Disguising the Bride traditions

A similar custom was reported in Brittany, another Celtic country. There the frustrated bridegroom was held at bay for hours and the bagpipes played merrily while the bride was disguised first as the grandmother, then as the mistress of the house, then as a small child. At Moslem weddings the bride's young relations still tease and harass the bridegroom and refuse him entry. Disguising the bride was an important time-gaining ruse. In the Tyrol a bride-doll was offered as first substitute; in Polonia a bearded man was produced as 'bride'; among the Saxons of Transylvania the disguised bride hid behind a curtain with two married friends and the bridegroom had to identify his bride with all three conspiring to confuse him. Half-serious 'hostility' is still to be seen in Languedoc, France, if the bridegroom is a 'foreigner'; in Spain and Switzerland the stranger had to 'buy his bride' by a gift of wine and meat to the young men of her village. (One can see this sort of thing happening in the typical small Spanish mountain village that exist still today, but off the main tour tourist routes, but it soon becomes totally impractical in a city situation.) These escapades were enthusiastically absorbed into American pioneer lore. Madam Knight wrote of a similar event of' bride-stealing' in Connecticut in 1704:

They generally marry very young; the males oftener as I am told under twenty years than above; they generally make public weddings and have a way something singular in some of them; viz. just before joining hands the Bridegroom quits the place, who is soon followed by the Bridesmen, and, as it were, dragged back to duty, being the reverse to the former practice among us to steal Mistress Bride.

'Bride-stealing' lingered into the eighteenth century in the Connecticut Valley, last outpost of many customs; slighted suitors, not invited to the wedding, held the kidnapped bride at a country tavern until the bridegroom redeemed her with a handsome supper for the thieves. The last bride stolen that is known to have happened in the USA was in Hadley, Massachusetts, was in 1783. So it's a pretty old custom, though versions of it, at a folklore remnant, still happen in Romany society, or at least according to a television programme that ran a few years ago about gypsies and Gypsy weddings in the UK. Of course, with TV programmes, you never know what is really happening and what is put on job for the cameras, unless it is the true interested BBC, though I know for a fact that one of their "documentaries" on a completely different subject was faked, though this was not the fault of the BBC but of the "experts" that were advising. But that is another story as they say.

Wedding customs still show the influence of capture. The gift (now often cufflinks or cigarette case) a bridegroom gives his best man recalls the reward given for his aid in the bride-fight; the gifts to the bridesmaids recall the bribes they received to persuade them to release the bride.

'There is perhaps no savage custom . . . which has so increased the gaiety of civilised nations as the common taboo between a man and his mother-in-law, one common to both primitive and sophisticated societies.' Every comedian knows that the old joke still serves, and the Germans have enlarged it: 'schwiegermutter — teufelsunterfutter' and 'schwiegermutter — tigermutter'. The mother-in-law owes her unenviable reputation to marriage by capture, for inevitably she must be antipathetic to the new son-in-law who 'stole' her beloved child. Among the Roro of New Guinea the bride defends herself from would-be captors with hands, feet and teeth. In the midst of the uproar the bride's mother, armed with a garden tool or club, lashes at everyone within reach, howling curses upon the ravishers of her precious daughter.

The leader of string quartets, jazz bands or ceilidh bands also knows the reputation and fears a phone call from the mother-in-law. There have been occasions when the mother-in-law was phoned and demanded that this that and whatever happens on the day, and in the background you can hear the poor bride vainly complaining that that is not what she wanted, but to no avail. Fortunately, most mothers and mother-in-law's are delightful people.

The honeymoon, too, recalls the past. After the deceits and manoeuvres of capture it was often politic for the young couple to hide for a 'moon' while parental tempers cooled. Far from being a pleasure trip, the honeymoon was a safety measure. Honeymooners today are as interested as they ever were in keeping their destination a secret.


this is about the procession to the church, not the processional up the aisle of the bride. Nowadays the bride arrives on the wedding car, often a vintage vehicle, but whatever it is and appeals to her. But in the days before everybody had cars all car hire was relatively cheap, getting to the church was a long drawnout and major event.

Until the late nineteenth century, many bridal parties went to church on foot. Edwin Grey wrote of Hertfordshire, England, (string quartet in Hertfordshire) in the 18705 that if homes lay at the parish boundary couples might walk two or three miles to be married, with interested children as an escort and cottage women calling good wishes from their doors. The party proceeded two by two—the old superstition that the pair must not meet on the wedding day before the ceremony had little weight where there was no alternative. It was lucky indeed if the best man and bridesmaids were married; less so if merely engaged: 'those who walk to church beforehand, will never walk as man and wife' was the old saying.

Group disguises helped to outwit evil wishers. Maids and men of the wedding party were dressed to resemble the couple. Today dresses of bride and maids still have common features: in Victorian prints and photographs, with all in white, it is difficult at a quick glance to tell who is who. Today, in the West at least, the best man, like the groom, may appear in uniform of morning dress with white carnation. At weddings of the 'Old Order Amish', members of the Mennonite community of the United States, which retains many of its sixteenth and seventeenth century ways, the couple and their attendants are dressed indistinguishably and only a close knowledge of the order of procession reveals their roles. To scare away evil spirits, two males keep the bridegroom between them wherever he may go on the wedding day; two girls protect the bride. There is safety in numbers and uniformity but bridesmaids do not escape unscathed. 'Thrice a bridesmaid, never a bride' is a direct reference to the ill-wishing a bridesmaid so experienced will have absorbed.

At the Midsummer Music Agency we have on a few occasions organised folk band to play during reenactments of such wedding processions. It has to be very careful in selecting an appropriate band, as first of all the instruments have to be suitable for playing whilst walking and secondly the musicians have to be used to doing this. It's really rather difficult to play an instrument and walk at the same time. Think of a fiddle. It's one thing playing it in a ceilidh band where you're standing in one place, albeit jumping up and down around the stage, but in a fairly random fashion and it's quite another thing to have to walk at a steady pace that suits the bride and groom, whilst holding a violin and doing the fingering with the left hand, doing the Boeing with the right hand, not bouncing up and down too much as you walk otherwise the bonus kisses all over the place, and holding the whole caboodle under your chin and trying to see where you going without tripping over.

When John Newcombe, a wealthy clothier of Newbury, Berkshire, (string quartets in Berkshire) married in 1597 in a ritual typical of Elizabethan England, a silver cup filled with wine (for richness to come) with a gilded, beribboned branch of rosemary (for remembrance and against sorcery) was carried before the bride. The bridesmaids held bridecakes and garlands of gilded wheat (for fertility) and the bride was led to church 'between two sweet boys, with Bride-laces and Rosemary tied about their silken sleeves'. (The presence of male children ensured sons for the marriage.)

In Bulgaria in the nineteenth century the bride and guests in horseback procession were led by a rider holding a flag surmounted by an apple. 'With the garlands of flowers, and vine leaves, their songs and strains of wild music, their gleeful shouts and gay laughter, this wedding procession presents the appearance of an ancient chorus of Bacchanals wending its way by mountain path and ravine to some old shrine of the vinous god.' As the party entered the village it was met by the best man, leading a goat with gilded horns, and carrying the bridal crowns, baskets of fruit, cakes and wine for the party, symbolising future wealth. According to the doctrine of sympathetic magic, to suggest wealth was to create it. (This is no ancient concept that. Just read any American business book and you will find exactly the same concept, but enshrined in the idea of forward planning, goal setting and goal reviewing. The principle is the same. If the mind is focused on a particular outcome, naturally actions that are likely to move the person towards those outcomes are going to be favoured. Without the goal being set, actions random or relate to other desires. So what was once thought of as religious or superstitious or merely folklore can have a basis in logical psychology and human behaviour.)

 After kissing her horse farewell on the forehead, the bride entered the wedding house where in the granary stood a wine barrel bearing the wedding cake and a glass of wine. The couple were married, tasted the wine, and walked three times round for luck, while fruit and comfits showered over them.

In Normandy the wedding procession, led by a fiddler, left for church in bright waggons or on horses gay with rosettes and scarlet harness (the finest witch-deterrent colour). (Reference my comment a few paragraphs above about playing a fiddle walking and has different from playing a fiddle in a barn dance band.) The horses walked — to trot might seem irreverent before a sacrament, although de rigeur on the homeward journey — and the bride threw handfuls of coins to passers-by. To capture a coin was a happy augury.