23 June 2015

Weddings in History: Royal Weddings in Fourteenth Century England

Today, in the 21st century, the world loves English royal weddings.  Rare, precious, full of pomp and tradition and ceremony (and fashion), the ceremony marking the union of Prince William and Kate Middleton drew millions, some say billions, of viewers from around the world.
The most recent English Royal Wedding.

Seven centuries ago, the 14th century English court also recognized the value of such a ceremony.  Edward III was famous for founding the Order of the Garter, with its references to the legendary court of King Arthur.  This was a ruler who understood the power of myth and spectacle.  So, when I embarked on my books centered on 14th century English royal weddings, I imagined, they would be similarly grand affairs, celebrated in the public eye and documented in detail for the ages.  After all, what could be more important than the union of royalty?  Usually, such unions united countries, not just humans.  So there should be a public and well observed commitment, witnessed far and wide.

The truth was somewhat different.

Technically, Edward III and his queen, Philippa, were married by proxy, before she even arrived in England from her native Hainault (now Belgium) late in 1327.  The ceremonial procession into London was a well-established ritual in these days, and the soon-to-be queen was welcomed with much “public celebration.”  The city of London even gave her a very expensive set of “plate,” which might have had as much to do with gratitude for their ongoing trading opportunities with her homeland as for their joy at welcoming her as queen. 

The formal wedding was held in York, nearly 200 miles to the north, an unusual place for such a
York, site of Edward III's wedding
ceremony.  But it seemed the archbishop of Canterbury, in the south, had recently died, so they decided to have the archbishop of York perform the service.  Perhaps it also presented the advantage of a royal journey to and from there, which might have helped to establish the position of the newly crowned king and his bride.

There are conflicting reports, however, of how ostentatious the actual ceremony was.  The English crown was cash strapped at that time and Edward’s mother had confiscated Philippa’s dowry and, by some reports, already spent it.  Others suggest that the wedding celebration was nearly as lavish as Edward’s coronation, the year before.  Silk cloth of gold draped the dais and the throne.  Jewels, silver, and gold were imported from France.  In addition to the ceremony and the feasting, the exchange of gifts between the bride and the groom was an important part of the pageant.  Philippa presented her husband with an illuminated manuscript.  More than a book, it reportedly contained copies of two pieces of music performed at their wedding.

Much of the information we have on these occasions comes not from the chroniclers or from eye-witness reports, but from royal records and account books, listing clothing and gifts ordered and received.  Indeed, in many cases, we have more detail on the gifts royal brides and grooms exchanged than we do on the exact festivities.

Edward and Philippa had twelve children, eight of whom lived to marry (some of those more than once).  While we cannot describe in detail the ceremony for every child, we do know enough to know that they were not all the same.

One, the unfortunate Joan, died on the way to her wedding to the son of the king of Castile.  But the wedding that had been planned was of the scale appropriate to the uniting of the children of kings.  Joan’s trousseau alone was rumored to have needed an entire ship to transport. 

We do have a record of the wedding dress that had been prepared for her, made of rakematiz, a thick silk shot with threads of gold.  Two other magnificent gowns, one green, one brown, both heavily embroidered, may have also been intended for wear on the wedding day, when a bride might be expected to change for various parts of the celebration.  (And you thought that was new?)

Edward, the Black Prince
In contrast, the wedding of her younger sister, Mary was not as extravagant, perhaps because of the rank of her husband.  She married John de Montfort, who claimed the title Duke of Brittany, but was actually raised in the household of the king of England, as he was unable to secure his position.  Wikipedia claims “no record of the wedding survives,” but, of course, the royal inventory does list the wedding dress, made of cloth of gold, lined and trimmed with ermine, and, based on the amount of material used, with a very long mantle.  While it sounds extravagant, the rest of the list indicates that her wedding was much more modest than her sister’s.  And, indeed, she and her husband simply continued to live in the English court after the ceremony and she died before her husband returned to Brittany.

You would expect the wedding of the oldest son and heir to one of the most lavish.  In reality, it was a much different affair.  Edward (the son), whom we know as the Black Prince, married Joan of Kent in a clandestine ceremony, not sanctioned by the church.  (See my post here:  http://unusualhistoricals.blogspot.com/2014/06/hea-or-not-edward-black-prince-and-joan.html)  Because their children had to be sanctioned as legitimate heirs to the throne, such an “unofficial” marriage could not stand and the Pope had to be called in for special dispensations to sort out the mess before they could be legally wed.  As a result, we have no information on the first ceremony and the second, official, one was also subdued.  The usual round of tournaments that marked such an affair was dispensed with.

The second wife of the third son, John of Gaunt, Duck of Lancaster, was Constance, who claimed the throne of Castile.  Because of her stature, and because John claimed to be king of Castile by marrying her, I
Constance of Castile
expected a lavish, public display.  Instead, the wedding took place “off-stage” in France, before he brought her across the Channel.  We have only a date and a place.  However, when they returned to England, an elaborate welcome procession into London was prepared and “Queen” and her delegation were escorted to John’s magnificent palace on the Thames.

So it seems that in Fourteenth Century England, a public procession served as a suitable substitute for an ostentatious ceremony.  After all, more people could witness the display, including many who would never be invited to the wedding itself. 

Think of it as a medieval substitute for CNN or the BBC coverage.

After many years in public relations, advertising and marketing, Blythe Gifford started writing
seriously after a corporate layoff. Ten years and one layoff later, she became an overnight success when she sold her first book to the Harlequin Historical line.  Since then, she has published eleven romances set in England and on the Scottish Borders.  WHISPERS AT COURT, a Royal Wedding story, was a June 2015 release from the Harlequin Historical line.  For more information, visit www.blythegifford.com

Author photo Jennifer Girard

Photo credits:  York Minster: "YorkMinsterWest" by Andy Barrett (User:Big Smooth) - Own work. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:YorkMinsterWest.jpg#/media/File:YorkMinsterWest.jpg

"Constança de Castela, Duquesa de Lencastre - The Portuguese Genealogy (Genealogia dos Reis de Portugal)" by Creator:Antonio de Hollanda - Image taken from The Portuguese Genealogy / Genealogia dos Reis de Portugal.Originally published/produced in Portugal (Lisbon), 1530-1534.This file has been provided by the British Library from its digital collections. Catalogue entry: Add MS 12531 - Online viewer (Info)Deutsch | English | Español | Français | Македонски | +/−. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Constan%C3%A7a_de_Castela,_Duquesa_de_Lencastre_-_The_Portuguese_Genealogy_(Genealogia_dos_Reis_de_Portugal).png#/media/File:Constan%C3%A7a_de_Castela,_Duquesa_de_Lencastre_-_The_Portuguese_Genealogy_(Genealogia_dos_Reis_de_Portugal).png

Royal Carriage By Robbie Dale (Flickr: Royal Carriage) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons