Are weddings any different today, than those in Medieval times?

My job role in the last six months has changed significantly. I have gone from organising various events to researching the current wedding market. My focus in this blog is to look at the ‘traditional wedding’ through the ages, and explore the differences to the modern day wedding.

Medieval Weddings

During the middle ages, there was a rise in marriage laws. In 1076 The Council of Westminster enforced the law that meant a priest must bless a marriage therefore contracts and legal documents started to be drawn up, similar to today’s marriage contracts and licenses.

The finest silks with gold or silver embroidery would be worn, brightly colored fabrics were popular and men would wear their finest court attire. Jewelry, furs and elaborate belts adorned every noble body.

White is now the symbol of purity, and most wedding dresses made in this hue. In the middle ages this wasn’t so. Bride’s would wear blue most often, as blue was the symbol of purity. If her gown were not blue, she would wear something else blue, like a ribbon in her hair. This is where today’s tradition of “something blue” comes from.

Today’s tiered wedding cakes actually stemmed from the middle Ages. Guests would bring little cakes and stack them on top of one another. The bride and groom would then try to kiss over the top of the cakes without knocking them to the ground.

Guests included inhabitants of the residence, other nobles and distant relatives and unlike today, Invitations were not sent out.

The noble wedding was rarely one filled with love – It was an arranged marriage. Peasants were a little different however, as they would often marry for love.


Elizabethan Weddings

A lot of the customs from the middle ages were still upheld during Elizabethan times. Religion still played a major role in weddings, and a priest would normally conduct ceremonies in a church. The cost of the wedding fell to the bride’s father, however in small villages; neighbours may prepare food for the feast, sort of like a potluck dinner.

Flowers played a bigger part. The bridesmaids would be in charge of making bouquets for guests, and to make the wedding garland, which was rosemary and roses. The bride would carry her garland until after the ceremony, where she would then place it on her head.


Victorian Weddings

Queen Victoria is often given credit for making the white wedding gown popular since she herself wore white to her wedding; however there have been many royal and non-royal brides after her that did not wear white.

Flowers became more and more important in a wedding; the church or chapel would be decorated with them. Men would wear a flower in the lapel of their frock coat or morning coat. In the country, a bride would walk to the chapel on a carpet of flower blossoms.

Queen vic

Wartime weddings

Romance continued to flourish even during wartime. The possibility of separation and the dangers of war caused many young lovers to ‘throw caution to the wind’.
It was often a hurried affair and not done in the style and manner that was previously possible. Before 1939, most couples would have opted for a traditional style wedding with a chapel or church ceremony, accompanying bridesmaids and guests, and a reception to follow. However, with the outbreak of war, there was no time for elaborate plans, so weddings were organised with less formality.

Instead of the traditional wedding dress most bridal outfits were made up of utility clothes. They were of simple design and made with the least amount of material possible and, since they could be worn again, made effective use of the clothing coupons.

Although many weddings that took place during the war could not follow all traditions, they were however, a source of pride and celebration as friends and family united to provide all the essentials. Help was given with the outfits and other aspects of the organisation. Enthusiastic amateurs took the photos, and neighbours and relatives contributed precious food rations to the wedding breakfast and ingredients for the cake.


I think it is clear to see that not much has really changed from even has far back at medieval times. Trends may come and go but the principal that weddings are a chance for families and friends to celebrate a couple’s love seems to never alter.


Miriam Burroughs

Skills For The Future Public Events Trainee


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