I know it’s not traditionally the season for weddings, especially in the UK (who wants to get married in the rain?) but for both my sets of grandparents they married out of season. Last month would have been my grandparent’s 79th wedding anniversary and December would have brought my other grandparents 70th anniversary.
Weddings aren’t something I ever really thought about much until recently. I’ve been to hundreds (I was in a church choir as a kid for a long time so weddings were great for pocket money) and never really took much notice until close family started getting married as we all grew up. Recently though I’ve found Say Yes to the Dress. I find the program so funny (I know I’m probably not supposed to but some of the things people say are hilarious, especially the bridesmaids episodes). It’s got me thinking about how weddings have changed over the years, especially for our ancestors.
It seems weddings these days are grand affairs in various venues with lavish receptions and often without involving the church in anyway. People travel abroad and the whole wedding party goes. It must cost an absolute fortune. Just the dress can cost more than fitting out a new house. All that expense for one day. Sorry I’m from Yorkshire and as the saying goes short arms and deep pockets. I’m not tight I just couldn’t spend all that money on one day. Put clean clothes on and got to the registry office. I hit the internet and found a nice wedding dress in the UK for £175, where as they pay thousands of dollars on Say Yes to the Dress, and I am yet to see one made of denim.
But what was it like in our ancestor’s time?
If you look at the photo of my grandparents wedding my grandma is not wearing a flowing dress or anything. In fact it was a pale blue (and still is as we have it). Blue throughout history has been used in wedding gowns as it symbolised purity, this is where the something blue comes from today. It may not have been until 1840 when Queen Victoria married Prince Albert that white became the norm in the UK. So all of you who want to wear colour, just say you’re only carrying on the traditions of your ancestors. Most of our ancestors will have just worn their Sunday best (if they had any) on their wedding day as they couldn’t even consider having a new outfit for one day. If they were from a wealthy family this may have been possible. In fact some people married on Christmas day as this was the only day they didn’t have to work and so their families could attend.
From 1215 in Europe marriage had to be recognised by the church. This stopped couples from using handfast as a legal form of marriage. They said a form of vows to each other and was designed “till death do us part”. It was common as although the recognised religion was common, not all had access to it and other pagan forms of worship were still used. By the 16th/17th century the church had to be involved for a marriage to be legal.
After 1836 couples could be married by a registrar in a registry office. This made life more difficult and better for couples. Vicars could refuse to marry a couple in their church. The main reason for this would be that the woman was pregnant. It was not uncommon for couples to marry if they became pregnant as it was expected of them. They probably would have anyway, but baby just moved things forward a bit. Now they could marry elsewhere and still have a fully recognised marriage. It could make things worse though as if they married in a registry office most people probably thought they were expecting a child and thus treated them differently, especially if they didn’t have a blessing in a recognised church afterwards. I’ve got ancestors who already had children before they were married and had married in a registry office. Does it really matter, as long as the children had a stable home? Registry Office weddings also made life easier for those who wanted to marry without the involvement of the church.
These days as long as a venue has a license you can marry anywhere you want and any couple no matter what their sexuality can legally marry each other and live their lives the way they want to.