Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Marital Miscellany - some Historical Trivia to do with Marriage.


With the wedding of Prince William and Katherine Middleton taking place this Friday, let's take a look at historical trivia associated with marriage.

Bride Price.

In Anglo-Saxon times a man with many daughters was considered rich. He had plentiful helpers to do the cooking, cleaning, to raise crops and tend livestock…so if a daughter was lost to him through marriage, he needed compensation.
Price was decided by rank and experience:
A virgin was valued at twice as much as a widow, and there were four grades of widow:           

             worth   6 shillings (30 pence)
                        12 shillings (60 pence)
                        20 shillings (1 GBP)
            and      50 shillings (GBP 2.50)

Since virgins were so highly rated, there were some unscrupulous fathers, with an eye for a profit, who would sell the same daughter several times over. However there was protection in the law if a husband found his wife was not in the condition the vendor had promised – he could ask for his money back!

King Cnut.
Fortunately, when King Cnut (1016 – 35) took the English throne, he enacted a law that no woman could be compelled to marry against her will and that any monies changing hands were considered a gift and could not be refunded.

Marital Superstitions.

In old England there were a number superstitions associated with marriage.
It was a good omen if on the way to the church the bride met a toad, spider or wolf. However it was bad luck to meet a priest, monk, lizard, snake, dog or cat!

In East Anglia the marriage of a woman to a man whose surname began with the same letter as hers, was predicted to be unhappy. A saying ran;

“To change the name and not the letter,
It is change for the worse and not change for the better.”

A replica of Mary Tudor's wedding dress.
In the Scottish Highlands, to bless a marriage with happiness the best man was supposed to remove the left shoe of the groom at the door of the church and make the sign of the cross on the right side of the door. To this day it is the left shoe that is supposed to be tied to the back of the wedding car as it departs.
Also, if a younger sister married before her elder siblings, her sisters should dance barefoot at the wedding or they would never be married.

And finally, in northern England it was traditional young men attending the wedding, to pluck the garter from the bride’s leg as soon as the ceremony was over. To this end the bride would often was a special, ceremonial garter or ribbon, worn on the lower leg to facilitate its removal and spare her blushes from unwarranted private fumbling.

So I hope Kate Middleton sees a toad and not a monk on the way to the Cathedral and I wish the couple every future happiness. I can’t wait to see what the dress looks like…rumour has it she’s wearing ivory….Now the colour of a bridal gown, that’s a whole new post…..

Princess Diana's wedding dress.



  1. Wow lots of interesting information on marriage that I never heard of. On a side note my dad always told me was a very rich man because he had daughters and that was why he was always protecting his fortune when he ran our boyfriends off.

  2. Abigail, perhaps your Dad was referring to the cooking and cleaning, and how much it would cos to employ someone to do the same jobs LOL.

  3. Fascinating article with lots of lovely insights. There was actually some lively discussion yesterday on whether or not Monarch's wear wedding rings. I couldn't track down a definitive answer--pre WWII it seems that men, royal or not--generally did not, and post WWII it seems that it is a matter of personal preference. It seems like it would be a good topic for in-depth research.


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