Marriage in the Elizabethan Era

A friend of mine is soon to be married! I am excited to have the honor of attending and celebrating this special occasion with her, her fiance, their family and friends.

The upcoming wedding led me to wonder if any traditions or customs from the Elizabethan era are currently practiced in Western culture.

In Elizabethan times, marriages were frequently arranged to benefit both families with greater prestige and wealth. In some cases, the couple would meet for the first time on the day of the wedding!

In order for a couple to marry, they had to announce their intention to marry. The Elizabethan custom was to announce it in church three times on three consecutive Sundays or holy days, to allow for any objections. This is called “crying the banns”. Our modern day announcements include obtaining a banns from the church, or a marriage licence from the local government.

A significant part of the wedding day included the signing of the wedding contract, which set out the terms of the dowry, jointure, and other elements for the financial security of both parties. The dowry is an amount of money, goods, and property the bride brings to the marriage. It can also be called her marriage portion. The jointure is an agreement by the groom ‘s family to guarantee specific money, property and goods to the bride if her husband dies before she does, aside from or in addition to what is in his will. Sometimes this agreement is assured by promises from the family’s friends.

In today’s culture, the wedding licence is signed by the bride and groom on the wedding day, usually during or immediately after the ceremony. Agreements and contracts that are similar to jointure include pre-nuptial agreements, cohabitation agreements, and marriage contracts. These agreements and contracts can be drafted and signed before, during or after the marriage itself takes place.

The bride’s dress was not necessarily white; it could be any color or cut. Often times, the bride would choose the best dress from her existing wardrobe, and have it freshened up with new ribbons or flowers. The groom also wore his best garments. In today’s culture, some couples may choose to do this. It depends on the nature of the wedding the bride and groom choose to have. To my knowledge, the groom often rents a tuxedo or suit for the day of his wedding.

One thing that came up a few times that I find amusing is that single women were considered to be witches! However, since I have yet to discover a reason for such a statement, more research must be done.

As marital customs vary depending on cultural beliefs and religious beliefs, this blog post offers a glimpse of some of the similarities and differences between marriage in the Elizabethan era as compared to marriage today.

Monday Mystery – The Riddle of the Chests

As the new week begins, the sacred ritual continues – the Monday Mystery! This week’s entry uses a riddle written into one of Shakespeare’s most famous (and infamous?) plays – The Merchant of Venice – and concerns the marriage of Portia, one of his strongest and most independent female leads.

Her father, wishing her to be happy, desires her to be married only to a suitor who can pick the correct option (containing Portia’s image) out of three chests,

“The first, of gold, who this inscription bears,
‘Who chooseth me shall gain what many men desire;’
The second, silver, which this promise carries,
‘Who chooseth me shall get as much as he deserves;’
This third, dull lead, with warning all as blunt,
‘Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath.’ (Merchant II.vii.990-995)

Here’s three questions to ponder

1. What do you think the ‘right’ answer would be and why?

2. If you were in Portia’s shoes, which answer – ‘right’ or not – would you hope for?

3. When it comes to someone you love, which is most important to preserve – their freedom, their safety, or their happiness?

Thanks for coming out to see our Monday Mystery – see you tomorrow!