Marriage laws evolved during the Renaissance. The Council of Westminster decreed in 1076 that no man should give his daughter or female relative to anyone without priestly blessing. Later councils would decree that marriage should not be secret but held in the open. But it wasn’t until the 16th century when the Council of Trent decreed that a priest was required to perform the betrothal ceremony.
Separation of couples was tolerated, but there was no legal divorce, though betrothals between those too closely related could be annulled. This made me wonder, did they not know they were closely related when they got married in the first place?
Grooms, on average, were 14 years older than their brides. Three out of four women were married before they were nineteen years old.
We read a lot today about the aging population but during the Renaissance over 50% of the population was under twenty years old.
Marriages were not allowed to be performed during certain times of the year such as Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost.
Grooms had to pay a “deposit” at the time of the betrothal, and if he tried to back out of the agreement it would cost him four times the amount of the deposit. How’s that for a guarantee?
The husband usually promised between one third to one half of their estate to their bride. This was to ensure her standards of life in case he died.
In the Middle Ages, the Catholic church did not require any clergy to be present during the betrothal ceremony.
In some parts of Europe, during the Middle Ages, the ceremonies were called “handfastings”. In one of these ceremonies the couple would exchange vows. Sometimes the vows were as simple as “Will you marry me?”. Gifts were exchanged during the ceremony.
These handfasting ceremonies did not take place in a church. They could be held most anywhere, in the parent’s home of either the bride or the groom, outside or most anywhere else.
After the handfasting ceremony, the couple would go to the church to have the union blessed, or the priest would stop by the house and bless the wedding there.
Later, the Catholic church would decree that the ceremony must have clergy there in order for it to be valid.
Nuptial Masses made Sunday the traditional wedding day. The couple would follow a procession to the church and the women would sit on the left side and the men would sit on the right (My theory on how this tradition got started is that the man wouldn’t ask for directions on the way to the church, so they got lost, had a fight and didn’t want to sit together. Just my theory but it seem logical to me).
During the ceremony four unmarried women would hold a silk cloth (called a “Pall”) over the bride while she was blessed. This “Brides Blessing” could only happen once in her life.
These wedding were not, for the most part, out of love. They were the result of negotiations between families. This meant that there were written and signed agreements and contracts outlining exactly what each family was to receive as a result of the wedding.
The “humanism” started during the Renaissance. Shakespeare’s works with couples really falling in love was a relatively new concept at the time.
If you happened to come from nobility then who you were going to marry was usually decided before you were a teenager, usually around the age of ten. The actual ceremony would be held five or six years later. Nobility had a lot of power and property and the purpose of these marriages was to allow both families to continue their quest for wealth.
Marriages across social classes just didn’t happen. Nobility married nobility.