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Formal consummation may or may not have taken place after ceremony it depending upon age of bride. After ceremony she may have retired with her parents to their home until she became of age.
The Renaissance wedding was also performed in a church. Prior to wedding it had to be announced in church on three consecutive Sundays. This allowed time for any objections to be raised before wedding could take place. The ceremony was probably performed before noon for luck, and included a procession from bride’s home to church accompanied with as much noise and revelry as in medieval wedding ceremony.
Medieval wives were expected to produce male children, and submit to their husband’s authority. They would be instructed from an early age that their gender was weak and sinful and deceitful due to first sin by Eve against Adam. The Medieval wife was kept a recluse in her own home. The only choice for women other than marriage was life in a nunnery.
Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper, Thy head, thy sovereign; one that cares for thee, And for thy maintenance commits his body To painful labour both by sea and land, To watch night in storms, day in cold, Whilst thou liest warm at home, secure and safe; And craves no other tribute at thy hands But love, fair looks and true obedience; Too little payment for so great a debt. (Shakespeare, The Taming of Shrew 5.2.145-53)
In Renaissance England married women held no political power. Married women could not own property or make contracts; they were completely subjected to economic and physical power of their husbands. Renaissance women were told to keep quiet, not discuss political matters and to go about their duties in their husband’s households. The submission of wife was considered an important part of maintaining household order and therefore order in Commonwealth. Disobedient wives were labeled shrews and could be subject to public punishment devised to humiliate her.
Within his Canterbury Tales, Chaucer writes of Wife of Bath’s Prologue. She had met a good Samaritan while she was in company of a man after just burying her fifth husband. The Good Samaritan questions her on having five husbands and being in company of a man not yet her husband. She answers him stating she had first married at twelve years old and now after five husbands does not mean to be “chaste at all costs”. Chaucer ends tale with a humorous excerpt from her... And now to all us women may Christ send Submissive husbands full of youth in bed, And grace to outlive all men we wed. And I pray Jesus to cut short lives Of those who won’t be governed by their wives; And old ill tempered niggards who hate expense, God promptly bring them down with pestilence!
In Medieval time if a woman was widowed and there was no children women would inherit her husband’s entire estate. In this case Chaucer’s character in Wife of Bath’s Prologue would have been a rich woman indeed.
Whereas Renaissance widows retained at least 1/3 of their husband’s estates whether there were children or not. Her heirs might not be able to marry until her death because estate was tied up. If there were no children, wife would inherit entire estate, just as in medieval times.
In conclusion there does not appear to be great differences in state of marriage between middle ages and Renaissance periods. A look closer can find some similarities between these earlier eras and marriage practices of today. Couples no longer have to get their parents permission, or provide a dowry. However, announcement of future ceremony is done in local paper rather than church doors. Most ceremonies are done in a religious setting in presence of clergy. There is still a ‘stacked’ wedding cake and Grooms ritual of buying drinks for boys.
Fortunately for women institution of marriage itself has changed a great deal since middle ages and Renaissance. Although there is no guarantee of equality in marriages of today, things are a lot better than they were.
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Cyd Klein has 21 years experience sewing for others. Her vocation is designing and manufacturing Costumes which are then marketed locally and on-line at http://www.nbr-1-costumes.com. In addition she maintains a Sewing Help site at http://www.sew-help-me.com