Marriage in the Middle Ages

There are many similarities between medieval marriage and marriage of today, however there are also important differences.

In medieval times women were not able to choose whom they wished to marry. The parents of both parties would arrange a marriage based on monetary values such as acquiring property or political status or ambition. The bride and groom were often complete strangers, having never met until the day of the ceremony.

Families would often agree the marriage when the children were as young as 8 or 9. The marriage itself would take place any time after the girl reached 12 years of age, although it was usual for the girl to be a teenager and the boy to be in his early twenties.

When the wedding was announced a notice was placed on the door of the church to give time for anybody to come forward with reasons why the marriage could not take place.

Reasons could include:

The bride and groom being too closely related
Either one having taken a religious vow
Either being guilty of the crime of killing someone
Bride’s family having debt and being unable to pay the dowry

On the day of the marriage the parents of the bride paid a dowry to the groom, an amount relative to the social standing of the bride’s family.

The wedding service did not take place within the church but outside on the steps of the church. There the bride and groom would read their vows, many of which are still used today including ‘promise to love, honour and obey’ and ‘in sickness and in health’.

A ring was given to the bride and a mass took place inside the church.

Following the service, a large wedding feast was enjoyed by all, much as a wedding reception is held today.

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