B is for Bedding the Bride

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Marriage customs during the Middle Ages were varied and in some cases, exceedingly strange to our modern-day sensibilities.  One such custom was “bedding the bride.”

The ceremony actually should be called “bedding the couple” because both bride and groom were participants along with their family, friends, and wedding guests.

According to Alison Weir,  “One feature of medieval royal weddings that seems shockingly intrusive today was the public bedding ceremony, in which the newly wedded couple were put to bed together by their attendants and toasted by their guests, as the bed was blessed by a bishop or priest.  Then they were left alone to attend to their chief duty, the begetting of heirs to ensure the succession.  This bawdy custom had died out by the end of the 17th century.”

The custom was not confined to royalty, however.  Both nobles and commoners celebrated weddings in this manner as well.

bedding the brideAfter the marriage ceremony, the bride and groom would retire to separate rooms and their attendants (family or friends) would dress them for bed.  At one time, in Scandinavia, the guests would instead strip the couple naked.  Then they would be conducted to the bedroom, often followed by shouts of bawdy comments.  A priest would bless the bed and the couple would be put into bed and handed a cup of “sweetened and spiced wine, again blessed by the priest, known as the ‘benediction posset,’” according to George Monger.

Afterward, the attendants participated in “the divination custom of throwing the stocking.”  The attendants would have secured the stockings of the bride and groom. Two grooms’ men would sit on one side of the bed and two brides’ maids would sit on the other with their backs to the center.  Each one took turns throwing the stockings over their shoulders.  If a groomsman hit the bride or a bridesmaid hit the groom with one, then it indicated that person would soon marry.  A forerunner of tossing the garter and the wedding bouquet.

Once the posset was drunk and the stockings tossed, the curtains would be drawn, themedieval-sex company would retire, and the newlyweds would be left to their own devices.

In rare cases, if the couple were royalty, or perhaps if there was a doubt about the “ability” of the groom, attendants stayed in the room while the consummation took place.

The custom of the bedding ceremony died out by the late 1600s. But until then, brides and grooms had lots of company on their wedding night. Apparently no one had heard that two’s company, twenty’s a crowd. 🙂

Sources:

http://www.alisonweir.org.uk

Marriage Customs of the World:  From Henna to Honeymoons by George Monger

Sex:  A User’s Guide by Stephan Arnott

 

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39 Responses to B is for Bedding the Bride

  1. Thank you for the education! Your post reminded me of the custom of “shivaree”, defined as “a mock serenade with kettles, pans, horns, and other noisemakers given for a newly married couple; charivari” according to dictionary.com Based on what I found online, the custom originally served to convey a community’s disapproval of the marriage; however, in the U.S. it changed: “In some communities the ritual served as a gentle spoof of the newlyweds, intended to disrupt for a while any sexual activities that might be under way.” That could include kidnapping the groom on his wedding night! I heard of shivarees when I lived in southeast Texas near the Louisiana border.
    All these rituals are really strange, aren’t they? And interesting! Thanks for a delightful post.

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  2. Ewwww. I can’t even imagine…

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  3. melissakeir says:

    Way too many people for me! I couldn’t handle having all those people around. Just imagine if someone wanted to cause problems for the bride or groom, maybe a jealous ex-mistress…ahhh now a new story idea!

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    • Jenna Jaxon says:

      Hey, Melissa, wait until you read Betrayal! LOL I actually have the bedding of the bride in a couple of chapters. And an ex-mistress does come into play! 🙂 I loved writing those chapters! Thanks so much for coming by today!

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  4. Irene says:

    Then, to prove that the bride was “untouched” before the bedding, her relatives would take the bottom sheet off so they could “wave the bloody sheet” to prove the purity of their bride. ICK

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    • Jenna Jaxon says:

      Exactly! That was part of the ritual the next morning. In some places the bloody sheet was displayed in a public place. I think I’d never be able to show my face in town again! Thanks for coming by, Irene!

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  5. Funny. I did know of this bedding the bride custom. Kind of creepy having twenty people there on your first night. Those poor virgin brides must have struggled. Jenna, in New Zealand where I live, the Polynesian people had this strange custom back in the 1800s to do with bedding the bride. I think it was a take on the medieval custom, but after the couple wed, they retired to a tent-like structure, and their feet would poke out the end under the front flap (the wedding tent wasn’t allowed to be a very big one obviously.) The wedding party and guests watched the newly married couple’s feet as they consummated their marriage. Once all was done, they came out to cheers and congratulations.

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    • Jenna Jaxon says:

      How bizarre, Joanne! But very interesting to see that this custom transcends culture and was practiced less than 200 years ago. My research said one reason for the public ceremony was to let the whole community take part in the marriage and consummation was a valid part of the marriage. Thank you so much for sharing that! I’ll have to go look it up! 🙂

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  6. lizaoconnorl says:

    I’m so glad you wrote this. My next historical is also B,,,for baby bottles. You’d think would be a sweet little article, but the original baby bottles killed a great many children, so it’s not cute at all.

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  7. Daryl Devore says:

    One of the reasons there were witness at the royal event was to insure that the heir was truly from the King/Prince and not some sexy knight.
    lol on last line – twenty’s a crowd.
    Tweeted

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    • Jenna Jaxon says:

      That’s also why there was such a crowd at the royal lying-in: to make sure that baby came out of the Queen/Princess and there was no substitution! LOL Of course even today there are doctors and nurses all over the place, so no privacy still. But on the front end, definitely a more private time. Thanks, Daryl!

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  8. I hope neither party had performance anxiety.

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  9. That puts a different twist on the phrase, “Wedding party.” I didn’t know the bit about tossing stockings. I suppose one would have worn his/her finest hosiery on their wedding day, or be embarrassed by the darning on the heels. I’m just glad they didn’t toss shoes. Clonk!

    Great article, Jenna. Fascinating information in an easily digestible form. 🙂

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    • Jenna Jaxon says:

      Perhaps that’s when the term originated, Trish. LOL I hadn’t heard about tossing stockings either, although I had heard about the garters, which survive til today. Can you imagine laying in bed, watching people toss socks back and forth, anticipating the night’s fun and games? I think I might have thrown shoes at the attendants.

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  10. Great post. Google+’d

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  11. D'Ann says:

    Yikes! That’s a lot of people in one bedroom!

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    • Jenna Jaxon says:

      Don’t you know? I can’t imagine all those people there for such an intimate moment. Just like all the people who attended births–especially royal births. Everyone got a show during childbirth during this time. 🙂 Thanks for coming by, D’Ann.

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  12. I’d read about this custom. . . gads! I shared and tweeted for you.

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  13. Pingback: B is for Bedding the Bride | Collette Cameron Author

  14. Loved this post! Not that I would have liked to have gone through that, but I wonder why it finally died out. Tweeted and shared on FB.

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    • Jenna Jaxon says:

      Nothing in my research suggested why it died out when it did. Perhaps the mores of the new century called for less public lewdness. Or perhaps the Church began to frown upon it. Another subject to look into. 🙂 Thanks, Ella!

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  15. linuxjim says:

    Interesting. I used something similar in one of my SF/Fantasy books, “Magic Is Faster Than Light.” A couple had to get married (no, not THAT reason) but had problems with the human/Wiccan society in which they lived. Since both were of mixed ancestory, human and the native race on the planet, Winkies, they chose to vist a Winkie village to tie the knot. But the Winkie marraige customs involved public consummation of the marriage.

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    • Jenna Jaxon says:

      And just how public was this public consummation? LOL I envision a village square with a bed and nothing else except the advice, “get on with it.” 🙂 You’d have to be desperate to do it then I suspect. I wish I could create worlss like that! Thanks for stoppiing by, Jim.

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      • linuxjim says:

        Yes, it was a mattress in the village square. The rules required a minimum of four observers, and that’s what your average couple got. In this case, though, the groom was a well-known and highly respected person, “of noble lineage,” so the entire village turned out to watch. Oh, I mis-spoke in the original post, this was actually in the sequel, “Magic to the Rescue.”

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  16. Pingback: B is for Bedding the Bride | Romance Reader Girl

  17. Good Heavens! Talk about the pressure-wowza. I did enjoy the little game the attendants play. I guess they had to stay busy too, but what a distraction for the couple.

    Knowing my mom she would probably be giving tips. YIKES! LOL. Nothing no groom or bride wants on their wedding night.

    Thanks Jeanna for a great post.

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  18. Good grief, the pressure to perform must have been intense. Lol.

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    • Jenna Jaxon says:

      Added to that, of course, was the fact that wine flowed very freely at weddings, so an anxious, drunk groom might have had his work cut out for him. LOL Thanks for coming by, Delaney!

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  19. joneva2013 says:

    Thanks for an interesting bit of history. This one is tucked away in my research for later.

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  20. Paranormal Romance Author Ladydarksky says:

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