The Renaissance, which took place from the 14th to the 17th centuries C.E., is usually considered to be concerned with new ideas in religion, science and literature, but was also influential in other areas, even including such things as costume and wedding customs as ideas and materials arrived in Western Europe for the first time from many parts of the world.
Descriptions of Renaissance weddings give us glimpses into the mindset and world of that time. For instance it is known the Anne of Cleeves wore a wreath of rosemary at her ill fated wedding to Henry VIII as described on the web page ‘Anne of Cleeves, Queen of England:-–
That day, she having a rich coronet of stone and pearls set with rosemary on
her hair, and a gown of rich cloth of silver, richly hung with stones and pearls, with all her ladies and gentlewomen following her, which was a goodly sight to behold .
The idea of Rosemary for Remembrance was a Roman one – scholars would wear such wreaths when they needed to recall facts. This was a period when weddings were still often arranged by families and were concerned with consolidating alliances or with the holding of property. In Western Europe the Catholic Church was, for the majority, the biggest influence on the actual ceremony, which often took place at the church door.
Naturally the clothing chosen would depend upon what could be afforded with the aristocracy often choosing rich imported fabrics such as silk. In some places the lower classes were forbidden to use such materials according to the web site ‘Renaissance –weddings.net. Gold and silver thread would be used in order to produce intricate pictures, other of mythical images, on the fabrics. Wigs were often worn, these being fashioned from the hair of the poorer members of the population. Jewellery and furs were also worn. The bride#s costume so described reflected the ultimate fashions of the day, those of the court – although she never married Elizabeth I is often portrayed as wearing such gowns. This of course would be in contrast to poorer folk, who , though they might perhaps be wearing new outfits if possible, would choose clothing that was serviceable and could be used for ‘best’ on many occasions. The now fashionable white was not usually considered as it would soon spoil. The following description comes from an English wedding day of 1597 and is quoted by Kirsti Thomas in her essay, ‘Medieval and Renaissance Marriage: Theory and Customs’ :-
[The bride] was led to church between two sweet boys with bride laces and rosemary tied about their silken sleeves. There was a fair bride-cup of silver gilt carried before her, wherin was a goodly branch of rosemary, gilded very fair, hung about with silken ribands of all colours.
She also includes a description of the wedding of Princess Margaret, daughter of Henry VII and King James IV of Scotland which took place in 1503:-
The Kyng was in a Gowne of Whit Damask figured with Gold and Lynned with Sarcenet. He had on a Jakette with Slyffs of cramsyn natin, the lists [borders] of Blak Velvett, under that sam a Doublet of Cloth of Gold, and a payre of Scarlett Hosys [stockings]. His Shurt broded with Thred of Gold, hys Bonnet Blak, with a ryche Balay [ruby] and hys Swerd about hym. The Qwene was arayed in a rich Robbe lyke Hymselfe, borded of Cramsyn Velvet and syned of the self. Sche had a very riche Coller of Gold, of Pyrrery [jewels] and Perles, round her neck, and the Croune upon hyr Hed. Her hayr hanging. Betwixt the said Croune and the Hayres was a varey riche coyfe hangyng downe behynde thu whole length of the body.
Many, but not all, brides wore their hair loose, a style described at the time as ‘Married
in her hair’, the usual style for spinsters. The difference may be because in some circles
she was considered a wife from the time of her betrothal and so would have put her hair
up from that time. Thomas includes a Puritan complaint of 1572 about brides coming to
In ‘Dressing Renaissance Florence’, page 17, Carole Frick describes elaborate costumes and tell show the fabric might expensive, but the work of tailors was not. She emphasizes how important it was to family honor that all were costumed in the very best way possible. In some cases all guests would receive the gift of a costume for the occasion. While customs obviously varied according to place and time within the Renaissance period an early Tudor book of etiquette describes how the social rank affected the actual ceremony with those of highest rank being allowed near the alter, while others were married further away from it. Conclusion
Weddings were moving away from being simply a civil arrangement, though people such
as Martin Luther seem to have been unsure whether or not the church should involve
itself in such affairs, marriage being a ‘worldly business [where] we clergy ought not to
meddle or direct things’ as quoted by Roper.
Society was entering a time when young people were making choices for themselves and so romance entered the picture. Naturally, whether this was a marriage of convenience or for dynastic reasons, or whether it was for love, it was an important occasion and so people wore the best they could afford on what was one of the most important days of their lives.
Cunnington, P and Lucas, C. Costume for Births, Marriages, and Deaths. New York: Barnes and Noble Books, c1972. quoted by Kirstie Thomas
Roper, L. "Going to Church and Street: Weddings in Reformation Augsburg." Past and Present: a Journal of Historical Studies 106 (1985): 62-101.quoted by Kirstie Thomas
Anne of Cleeves, Queen of England, 14th December 2008, http://www.tudorplace.com.ar/aboutAnneofCleves.htm
Frick,C. Dressing Renaissance Florence, The John Hopkins University Studies in Political and Historical Sciences, John Hopkins University Press,2002,14th December 2008 http://www.press.jhu.edu/books/title_pages/1468.html
Renaissance fashion, Renaissance-weddings.net,14th December 2008 http://www.renaissance-weddings.net/renaissance_fashion.htm
Thomas, K., Medieval and Renaissance Marriage: Theory and Customs, 14th December 2008 http://www.drizzle.com/~celyn/mrwp/mrwed.html