I am back to poking around one of my favorite books, “The Habits of Good Society: A Handbook for Ladies and Gentlemen,” available on Amazon in print form. Tucked on page 316 is Chapter XV. Marriage. It begins with this quote:
At a time when our feelings are or ought to be most susceptible, when the happiness or misery of a condition in which there is no medium begins, we are surrounded with forms and etiquettes which rise before the unwary like spectres, and which even the most rigid ceremonialists regard with a sort of dread.”
Here is how courtship, engagement, and the wedding process is described by the anonymous author of this fascinating peek into 1871 life.
First, an offer of marriage must be made, and even in 1871 it is the custom that the lady surrenders to the will of her parents. They must approve of the match, of course, which can take some months of getting to know the prospective groom. Once approved, it is desirable for the young lady to have a settlement, whether or not she is from a wealthy family. Once that matter is out of the way, a wedding day can be chosen, which is the prerogative of the lady — not the man. After all, it takes time for a woman to gather together her trousseau, which should contain the necessities for a lady’s use during the first two to three years of marriage. A modest trousseau can be assembled for £70 while the rich may spend £500.
The number of bridesmaids should be two to eight in number. A bride’s sisters should be included, and also relations to the groom. Intimate friends may be added as well. A rather humorous point is not to choose an “old maid” who might look foolish next to the happy young bride in comparison.
On the day of the wedding, the bride should take breakfast in her room and be dressed before eleven o’clock in the morning. An interesting comparison between English and French wedding dresses is written in detail. In England, the bride wears many more flounces of rich silk and ornaments. In France, the dresses are “exquisitely simple.” Of course, anything the French do should not be adopted in England. (inserts chuckle) The remainder of the paragraph goes into quite a lot of detail regarding the dress and its veil, silk layers, etc.
As far as the groom, his dress should merely differ from the full morning costume. Apparently, men at this time do not dress as fancy as they once did to be married in “white satin breeches and waistcoat.”
The usual customs continue as far as the sitting of the family and placement of witnesses and the groom. Here is another interesting quote:
The bride stands to the left of the bridegroom, and takes the glove off her right hand, while he takes the glove off his right hand. The bride gives her glove to the bridesmaid to hold, and sometimes to keep, as a good omen.”
After the service, the register is signed. I might add, thank goodness because it has helped me immensely in my own ancestral searches to find signed registers. What did they look like? When I was in Manchester last year, I visited St. James’s Church in Salford. The rector pulled the original register books from their safe and opened up to the page that my great grandfather Robert Holland signed with my great grandmother Jane Isabella Burrows, along with the witnesses, in 1885.
The bride and groom leave the church in a carriage for the ceremony breakfast, followed in another by the father and mother, and then the bridesmaids and bridegroom’s man.
The book describes the food choices and table settings, along with drinks. It is the father’s responsibility to propose the first toast to the bride and bridegroom. Then the bridegroom’s man.
After the festivities, the bride changes out of her wedding dress into appropriate attire to leave with her new husband. Of course, the French do it a bit differently, which I shall bypass for the sake of convenience.
I hope you enjoy this look into the Victorian customs straight from the unknown author who penned this classic book.