Weddings during the Elizabethan Era

During the Elizabethan Era, the legal age for marriage was fourteen for boys and twelve for girls, but most marriages were not held until the couple was in their mid to late twenties (Marriages were Arranged). Typically, the man was two to three years older than the woman and was expected to own property and have a means to support the family economically (Emerson). In classes of nobility, most marriages were still arranged, and, ”it was generally considered foolish to marry for love (Popinjay Press).” In lower classes, marriages were also usually arranged, but families gave their son or daughter a say in who they wanted to marry.

Courtship and Dowry

Although some couples never saw more than a picture before the day of their wedding, courting was the formal way for a man and a woman to meet and spend time together before the wedding. Courting began with the man writing a letter to the maiden’s father, asking permission to court his daughter. If the father agreed, the man was to present a ring to the maiden on his first visit. On the second visit, it was customary for the man to give the woman a set of gloves. For visits there after the man was expected to come bearing a new gift. Common gifts included half a coin, a handkerchief, and a lock of hair. Once the marriage was within sight, the negotiation of the dowry took place (Singman). The dowry was the woman’s contribution to the couple’s economic stability, given by her family to her husband before the wedding. This was essentially a gift to the husband of not only money, but also sometimes land or goods. The dowry gave the husband power over the money and property, but also all legal rights over his wife ("Marriages were Arranged").

Getting one step closer to the wedding, the couple had to make a formal exchange or oral promises before a witness called a betrothal. Next, there was a public proclamation where a reading of banns occurred three Sundays in a row to bless the couple and publicize the wedding to the community (Emerson). Finally, it was time for the wedding where the women would take the surname of her husband and the two would be legally bonded together until death do they part (Singman).

A modern adaptation to the traditional theme of courtship can be seen in Taylor Swifts, “Love Story” to the right, as she tells of how she fell in love with her Romeo.

Elizabethan Weddings

During the Elizabethan times, communities were small. For this reason, wedding invitations were not sent out. Instead, anyone who wished to attend was invited and instructed to arrive at the bride’s house the day of the wedding. Once everyone was gathered, including the groom and his family, the group paraded noisily toward the church where the wedding would occur, sometimes picking up more people along the way. Churches during this time did not have pews and were usually hot and dark (Emerson). Therefore, many weddings were only ten to fifteen minutes long and occurred in the door of the church where the bride and groom would say their vows sealing them with a kiss. After the ceremony, the group would return to the bride’s home where there would be a feast prepared. The party would end late at night when the bride and groom were put to bed and left to themselves (Britt).

Bride’s Attire

Bride's Dress

Dresses varied depending on the social class and wealth of the family. In the fifteenth century, Margaret of Flanders was married in a wedding dress that was so heavy she could not move her robes, and she had to be carried into church by two attendants. In royal marriages, unlike other classes, the brides dress was of great significance. It was used to impress her new country and was sewn of mink, rabbit, or sable embroidered with gems, beads, and lace. People came from all over to judge the bride's wedding dress seeing if their new queen or princess was of their liking. The noble class usually tried to copy the dress of a woman of high social rank. Using fabrics such as velvet or silk, they were able to make a less expensive, but also stunning dress. The dresses were full length and covered the body, apart from the usual plunging neckline as seen in the picture to the right. In the middle classes, brides did not have the money to spend on extensive decoration or trimming on their wedding dress. Instead, the bride would purchase a more moderate dress that could also be worn again after the wedding as her Sunday frock (Davies).
The color of the gown was seen as a source of luck. White, the color of most wedding dresses today, was not a
Elizabethan Style Wedding Dress (Smith).
practical color during the Elizabethan era. Blue, instead, was the color of choice being a strong symbol of purity, fidelity, and eternal love. Those brides whose dresses were not blue usually would wear something else of that color for luck. Pink was also a popular color of wedding dresses, but it was deemed unlucky from the phrase, “Mary in pink and your fortunes will sink.” Brown and gray were also common colors seen in the lower classes because it was a color they could wear to church on Sundays (Davies).

Bride’s perfume

During the Elizabethan period herbs were used in almost every part of the wedding. The herbs worked as a fragrance and were commonly seen embedded into the bride’s headdress. Customary herbs included thyme, lavender, rosemary, parsley, echinops, sage, chive, and majoram. Different clusters of herbs were tied together depending on color and smell. This gave each bride a variety of choices. Typically, a bride chose a distinct smell and color for her wedding that was used to theme the wedding and scent the dress (Broderick).

Grooms attire

The groom usually wore his best clothes on his wedding day. This usually included a doublet, breeches, hose, a codpiece, box pleated neck ruff, a cloak, and boots. These were usually made from velvet and satin in shades of red, blue, green, white, gray, black, orange, and tan (Britt).

Custom of the Wedding Ring and "The Kiss"

Elizabethan Style Wedding Ring (Jewelry Payless).

The Ring

Like today, in Elizabethan times the groom presented a ring to the bride. The ring was called a gimmal ring and consisted of two rings that could be separated. The ring was usually divided at the betrothal to keep the promise of marriage and joined again at the wedding. The ring was sometimes inscribed with a saying, and placed on the third finger because of an old belief that there was a vein that went directly from your third finger to your heart. Among the lower classes, rings were too expensive and some couples went without, while other families passed down the ring from generation to generation (Singman).

The Kiss

The tradition of a kiss to seal the marriage goes back to the days of ancient Rome. The kiss was seen as a legal bond that sealed contracts. Christianity later included the kiss in the ceremony of marriage as a symbol that sealed the marriage and announced the couple’s new status. It was also believed that when a couple kisses part of the soul was left behind for the other person to cherish forever (Emerson).

External links

Elizabethan Era
Elizabethan Era Wikipedia
History of Wedding Dresses
England during the Tudor period (1486-1603)
Women in Elizabethan England

Works Cited

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  • Emerson, Kathy Lynn. The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in Renaissance England From 1485-1649. Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer’s Digest Books, 1996. Print.
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    N.d. Jewelry Payless. N.p., 2010. Web. 18 Oct. 2010.
  • “Marriages were Arranged in Elizabethan Wedding Customs but No formal invitation was made to Guests!” Muslim Marrage Guide. N.p., 2010. Web. 17 Oct. 2010. <‌elizabethan-wedding-customs.html>.
  • Popinjay Press. “Love and Marriage.” Life in Elizabethan England. N.p., 25 Mar. 2008. Web. 17 Oct. 2010. <‌compendium/‌10.html>.
  • Singman, Jeffrey L. Daily Life in Elizabethan England. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1995. Print.
  • Smith, Elizabeth. Historical or Period Style. N.d. Elizabeth Smith Bridal. N.p.,
    2010. Web. 18 Oct. 2010. <
  • Swift, Taylor. "Love Story." Fearless. You Tube. Web. 18 Oct. 2010.