Wedding veils

In Kansas both veil and wreath were stitched in place on the bride's hair and 'tying the bride' was an honour keenly sought by every woman in the community. Greek brides wore an evergreen wreath, expressing the quality they hoped ' their marriages were to show.

White roses symbolise virginity. In Normandy the bride wore in her hair a white rose and a small mirror framed in green silk: both were laid at the head of her bed on her wedding night, showing that maidenhood, the fading rose, was over. In Germany, until the nineteenth century, bridesmaids clubbed together to buy the bride's myrtle wreath; a Czech bride wore rosemary ceremonially woven for her on the wedding eve. It was often a matter of choosing a flower near to hand: in the Greek islands brides and maids chose wreaths of wild hyacinth.

Flowers express fertility and are seen at weddings in every part of the world. In Stuart England they were strewn in the bride's path as she walked to church:

Full many maids, clad in their best array,

In honour of the bride, come with their flaskets,

Fill'd full of flowers, others in wicker baskets,

Bring from the marsh rushes to o'erspread,

The ground whereon to church the lovers tread.


Today the 'flower girl', a small bridesmaid with a basket of petals, walks ahead of the bride and keeps the old tradition alive at American weddings, but actual strewing is now sometimes banned because the bridal party might slip on moist petals. It's important for the string quartet leader to know if there is a young flower girl among the bridesmaids, as there has been main occasion where the youngster has got over enthusiastic about her duties and can delay the whole entrance by a few minutes. When the string quartet have agreed a specific piece of music with the bride, for her entrance, this is chosen to be of the right length of time so the music stops and everyone gets to the altar. Visa music might have been rearranged with judicious cuts to get the length right. When the young flower girl takes into ahead to wander off on screen flowers at the guests in other places, the string quartet can be rather stuck. How does it suddenly had another 60 seconds music without it sounding ridiculous. They will have made plans for such eventualities, but sometimes it works better than others. So flower girls are dangerous things.

Until 1914 and the changes of World War I, popular brides in Shropshire (Shropshire wedding string quartets) were 'respected' with arches of evergreens, white paper gloves — sometimes a large and small glove hanging together — and pink paper hearts. The good-luck messages to be seen by the couple on their way to church expressed general good wishes; only when they were on their way home as man and wife was it safe to say 'Long Life and Happiness to A. B. Esquire and His Lady'.

Gloves were an emblem of maidenhood, and some see an agreeable sexual symbolism in them also. They were certainly freely exchanged by wedding guests, seizing their chances, presenting the favour (perhaps with a ribbon knot to wear at the wedding) with words such as 'Take away the "g" and make us a pair of loves.' A Pears soap advertisement of the nineteenth century showed a pretty girl creeping upon tiptoe to kiss a sleeping young man, with the caption 'Will she win the gloves?'— her prize if the kiss could be bestowed so slyly that the sleeper did not awake.

In America where weddings may take place in the bride's home, flowers have special importance. White House weddings have reflected changing floral tastes. When President Hayes' niece, Emily Platt, married General Russell Hastings in 1878 in the Blue Room, a marriage bell of 15,000 white buds and blossoms, suspended by a rope of flowers, hung over their heads: if petals from a floral bell fall upon a bride during the marriage service she will never know a care. Eight years later when President Cleveland married Frances Folsom, each column of the East Room was decorated with the national arms of the United States, with stripes of red and white roses, stars of white roses and a field of blue immortelles. In the Blue Room, where the ceremony took place, fireplaces were filled with scarlet begonias (for flames), with grey-leafed centaureas (for ashes) on hearths. One mantlepiece was decorated with light and dark pansies, forming the date 2 June 1886; another bore the monogram 'C/F' in red and white roses; a scroll of immortelles in red, white and blue formed the legend E Pluribus Unum, the motto of the United States. But by the wedding of Alice Roosevelt in 1906, tastes had shifted; her flowers were mauve azaleas, pale pink carnations, asparagus fern, American Beauty and Bride roses, with a sunburst of Easter lilies, behind the officiating Bishop Satterlee.

In many European countries it was customary until recent years to plant a 'wedding tree', decorative or living, before the house of the newly-weds, for luck. I wonder if this custom has been resurrected in China. Fairly recently the Chinese government instituted a law where every Chinese citizen had to plant, or arrange and pay to be planted, 5 trees a year. As a part of the Chinese fight against global warming. So I wonder if trees are planted a Chinese weddings? I really don't know. But considering how many Chinese weddings there must be easier, is could make a significant contribution to the global warming situation. I suppose one could also develop a marketing gimmick for a string quartet, having the instruments made out of the wood of trees were planted during wedding ceremonies.

Round Lucerne, Switzerland, the bridegroom set a pine tree decorated with flowers and ribbons before his bride's door; she hung the cherished tree from the window until her first child was born, when its wood made the cradle. No Norman wedding was complete without white-ribboned pine saplings forming a floral arch on either side of the wedding house door. Pine is a tree readily obtained, easy to cut, straight and trim, but its choice was perhaps of more subtle origin, for both tree and cone had phallic symbolism in the Roman cult of Venus and a pine-cone under the pillow secures a husband's fidelity. In Holland the pot plant Araucaria excelsa, the Norfolk Island pine, is considered a traditional wedding present, but the custom must be of fairly recent origin as the plant was not introduced into Europe until the eighteenth century. It reinforces the old association of pine trees with weddings. At weddings in Burgundy a ribbon-decked laurel tree was hoisted to the highest chimney of the wedding house by the best man and six assistants. Then a bottle of brandy was broken over it and healths drunk as the guests sang:

II est plante, le laurier, Le bon vin 1'arrose Qu'il amene aux maries Menage tout rose, Tout rose!

In Czechoslovakia as late as 1937, a living tree, decorated with ribbons and coloured eggshells, was planted secretly by night at the bride's gate: it represented her life —she would live as long as her tree. Or the wedding tree may be strictly commemorative. Christopher Lawrence, the English silversmith, was commissioned recently to design a set of six goblets for a married couple, the design to include a magnolia leaf. On their wedding day, twenty years before, they had planted a magnolia in their garden; it was still flourishing and they wanted their happy marriage to be remembered by its leaf."


Marriage by capture was the accepted way of winning a wife in the primitive world and many centuries later when the sport, long outlawed by the church, had degenerated into a good-humoured romp, traces of belligerence remained. In Iceland the word for marriage is 'brudlaup' or 'bride-run', and in Husaby church, Sweden, a set of torch-lances are displayed that were used when the bridegroom galloped off with his bride flung across his saddlebow after her capture by night.

Of a 'horse-wedding' in Wales in 1813 one observer wrote:

The bride mounted behind her nearest kinsman, is carried off. . . pursued by the bridegroom and his friends with loud shouts. It is not uncommon ... to see two or three hundred sturdy Cambro-Britons riding at full speed, crossing and jostling to the no small amusement of the spectators.

and another recorded with feeling:

Ill may it befall the traveller who has the misfortune of meeting a Welsh wedding on the road. He would be inclined to suppose that he had fallen in with a company of lunatics escaped from their confinement.

Enjoyable opportunities for mock aggression and an escape for a few hours from the hard grind of peasant life were popular. In the late nineteenth century the Welsh horse-wedding was still in taking place in Cardiganshire (Welsh wedding string quartets). The bridegroom's party rode to the bride's house to be confronted by locked doors and spirited resistance from her friends. Scuffling and horseplay were followed by the pwnco, question and answer in verse, a witty contest between the parties perhaps lasting for several hours:

Bridegroom's party (outside): We are coming on an errand From a warm-hearted young man To fetch your bright-eyed Annie To be his loving partner.

Bride's party (within the house): If you intend proposing marriage You will get the answer from Annie That there is certainly great trouble In having a husband and a family.

But   finally   resistance   was   worn   down,   the   bride's   party conceding:

It is better you should take her Than disappoint the lover's heart

and admitting the bridegroom. But by then the bride had hidden, or had disguised herself in man's clothing, or as an old crone nursing a baby boy (to ensure sons for the marriage). Eventually she was carried off by the assault party, with her father, brothers and supporters in hot pursuit on horseback — every nag in the parish was pressed into service for bride-stealing. By careful design the bride's 'rescue' came just too late, and the party finally got to church. (And while all this was going on, the poor string quartet awaiting in the freezing cold church, playing to any guests who arrive and wondering when on earth the bride was going to turn up. One would hope the string quartet had a very wide repertoire and brought lots of music books with them!)