One of my most popular posts for years has been the one about the medieval marriage custom of bedding the bride. I first heard of this custom when I watched the BBC series The Six Wives of Henry the Eighth. In episode four, after wedding wife number four, Anne of Cleves, there is a procession leading Anne and Henry to their bedchamber and a very grumpy Henry says, “Wedding done, bedding done.”
Because this month I’m spotlighting my medieval romance, Time Enough to Love, I’m reposting my original post below. I do have a “bedding the bride” scene in the second part of the novel, “Betrayal”, so if you’re interested in this custom, you might want to check out the novel as well.
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.
After 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 perhaps.
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. 🙂
Time Enough to Love is available in e-book and print formats on Amazon, and in e-book also on B & N, Kobo, and Apple.
Marriage Customs of the World: From Henna to Honeymoons by George Monger
Sex: A User’s Guide by Stephan Arnott