 1500-1800.
  New York: Harper & Row, 1977.

Tasman, Alice Lea Mast.  Wedding Album: Customs and Lore Through the
  Ages.  New York: Walker, 1982.

Tegg, William.  The Knot Tied: Marriage Ceremonies of All Nations.
  Detroit: Singing Tree P, 1970.

Urlin, Ethel L.  A Short History of Marriage, Marriage Rites, Customs and
  Folklore in Many Countries and All Ages.  Detroit: Singing Tree P, 1969.

Van Hoecke, Willy, and Andries Welkenhuysen.  Love and Marriage in the
  Twelfth Century. Mediaevalia Lovaniensia, ser. 1, studia 8.  Leuven:
  Leuven UP, 1981.

Vocelka, Karl.  Habsburgische Hochzeiten 1550-1600: kulturgeschichtlichen
  Studien zum manieristischen Reprasentationsfest.  Veroffentlichungen der
  Kommission fur Neuere Geschichte Osterreichs 65.  Wien: Bohlau, 1976.

Waugh, Scott L.  The Lordship of England: Royal Wardships  and Marriages
  in English Society and Politics, 1217-1327.  Princeton, N.J.: Princeton
  UP, 1988.

Westermarck, Edward.  The History of Human Marriage.  5th ed.  New York:
  Allerton Book Company, 1922.

Charsley, Simon R.  Rites of Marrying: the Wedding Industry in Scotland.
  Manchester: Manchester  UP, 1991.

Martin  James.  The Road to the Aisle.  New ed.  Edinburgh: Saint Andrew,
  (Scottish weddings)

McGuire  Kim.  The Irish Wedding Book .  Dublin:  Wolfhound P, 1994.

Power, Patrick C.  Sex and Marriage in Ancient Ireland.  Dublin:
  Mercier, 1976.

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