Preliminary Etiquette of a Wedding

This is taken from George Routledge's Courtship and Matrimony.  Mr. Routledge lived between 1812 and 1888, but we trust his advice remains of interest.


Whether the term of courtship may have been long or short—according to the requirements of the case—the time will at last arrive for


Fixing the Day.

While it is the gentleman’s province to press for the earliest possible opportunity, it is the lady’s privilege to name the happy day; not but that the bridegroom-elect must, after all, issue the fiat, for he has much to consider and prepare for beforehand: for instance, to settle where it will be most convenient to spend the honeymoon—a point which must depend on the season of the year, on his own vocation, and other circumstances. At this advanced state of affairs, we must not overlook the important question of


Legal Settlements.

These are matters that must be attended to where there is property on either side; and it behooves the intending bridegroom to take care there is no unnecessary delay in completing them. An occasional morning call in one of the Inns of Court at this period is often found to be necessary to hasten the usually sluggish pace of the legal fraternity. On the business part of this matter it is not the province of our work to dilate; but we may be permitted to suggest that two-thirds, or at least one-half, of the lady’s property should be settled on herself and offspring; and that where the bridegroom has no property wherewith to endow his wife, and has solely to rely on his professional prospects, it should be made a sine qua non that he should insure his life in her favor previously to marriage.


How to be Married.

By this time the gentleman will have made up his mind in what form he will be married—a question, the solution of which, however, must chiefly depend on his means and position in life. He has his choice whether he will be married by BANNS, by LICENSE, by SPECIAL LICENSE, or before the Registrar; but woe betide the unlucky wight who should venture to suggest the last method to a young lady or her parents!


Marriage by Banns.

For this purpose, notice must be given to the clerk of the parish or of the district church. The names of the two parties must be written down in full, with their conditions, and the parishes in which they reside—as, “Between A B, of the parish of St. George, bachelor (or widower, as the case may be), and C D, of the parish of St. George, spinster (or widow, as the case may be).” No mention of either the lady’s or gentleman’s age is required. Where the lady and gentleman are of different parishes, the banns must be published in each, and a certificate of their publication in the one furnished to the clergyman who may marry the parties in the church of the other parish.

It seems singular, albeit it is the fact, that no evidence of consent by either party is necessary to this “putting up of the banns,” as is it denominated; indeed, the publication of the banns is not infrequently the first rural declaration of attachment, so that the blushing village maiden sometimes finds herself announced as a bride-elect before she has received any actual declaration. The clerk receives his fee of two shillings and makes no further inquiries; nay, more, is prepared, if required, to provide the necessary fathers on each side, in the respectable persons of himself and the sexton—the venerable pew-opener being also ready, on a pinch, to “perform” the part of bridesmaid.

The banns must be publicly read on three successive Sundays in the church, after the last of which, if they so choose, the happy pair may, on the Monday following, be “made one.” It is usual to give one day’s previous notice to the clerk; but this is not legally necessary, it being the care of the Church, as well as the policy of the Law, to throw as few impediments as possible in the way of marriage, of which the one main fact of a consent to live together, declared publicly before an assemblage of relatives, friends, and neighbors (and afterwards, as it were by legal deduction, before witnesses), is the essential and constituent element. Marriage by banns, except in the country districts, is usually confined to the humbler classes of society. This is to be regretted, inasmuch as it is a more deliberate and solemn declaration, and leaves the ceremony more free from the imputation of suddenness, contrivance, or fraud, than any other form.  A marriage by banns, it is understood, can never be set aside by the after discovery of deception or concealment as respects residence, and even names, on either side. The fees of a marriage by banns vary from 11s. 6d. to 13s. 6d. and 15s. 6d., according to the parish or district wherein the marriage may take place.


Hours in which Marriages may be Celebrated.

All marriages at church must be celebrated within canonical hours—that is, between the hours of eight and twelve, except in the case of special license, when the marriage may be celebrated at any hour, or at any “meet and proper place.”


Marriage by Special License.

By the Statute of 23rd Henry VIII., the Archbishop of Canterbury has power to grant special licenses; but in a certain sense these are limited. His Grace restricts his authority to Peers and Peeresses in their own right, to their sons and daughters, to Dowager Peeresses, to Privy Councilors, to Judges of the Courts at Westminster, to Baronets and Knights, and to Members of Parliament; and, by an order of a former Prelate, to no other person is a special license to be given, unless they allege very strong and weighty reasons for such indulgence, arising from particular circumstances of the case, the truth of which must be proved to the satisfaction of the Archbishop.

The application for a special license is to be made to his Grace through the proctor of the parties, who, having first ascertained names and particulars, will wait upon his Grace for his fiat.

The expense of a special license is about twenty-eight or thirty guineas, whereas that of an ordinary license is but two guineas and a half; or three guineas where the gentleman or lady, or both, are minors.


Marriage by License.

An ordinary marriage license is to be obtained at the Faculty Registry, or Vicar-General’s Office, or Diocesan Registry Office of the Archbishops or Bishops, either in the country, or at Doctors’ Commons, or by applying to a proctor. A license from Doctors’ Commons, unlike others, however, is available throughout the whole of England.

The gentleman or lady (for either may attend), before applying for an ordinary marriage license, should ascertain in what parish or district they are both residing—the church of such parish or district being the church in which the marriage should be celebrated; and either the gentleman or lady must have had his or her usual abode therein fifteen days before application is made for the license, as the following form, to be made on oath, sets forth:--

... Proctor. LICENSE, Dated 187_.


APPEARED PERSONALLY, A B, of the parish or district of ----, in the county of ----, a bachelor, of the age of 21 years and upwards, and prayed a License for the solemnization of matrimony in the parish or district church of ----, between him and C D, of the district of ----, in the county of ----, a spinster, of the age of 21 years or upwards, and made oath, that he believeth that there is no impediment of kindred or alliance, or of any other lawful cause, nor any suit commenced in any Ecclesiastical Court, to bar or hinder the proceeding of the said matrimony, according to the tenor of such License. And he further made oath, that he, the said A B or C D, hath had his [or her] usual place of abode within the said parish or district of ----, for the space of fifteen days last past.

SWORN before me,

[_Here the document must be signed by the Vicar-General, or a Surrogate appointed by him_.]

This affidavit having been completed, the license is then made out. It runs thus:--

ARCHIBALD CAMPBELL, by Divine Providence Archbishop of Canterbury, Primate of all England, and Metropolitan, To our well beloved in Christ, A B, of ____, and C D, of ____, Grace and Health.—WHEREAS ye are, as it is alleged, resolved to proceed to the solemnization of true and lawful matrimony, and that you greatly desire that the same may be solemnized in the face of the Church: We, being willing that these your honest desires may the more speedily obtain a due effect, and to the end therefore that this marriage may be publicly and lawfully solemnized in the church of ____, by the Rector, Vicar, or Curate thereof, without the publication or proclamation of the banns of matrimony, provided there shall appear no impediment of kindred or alliance, or of any other lawful cause, nor any suit commenced in any Ecclesiastical Court, to bar or hinder the proceeding of the said matrimony, according to the tenor of this License; And likewise, That the celebration of this marriage be had and done publicly in the aforesaid ____ church, between the hours of eight and twelve in the forenoon; We, for lawful causes, graciously grant this our LICENSE AND FACULTY as well to you the parties contracting, as to the Rector, Vicar, Curate, or Minister of ____, the aforesaid ____, who is designed to solemnize the marriage between you, in the manner and form above specified, according to the rites of the Book of Common Prayer, set forth for that purpose by the authority of Parliament.

Given under the seal of our VICAR-GENERAL, this day of ____, in the Year of Our Lord one thousand eight hundred and ____, and in the ____ year of our translation.


The license remains in force for three months only; and the copy received by the person applying for it is left in the hands of the clergyman who marries the parties, it being his authority for so doing. In case either party is a minor, the age must be stated, and the consent of the parents or guardians authorized to give such consent must be sworn to by the gentleman or lady applying for the license. The following are the persons having legal authority to give their consent in case of minority:--1st, the father; if dead--2nd, the guardians, if any appointed by his will; if none--3rd, the mother, if unmarried; if dead or married--4th, the guardians appointed by Chancery. If none of the foregoing persons exist, then the marriage may be legally solemnized without any consent whatever. The following are the official forms for this purpose:--




Consent of Father.

By and with the consent of A B, the natural and lawful father of _B B_, the minor aforesaid.


Guardian Testamentary.

By and with the consent of A B, the guardian of the person of the said C D, the minor aforesaid, lawfully appointed in and by the last will and testament of D D, deceased, his [or her] natural and lawful father.



By and with the consent of A B, the natural and lawful mother of _B B_, the minor aforesaid, his [or her] father being dead, and he [or she] having no guardian of his [or her] person lawfully appointed, and his [or her] said mother being unmarried.


Guardian appointed by the Court of Chancery.

By and with the consent of A B, the guardian of the person of the said C D, appointed by the High Court of Chancery, and having authority to consent to his [or her] marriage, his [or her] father being dead, and he [or she] having no guardian of his [or her] person otherwise lawfully appointed, or mother living and unmarried.


When no Father, Testamentary Guardian, Mother, or Guardian appointed by the Court of Chancery.

That he [or she] the said A B, hath no father living, or guardian of his [or her] person lawfully appointed, or mother living and unmarried, or guardian of his [or her] person appointed by the High Court of Chancery, and having authority to consent to the aforesaid marriage.

The previous remarks have reference only to licenses for marriages about to be solemnized according to the laws of the Church of England.


Marriage of Roman Catholics or Dissenters by License.

By the Statute 6th and 7th William IV., 17th August, 1836, Roman Catholics and Dissenters who may wish to be married in a church or chapel belonging to their own denomination, can obtain a license for that purpose from the Superintendent Registrar of the district in which one of the parties resides, after giving notice thereof a week previous to the same officer. The expense of the license is L3 12s.  6d.


Marriage before the Registrar.

Should the parties wish to avoid the expense of a license, they can do so by giving three weeks’ notice to the Superintendent Registrar; which notice is affixed in his office, and read before the proper officers when assembled; at the expiration of that time the marriage may be solemnized in any place which is licensed within their district. The Registrar of Marriages of such district must have notice of and attend every such marriage. The fee due to the Registrar of Marriages for attending the ceremony and registering the marriage (by license) is 10s., and for certificate 2s. 6d; and without a license 5s., and certificate 2s. 6d.

Marriages also by the above-mentioned Act of Parliament may, upon due notice, be celebrated in the office of the Superintendent Registrar, with or without license, or with or without any religious ceremony; but the following declarations, which are prescribed by the Act, must be made at all marriages, in some part of the ceremony, either religious or otherwise, in the presence of the Registrar and two witnesses—viz., “I do solemnly declare that I know not of any lawful impediment why I, A B, may not be joined in matrimony to C D;” and each of the parties shall also say to each other—“I call upon these persons here present to witness that I, A B, do take thee, C D, to be my lawful wedded wife” (or husband).

It is highly to the credit of the people of this country, and an eminent proof of their deep religious feeling, that all classes of the community have virtually repudiated these “Marriages by Act of Parliament;” nor would we advise any fair maiden who has a regard to the comfort and respect of her after connubial life, to consent to be married in the Registrar’s back parlor, after due proclamation by the Overseers and Poor-Law Guardians.


The Bridal Trousseau, and the Wedding Presents.

The day being fixed for the wedding, the bride’s father now presents her with a sum of money for her trousseau, according to her rank in life. A few days previously to the wedding, presents are also made to the bride by relations and intimate friends, varying in amount and value according to their degrees of relationship and friendship—such as plate, furniture, jewelry, and articles of ornament, as well as of utility, to the newly-married lady in her future station. These, together with her wedding dresses, &c., it is customary to exhibit to the intimate friends of the bride a day or two before her marriage.


Duty of a Bridegroom-Elect.

The bridegroom elect has on the eve of matrimony no little business to transact. His first care is to look after a house suitable for his future home, and then, assisted by the taste of his chosen helpmate, to take steps to furnish it in a becoming style. He must also, if engaged in business, make arrangements for a month’s absence; in fact, bring together all matters into a focus, so as to be readily manageable when after the honeymoon he shall take the reins himself.  He will do well also to burn most of his bachelor letters, and part with, it may be, some few of his bachelor connections; and he should communicate, in an easy informal way, to his acquaintances generally, the close approach of so important a change in his condition. Not to do this might hereafter lead to inconvenience and cause no little annoyance.

We must now speak of . . .


Buying the Ring.

It is the gentleman’s business to buy the ring; _and let him take especial care not to forget it_; for such an awkward mistake has frequently happened. The ring should be, we need scarcely say, of the very purest gold, but substantial. There are three reasons for this: first, that it may not break—a source of great trouble to the young wife; secondly, that it may not slip off the finger without being missed—few husbands being pleased to hear that their wives have lost their wedding rings; and, thirdly, that it may last out the lifetime of the loving recipient, even should that life be protracted to the extreme extent. To get at the right size required is not one of the least interesting of the delicate mysteries of love. A not unusual method is to get a sister of the fair one to lend one of the lady’s rings, to enable the jeweler to select the proper size. Care must be taken, however, that it be not too large. Some audacious suitors, rendered bold by their favored position, have been even known presumptuously to try the ring on the patient finger of the bride-elect; and it has rarely happened in such cases that the ring has been refused, or sent back to be changed.

Having bought the ring, the bridegroom should now put it into his waistcoat-pocket, there to remain until he puts on his wedding vest on the morning of the marriage; to the left-hand pocket of which he must then carefully transfer it, and not part with it until he takes it out in the church during the wedding ceremony.

In ancient days, it appears by the “Salisbury Manual,” there was a form of “Blessing the Wedding Ring” before the wedding day; and in those times the priest, previously to the ring being put on, always made careful inquiry whether it had been duly blessed. It would seem to be the wish of certain clergymen, who have of late brought back into use many ceremonial observances that had fallen into desuetude, to revive this ancient custom.


Who should be Asked to the Wedding.

The wedding should take place at the house of the bride’s parents or guardians. The parties who ought to be asked are the father and mother of the gentleman, the brothers and sisters (their wives and husbands also, if married), and indeed the immediate relations and favored friends of both parties. Old family friends on the bride’s side should also receive invitations—the rationale or original intention of this wedding assemblage being to give publicity to the fact that the bride is leaving her paternal home with the consent and approbation of her parents.

On this occasion the bridegroom has the privilege of asking any friends he may choose to the wedding; but no friend has a right to feel affronted at not being invited, since, were all the friends on either side assembled, the wedding breakfast would be an inconveniently crowded reception, rather than an impressive ceremonial. It is, however, considered a matter of friendly attention on the part of those who cannot be invited, to be present at the ceremony in the church.


Who should be Bridesmaids.

The bridesmaids should include the unmarried sisters of the bride; but it is considered an anomaly for an elder sister to perform this function. The pleasing novelty for several years past, of an addition to the number of bridesmaids varying from two to eight, and sometimes more, has added greatly to the interest of weddings, the bride being thus enabled to diffuse a portion of her own happiness among the most intimate of her younger friends. One lady is always appointed principal bridesmaid, and has the bride in her charge; it is also her duty to take care that the other bridesmaids have the wedding favors in readiness. On the second bridesmaid devolves, with her principal, the duty of sending out the cards; and on the third bridesmaid, in conjunction with the remaining beauties of her choir, the onerous office of attending to certain ministrations and mysteries connected with the wedding cake.


Of the Bridegroomsmen.

It behooves a bridegroom to be exceedingly particular in the selection of the friends who, as groomsmen, are to be his companions and assistants on the occasion of his wedding. Their number is limited to that of the bridesmaids: one for each. It is unnecessary to add that very much of the social pleasure of the day will depend on their proper mating. Young and unmarried they must be, handsome they should be, good-humored they cannot fail to be, well dressed they will of course take good care to be. Let the bridegroom diligently con over his circle of friends, and select the comeliest and the pleasantest fellows for his own train. The principal bridegroomsman, styled his “best man” has, for the day, the special charge of the bridegroom; and the last warning we would give him is, to take care that, when the bridegroom puts on his wedding waistcoat, he does not omit to put the wedding ring into the corner of the left-hand pocket. The dress of a groomsman should be light and elegant; a dress coat, formerly considered indispensable, is no longer adopted.


Duties to be Attended to the Day before the Wedding.

The bride now sends white gloves, wrapped in white paper and tied with white ribbon, to each of the bridesmaids.

The bridegroom does the same to each of the bridegroomsmen.

One portion of the wedding cake is cut into small oblong pieces, and passed by the bridesmaids through the wedding ring, which is delivered into their charge for this purpose. The pieces of cake are afterwards put up in ornamental paper, generally pink or white, enameled, and tied with bows of silvered paper. This pleasant old custom is, however, much on the wane.

The bridegroom’s “best man” on this day must take care that due notice be sent to the clerk of the parish where the ceremony is to take place, so that the church may be got ready, and the clergyman be in attendance.

It is usual too for the bridegroom’s “best man” to make arrangements for the church bells being rung after the ceremony: the rationale of this being to imply that it is the province of the husband to call on all the neighbors to rejoice with him on his receiving his wife, and not that of the lady’s father on her going from his house.

The bridegroom furnishes to the bridesmaids his list for the “Cards” to be sent to his friends; of which hereafter.

On the evening of this day the wedding breakfast should be ornamented and spread out, as far as possible, in the apartment appropriated to it.

The bridesmaids on this evening also prepare the wedding favors, which should be put up in a box ready to be conveyed to the church on the morning of the marriage. A picturesque custom is observed in many country weddings, where the bride’s friends strew her path to the church door with flowers.


[Editor's Note: The information on this page is provided for historical and entertainment purposes only.  It is not legal advice, and should not be regarded as such, especially since this information dates from the 19th century.  For any legal questions you might have concerning the matters discussed above, we suggest that you seek the counsel of a competent attorney-at-law or other appropriate professional.]



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