The language of Romance means to speak in the Roman vernacular. Romance languages include Spanish, Portuguese, French, and Italian. – All Latin derivatives. The term Romance was expanded to include any tales of chivalry, courtly love, and knights in shining armour – the rest is history and defined the romantic hero forever – a handsome knight in shining armour riding up on a white horse spouting Mills and Boon in Italian!
Romance was alive in the Middle Ages. A cultural shift in medieval times meant noble women were elevated to objects of powerful desire and a new age of courtly romance was born. Nevertheless, arranged marriages were normal with the nobility and peasants. The goal of these marriages was status and the acquisition of wealth albeit at opposite ends of the spectrum.
Wedding Day Beauty
All women painted their faces with some type of cosmetic, and many women would sun-bleach their hair. Hairlines were plucked, as high foreheads were considered beautiful. A wedding was an occasion where a bride would wear loose hair while others wove a floral crown into their hair. She would have a hot bath and contrary to belief, the only reason people were dirty in the middle Ages was that forests were depleted of firewood and only the wealthy could afford wood to heat water, as it was so expensive. Perfumes made from essential oils from flowers mixed with spices were very popular with brides and it was a quick fix if she could not bathe!
White wedding dresses were not seen in the Middle Ages. Blue was the most common colour as it represented the traditional symbol of purity at the time, although any colour could be worn. Very often, the couple would wear blue ribbon and this is where our modern day “something blue” comes from. Garters were an important accessory for the medieval bride. Wedding guests would follow the couple back to their room, and try to grab the garter for good luck. The man who gave his love a bride’s garter would receive assured faithfulness.
The Wedding Ceremony
For nobility, wedding celebrations in castles were common. The Church decreed that the marriage had to be blessed by a priest but the ceremony did not have to be in a church. The wedding day was a riotous celebration with minstrels, jugglers and other entertainers. Residents of the castle manor would attend, as would other nobles and distant relatives. Sometimes the castle lord would free prisoners and beggars would enjoy a feast on leftover food. The peasantry would have betrothal ceremonies in their homes with the entire village gathering. The bride and groom would be gifted with wooden utensils to start their married life.
The Wedding Feast
The Roman tradition of breaking a small loaf of bread over the bride’s head for fertility evolved into the wedding cake. However, tiered wedding cakes have their origins in the Middle Ages. Wedding guests would stack small cakes on top of each other. The bride and groom would try to kiss over the top of the cakes. If they did not fall; the couple were guaranteed luck and prosperity.
Three essential wedding gifts were exchanged. The dowry was given by the bride’s family, the groom’s family gave a suitable and income. A gift would also be given to the priest. Other gifts included small, valuable pieces of furniture, which the groom gave to the bride the morning after the wedding night. This morning gift was given to compensate the bride for the loss of her virginity.