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Love and Marriage in the Age of Chivalry
By C.V. Lee
February 18, 2020

What images come to mind when you think of the Medieval and Renaissance eras? Lords and ladies. Travelling troubadours and romantic poetry. Castles and vast estates. Codes of honor and chivalry. We romanticize this era and steal moments to pretend we live during that time period by attending Renaissance faires and Celtic festivals. Books, movies and TV series abound, like the very popular Game of Thrones, which use this era as a backdrop. But was romance really about knights in shining armor and fair maidens?

For the nobility, marriages were arranged by parents or sometimes by the king himself. Love was not a consideration in the marriage contract. It wasn’t unusual to have never even met your future spouse prior to a marriage arrangement. Some were married as children, such as Catherine Woodville (7) and Henry Stafford (10), who was already the Duke Buckingham at the time of his marriage. Others were married by proxy, never meeting their spouse until long after the marriage vows had been exchanged. Marriage was a means to enhance wealth, political power and land holdings. The king could forbid a marriage, which he might certainly do if he feared a union could threaten his power. But that didn’t mean there weren’t great romances that developed after the marriage took place.

One such marriage was the union of Edward I and Eleanor of Castile, espoused when he was 15 and she was 13. Both were above the age of consent, 14 for boys and 12 for girls. This political marriage was arranged because of fears that Castile would invade lands on the continent belonging to England. But their love for on another blossomed and they didn’t want to be apart. She traveled extensively with her husband, even joining him on a crusade.

When Eleanor died, King Edward I was so grieved, he commissioned a cross to be built every place the procession stopped when bringing her body back to London. A monument to their love still stands today outside Charing Cross station in London.

Charing Cross monument in London

Marriage options among the common folk were limited as the peasantry rarely traveled beyond the village or estate where they lived. Even these marriages were often arranged by parents. However, because marriage had not yet been formalized by the church or the government, it was possible to select your marriage partner.

In medieval times, a marriage could be formed just by pledging your troth to one another in front of friends and family, along the road side, behind the hay stack or in bed. However, if a marriage was not witnessed it could be difficult to prove. Often marriages took place on the porch in front to the church. This gave the marriage a bit more of a religious overtone and the proof needed to confirm the marriage. As time passed, the marriage ceremony would still take place outside the church, but the couple would enter the church afterwards for a nuptial mass.

Many aspects of the marriage ceremony from the Medieval and Renaissance Era continue today. Surprisingly the basic rituals have remained almost unchanged. During the ceremony, then and today, the groom stood on the right side and the bride on the left of the altar. The bride did not wear white but she did wear her best dress. The preferred color was blue, a symbol or purity and faithfulness. The wedding vows exchanged then are almost word-for-word the same now.

“{Groom’s name}, wilt though have this woman to thy wedded wife, wilt thou love her, and honor her, keep her and guard her, in health and in sickness, as a husband should a wife, and forsaking all others on account of her, keep thee only unto her, so long as ye both shall live?” And repeated by the bride and then followed by, “I, {groom’s name} take thee {Bride’s name} to my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness, and in health, till death do us part.”

The priest would then bless the rings and they were placed on the fourth finger. The ceremony was followed by a marriage feast, a great celebration with food, drinking, and dancing, then and now.

But while many things have continued unchanged through the centuries, we can but thankful one thing has changed – our ability to choose our own partner and marry for love.

C.V. Lee
Written by C.V. Lee

C.V. Lee writes historical biographical fiction featuring forgotten heroes and heroines of the past. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society, Alli, and a founding member of Paper Lantern Writers. You can find her on Facebook @cvlee.histficwriter and on Instagram @cvleewriter.

View CV’s PLW Profile

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