Couples nowadays are prepared to spend a small fortune on their wedding day. The wedding service can take place almost anywhere, provided that an authorised person conducts the ceremony. Themed weddings are increasingly common, which requires a huge amount of organisation and increasingly deep pockets.
Back in the 18th Century there was a strict protocol surrounding the wedding day but the bride was less able to direct proceedings than her modern counterpart. Women were still not allowed to vote and were considered to be the property of their fathers before marriage and subsequently belonged exclusively to their husbands. This is where our modern marriage ceremony requirement for the father to ‘give’ the bride away stems from.
Not so white wedding!
Perhaps surprisingly, some of the wedding customs which we take for granted as harking back to the 18th Century are actually far more recent. For example, we think of the white wedding dress as being an essential part of the ceremony, and today most brides still prefer to select this ‘traditional’ colour, as can be seen from a glance at bridal trends for 2014 as reported by Brides Magazine. All twelve dresses selected are in shades of white.
In fact, as reported in the Daily Mail the traditional colour for the bridal dress was blue, the colour of purity, although alternative colours were sometimes worn. It was not until the marriage of Queen Victoria to Prince Albert midway through the 19th Century that white became the colour of choice.
The Marriage Act of 1753 laid down certain conditions which must be met in order for a couple to marry. They must both be over the age of 21 unless both sets of parents consented to the marriage. The ceremony had to be conducted by an authorised clergyman within a church or chapel and take place between the hours of 8am and noon.
Instead of a wedding cake the centrepiece of the 18th Century wedding breakfast was the Bride’s Pie. This was usually filled with savoury mutton or mince and would be served to all the guests. Within the pie was secreted a glass ring and it served a similar purpose to the current trend for throwing the bridal bouquet - whoever found the ring was considered to be destined for marriage next.
Our 18th Century bride would have little to show for her wedding ceremony afterwards. Portraits were rarely painted of ordinary women and of those that were, she was not allowed to have her hair down, show her teeth or cross her legs. This is in stark contrast to the modern wedding photographer such as Nick Rutter who will spend an entire day documenting the bride’s big day. The popular Sopley Mill wedding photographer admits to spending up to 11 hours observing and photographing proceedings - probably around the time it would take to paint a portrait.
Modern brides owe a great deal to their 18th Century counterparts but should count their blessings that they are no longer considered to be merely property - the dissatisfied 18th Century husband was perfectly entitled to sell his wife if he believed her to be of no use to him!