|Weddings in 18th Century Scotland|
The three principal domestic events - marriages, births, and deaths - provided rare holidays for Scots. They were opportunities for social gatherings in a life which, for the most part, consisted of an unceasing round of toil. As you will have guessed, this essay focuses on weddings. I had hoped, as much as possible, to describe lowland Scottish weddings in the 18th century; however, it was difficult, especially with information from websites, to determine the century and the location (i.e., Highland or Lowland) of their information. What follows, therefore, is an amalgam of Scottish wedding customs. I'll start by describing what were known as penny weddings or penny bridals.
In Lowland Scotland, the celebration of the union of man and woman has always been attended by a bridal. This is an old Anglo Saxon word and consists of two words co-joined; BRYD meaning bride or woman and EALO meaning ale or beer. Thus, in this context, the bridal is a bride's drinking party.
In the past, Lowland Scots weddings were called Penny Bridals or Siller Bridals. It is difficult to say when Penny Bridals began. They were certainly the most important occasions for singing and dancing, and the festivities and were immensely popular. They were attended by whole communities, as many as two hundred participants being not uncommon. Invitations, although given, were not specifically required and everyone attending was expected to contribute money for being allowed to attend, hence the name Penny Bridal. Contributions were usually in the form of a penny, although I read of the contribution being a shilling, although I expect that this applied to later years. I also read that contributions could be in the form of food, service, etc. The theory behind the practice was that each person would contribute money towards the cost of the wedding and whatever money was left over would help the couple establish their new home.
Supposedly, penny bridals were formally abolished in 1645, presumably because of the disorder they brought to a community. Bridals would begin several days before the actual wedding. Since each guest paid a penny for the privilege of taking part in the festivities, they made sure that they got good value for their penny. So great was the uproar often made by these paying guests, that one parish passed an act restricting the number of persons at weddings to twenty. Proscribed or not, penny bridals continued into the 1800s. For example, many parish ministers writing in the Statistical Accounts in 1790 disapproved or, or roundly condemned the penny bridals for the disorder, drunkenness and quarreling that ensued. When the marriage was at a farm, the barn would be allotted for the dancing and the house for the drinking. In villages, the guests were at times divided into parties and feast spread over several houses. Sometimes, if the weather were amenable, the event would be held on the green. And thus, they would make merry for two or three days, until Saturday night.
Here's a description of a more traditional wedding ceremony without the two or three days of advance partying.
The wedding celebrations started on the eve of the wedding with plenty of singing, drinking and toasting to health. On the eve, a ceremonial feet washing was held. A tub of water was placed in the best room. The bride placed her feet in the tub and her female friends then gathered around to help wash them. A wedding ring from a happily married woman was previously placed in the tub and it was believed that whoever found the ring while washing the bride's feet would be the next to get married. The men folk were outside the door making jokes and attempting to watch through the doorway. The bridegroom was then seized by the women and made to sit at the tub. His legs were none too gently daubed with soot, ashes and cinders. (This feet washing could have been an early custom when women traditionally went around barefooted.)
I read two different versions of the wedding procession - one where the wedding ceremony was performed at the home of the bride, and the other where it was at the church. It was unclear whether or not this evolved from one to the other over time, or if there were geographical origins. Here's one such description of a wedding in the 19th century.
The best man and bridesmaid go arm in arm to fetch the bridegroom to conduct him (and afterwards the other guests) to the dwelling of the bride where the marriage ceremony is performed. After the ceremony, and just as the newly-married couple are leaving the house, a plate containing salt is, at some marriages, stealthily broken over the head of the bridegroom, and as they leave the door, the customary shower of old shoes is thrown at them. The bride and bridegroom head the procession. They are followed by the bridesmaid and best man, and the rest of the bridal party, all walking two and two, arm and arm, to the bridegroom's house, where a supper is prepared for the wedding guests. On the arrival of the bridal party at the bridegroom's house, his mother, or nearest female relative, breaks a cake of shortbread over the head of the bride as she sets her foot on the threshold, and throws the fragments to the door to be scrambled for by those who assemble outside on marriage occasions. A fragment of the cake is coveted by young maidens, to lay under their pillows at night, as a spell for ensuring dreams of those they love.
Here's a description of a procession to a church.
On the day of the wedding, the bridal party made their way to the church, flower petals being thrown in front of the bride, but if they encountered a funeral or a pig on the way, it was considered bad luck and they would return home and set out again. The first person they encountered was called the first foot and would be given a coin and a drink of whisky by the bride. He would then have to accompany the bridal party for one mile before being allowed to continue on his way.
Just outside the church they would be met by the clergyman and make their wedding vows. The vows and joining ceremony were spoken in the vernacular Scots. After the joining, the priest led the bride and groom, and all the witnesses from the procession into the church for participation in a lengthy nuptial mass conducted in Latin. The long mass ended with the blessing of the food and drink which had been brought along by the guests and participants, and then shared amongst themselves. It was traditional for the clergyman, however shy, to kiss the bride.
The guests returned to a relative's home to share the food and drink. The celebrations were usually held outside with pipers and dancing and could last all night. A traditional reel was led by the newlyweds, after which the bride danced with the most prominent person in the room, and then the other guests joined in.
Here's a description of the wedding dinner and what followed.
By the standards of the time, the feast was abundant. The first course would be milk broth made of barley; the second, barley broth made from beef mutton or fowls; the third course consisted of rounds of beef, legs of mutton and fowls by the dozen served with loaves and oatcakes. Last came the puddings swimming in cream. Home brewed ale flowed in abundance from first to last. When the tables were cleared big bottles of whisky were brought in and punch made up from them in wooden punch bowls. The cups were filled and handed round and the toasting commenced. First the health of the bride and groom was proposed. Round after round were drunk, each to a toast or sentiment. This would be the time to begin the singing. Songs humorous, bawdy, cautionary and moral.
The entire entourage escorted the young couple to their new home. It is deemed specially unlucky for a marriage party to take any by-path or to turn back after they have once set out for their new home. Before entering her home, oatcakes or bannocks were broken above the bride's head and then shared around. The bride could then be carried over the threshold in case she stumbled - a sign of bad luck.
The beddan was the closing event. The bride would attempt to retire but as soon as she was missed there would be a general rush to the bridal chamber, which was burst open and filled in an instant to perform the ceremony of Beddin the Bride. After the bride was put into bed, a bottle of whisky and some bread and cheese was handed to her. She gave each guest a dram and a piece of bread and cheese. Her left stocking was then taken off and she had to throw it over her left shoulder amongst the guests. It was then fought for by those in the room. The one who won was to be the first of that company to be married next. The completion of the marriage ceremony culminated with the priest blessing the newly-weds, their new home, and their marriage bed as well!
The ritual of the creeling took place on the second day after the wedding. Here's a description of this event - I believe it was practiced only in the Highlands.
The young wedded pair, with their friends, assemble in a convenient spot. A small creel, or basket, is prepared for the occasion, into which they put some stones. The young men carry it alternately and allow themselves to be caught by the maidens who get a kiss when they succeed. After a great deal of innocent mirth and pleasure, the creel falls at length to the young husband, who is obliged to carry it generally for a long time, none of the young women having compassion on him. At last, his fair mate kindly relieves him from his burden, and her complaisance, in this particular, is considered as a proof of her satisfaction with the choice she has made. The creel goes round again; more merriment succeeds, and all the company dines together.
In another web site, the tradition was described slightly differently. A large basket was tied to the bridegroom's back. He then had to carry it around the entire town unless his bride agreed to kiss him. Only if she did, would his friends allow him to escape from the creeling, otherwise he had to continue until he had completed the circuit of the town.
Here are some specific rituals/traditions that I read about.
Steven, Maisie (1995). Parish Life in 18th Century Scotland: A review of the old Statistical Accounts Glasgow: Scottish Cultural Press
Various web sites, including
Birth, marriage, and death: http://www.fife.50megs.com/birth-customs.htm
Scottish wedding customs: http://www.scotclans.com/scottish_weddings/the_bridal.html
Scottish wedding customs: http://www.loch-lomond.net/weddings/customs.html
Scottish wedding traditions: http://www.videobabylon.ca/scottish_wedding_traditions.html
Wedding traditions of Scotland: http://www.scottish-wedding-dreams.com/wedding-traditions.html