‚ÄúMarried in month of roses ‚Äď June- Life will be one long honeymoon‚ÄĚ.
The month of June, and the mind meanders towards thoughts of summer; to exotic holidays, to chaotic family day trips, and frequently to weddings, and all that they entail.
I recently had the pleasure of perusing the pages of ‚ÄėEvery Woman‚Äôs Encyclopedia‚Äô, c. 1912, a magazine very much of its time, when many considered that a woman‚Äôs place was in the home and her abiding concerns and interests were all things domestic. The articles within this volume are overflowing with information on, amongst other things, home furnishings, table decorations, cookery, embroidery, fashion, children, and last but certainly not least, marriage. The magazine contemplates all aspects of the lead up to matrimony, but principally focuses on wedding tradition and lore, which seemed an interesting subject for a blog.
The magazine is a wealth of information on how one can actively enhance one‚Äôs chances of a successful marriage, divulging all manner of scenarios which should either be sincerely welcomed or avoided at all costs by the bride-to be. Who knew that if the bride came across a spider in the folds of her wedding gown she would never lack for money, or that if she was awoken by a robin on the morning of her wedding, or saw swallows come to the eaves for the first time on the big day, she would be eternally blessed?
It was considered good practice for the bride to step over the Church threshold with her right foot to safeguard her future happiness.¬† Any jewellery could be worn except for pearls- which symbolise tears- and the wedding ring must not have been tried on prior to the ceremony. Orange blossom was a popular flower at weddings and had, since the time of the Crusades, been regarded as an emblem of prosperity (owing to the fact that in the East, the orange tree bears ripe fruit and blossoms simultaneously); the flower being white was also regarded as symbolic of innocence and chastity.
With regards to when to marry, June has always been considered the month for weddings, and Roman maidens preferred it to any other, because it was the name month of Juno, the goddess who took love matters, and all feminine interests especially, under her protection.
There is a paragraph on when not to marry too, which marks out May as the worst month of all: ‚ÄúSo ancient is the dislike to May marriages that Ovid refers to it as the evil month of May‚ÄĚ. The church forbade weddings between Rogation and Whit Sunday, pious and nervous folk originating the familiar adage, ‚ÄúMarry in May, and you‚Äôll rue the day‚ÄĚ. It was also considered indecorous to marry on a Sunday, the day of worship, and in England the prejudice against a Friday marriage may be traced to Good Friday, a most sorrowful and unfortunate day. And finally, spare a thought for those intending to marry in April, who would have had to live with the following ‚Äėpoetic‚Äô line haunting them forever more: ‚ÄúAn April bride will be inconstant, not very intelligent, but fairly good-looking‚ÄĚ. Charming.
A few other bizarre rituals explored include the drawing of a piece of wedding cake through a ring (preferably a wedding ring) and placing it under the pillow three nights in succession, and the inquirer would then be rewarded by a vision of their future spouse. If no one appeared in their dream, they would need to resign themselves to life as a singleton. There was also an unusual custom in connection with the youngest daughter, which decreed that all her elder sisters must dance at her wedding without shoes in order to counteract the bad luck which would otherwise befall them if they married in ‚Äúwrong order‚ÄĚ of age. Another custom recounted was the throwing of a plate (full of bride-cake crumbs) down from an upper window as the bride alights from her carriage. If the plate reaches the ground unbroken, it was an unfavourable omen, but if it shattered in pieces (the more the better) good luck was sure to attend her.
The colour of one‚Äôs wedding attire was also under considerable scrutiny. Wearing red was frowned upon at this time, ‚ÄúMarried in red, you will wish yourself dead‚ÄĚ, whilst the traditional colour of white was very much the favourite, ‚ÄúMarried in white, you‚Äôll be alright‚ÄĚ, though in fact, frugality meant that many brides would simply marry in their Sunday best frock.¬† It was Queen Victoria‚Äôs unusual choice of a white lace gown for her marriage to Prince Albert in 1839 that was to set a trend among Western brides that continues to this day.
The familiar saying, ‚ÄúSomething old, something new, something borrowed, something blue‚ÄĚ is also mentioned and an explanation is given for each line: something old in order to retain the love and affection that was the bride‚Äôs in her old life; something new, for success in her new life; something borrowed so that friends may ever be helpful and faithful, and something blue, an emblem of loyalty and constancy.
It was considered unlucky for the bride to break anything on her wedding day; such an unfortunate act would almost certainly lead to a lifetime of discord with her in-laws. The magazine also underlines the importance of feeding one‚Äôs cat on the wedding day (should the bride have one of course); in addition, one must not read the marriage service prior to the wedding taking place, and if the bridal party should encounter a pig (or several) en route to the Church, they must turn back with immediate effect and begin their journey again.
On marriage etiquette and protocol, the magazine is also a rich source of information. When relating details of the man‚Äôs proposal, it suggests that for some, writing a note may be the best option, ‚ÄúWhen courage to speak is utterly lacking, a proposal by letter is a good way out of the difficulty. Even though much note-paper and brainwork may be wasted on the document, at least it may be counted on to do the business; and after several failures to manage it by speech, there is consolation in this reflection.‚ÄĚ The female recipient of the proposal is given the following words of wisdom, ‚ÄúA girl does not wish to appear too ready with her ‚ÄúYes‚ÄĚ. She thinks that this may cheapen her in the eyes of the person whom she would like to value her more highly than anyone else in the world‚ÄĚ.
Focus then turns to the wedding itself. The bridal bouquet should be small and elegant as ‚Äúthe huge bouquet with which brides in the end of last and the beginning of the present century were burdened was not at all a graceful adjunct, for several reasons. Its bulk obscured the outline of the figure. It interfered with the pretty folds of the wedding veil. It hid the front of the gown, often very charmingly trimmed with lace or embroidery, and its weight tired the arm of the bride, already quite tired enough with the arduous work of the previous weeks in connection with the trousseau, the correspondence with regards to presents, and other preparations‚ÄĚ.
The bride-to-be is offered advice on the cutting of the wedding cake, which at this time, was the sole duty of the woman: ‚ÄúThere is occasionally a little difficulty in cutting through the sugar icing, but the bride should not let anyone help in her task. A straight, downward thrust, the knife held perpendicularly, will manage the business and the rest is easy‚ÄĚ.
The tossing of the bouquet, very familiar to us all, was already firmly entrenched in bridal ritual at this time: ‚ÄúThe bride must not forget to distribute sprays of her bouquet among her bridesmaids and other girl friends. There is an idea that this may lead to other weddings‚ÄĚ. It goes on to describe how the bride must toss the bouquet high above the heads of wedding guests and the one who caught hold of it was destined to marry within the year.
Amusingly, the best man‚Äôs prime duty is as follows: ‚ÄúIf his friend should be nervous in anticipation of the coming ordeal, it is the business of the best man to inspire him with courage and to infuse into him that spirit of resignation which is his best armour against tribulation‚ÄĚ.
In summary, if you had been hoping to get married in 1912, you would be wise to avoid marrying on a Friday or Sunday, especially in May; best not to wear red, and a good idea to keep one‚Äôs head down on the journey to Church so as not to chance upon a pig! The final paragraph on wedding lore in this volume concludes very eloquently indeed and¬† is a fitting end to this blog: ‚ÄúLet the cynics and pessimists sneer and declare what they will, they will never convince the world that Love is not the light of life, its crown and completion, and God‚Äôs highest gift to man‚ÄĚ.
A vivid and eclectic lightbox of wedding imagery from our archive can be viewed here.