Where’s my “I do”?

by Suw on January 7, 2008

Kevin and I both agree that the most important part of our wedding day is the ceremony itself, wherein we pledge to love each other for the rest of our lives. As ours is neither a church nor a civil ceremony (the legal obligation having been discharged the day before), we can have a ceremony that we have crafted and which is just right for us. Of course, figuring out what that ceremony is, what words it is made of, is a different kettle of fish all together.

Today I started looking at various different ceremonies. Kevin’s cousin is a Lutheran minister, and he is officiating for us, so I took at look at the ceremony that he’d sent over to us. I also looked at the Anglican Common Book of Prayer from 1928. The latter is much more familiar to me – the weddings I’ve been to have universally been Church of England and have therefore used some variation of this ceremony. This particular version, though, has a poetry to it – it scans properly, it sounds as solemn and heartfelt as it should, it resonates.

Then I dug a little further and found the The Form of Solemnization of Matrimony from 1662, which is still very familiar, beginning as it does with:

DEARLY beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this congregation, to join together this Man and this Woman in holy Matrimony…

But which soon goes off on a rather alarming tack:

[...] the causes for which Matrimony was ordained.

First, It was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name.

Secondly, It was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ’s body.

And then, after a call and response session absent from modern versions, we get to the duties of Man and Wife, in which Men are exhorted to “love their wives as their own bodies” and “be not bitter against them” (gee, thanks!), and Wives are reminded that they are not to plait their hair or wear gold or put on apparel.

I’m pretty sure neither of us want sin, fornication or fear brought into things, and I quite like plaiting my hair and wearing apparel, if not American Apparel.

Going further back, there’s a version of an Elizabethan Wedding Ceremony from the Prayerbook of Edward VI (Reigned 1537 – 1553) (… er, wouldn’t that make it Tudor?), which is also reproduced in a dramatic, if difficult to read, blackletter PDF. The introduction to the PDF tells us that the source for the document is “a true facsimile (probably the only one ever made) of the 1549 BCP [Book of Common Prayer] privately printed in 1896. This book appears in David Griffiths’ Bibliography of the Book of Common Prayer as 1896/5, and is a facsimile of the very first printing of the Book of Common Prayer, Griffiths 1549/1.”

Again, it’s amazingly familiar:

Deerely beloued frendes, we are gathered together here in the syght of God, and in the face of his congregacion, to ioyne together this man, and this woman in holy matrimonie…

There’s some nice period spelling there, but the words are pretty much the same. I will admit, that surprised me, because it had never really occurred to me that the words of the wedding ceremony might actually be centuries old. It’s just one of those obvious things that you never realise until you see it staring you in the face.

I also found, via [A]mazed and [Be]mused, this “reconstruction” of a medieval marriage ceremony – written by someone from the SCA so make of it what you will – which includes the following vow:

I N. take thee N to my wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to be bonny and buxom at bed and at board, to love and to cherish, till death us depart, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereunto I plight thee my troth.

Like Stephen, who blogged this in May last year, I was perplexed and amused by the idea that the bride should be “bonny and buxom at bed and at board”. I think I can pretty easily vow to be buxom – it’s more of a state than an act, really – although bonny’s more of a subjective judgement.

It turns out that both “bonny” and “buxom” meant different things back then:

This wonderfully alliterative phrase comes from the Use of Sarum, the earliest English marriage service I have found, which was authorised by the Bishop of Salisbury in 1085. [...]

Originally these words meant something rather different from now. “Bonny” is from the French ‘bon’, or ‘good’; “buxom” is from an old German word meaning ‘pliant’ or ‘obedient’; “board” is where you put food (on the ‘sideboard’) so this means mealtimes; and “bed” simply meant ‘night-time’. So “Be bonny and buxom in bed and at board” meant: “Behave properly and obediently through night and day.” The meanings of these words changed over the years and the church objected to talking about bonny and buxom brides in bed, so we have now lost this vow.

That’s a relief and a pity all at once. For a while I was wondering if I could get Kevin to vow to be “happy and hot at home and abroad”, but thought that might be pushing my luck a bit.

But then, as I read more and more, I started to realise… there are no “I do”s. At no point in any of these ceremonies does anyone say “I do”.

In 1549 we had:

[Name] Willte thou haue this woman to thy wedde wife, to liue together after Goddes ordeinuce in the holy estate of matrimonie? Wilt thou loue her, coumforte her, honor, and kepe her in sicknesse and in health? And forsaking all other kepe thee only to her, so long as you both shall liue?

I will.

In 1662 we had:

WILT thou have this woman to thy wedded wife, to live together after God’s ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honour, and keep her in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all other, keep thee only unto her, so long as ye both shall live?

I will.

And in 1928 we had:

N. WILT thou have this Woman to thy wedded wife, to live together after God’s ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honour, and keep her in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, keep thee only unto her, so long as ye both shall live?

I will.

Not a single “I do” amongst them.

Yet in the civil ceremony, there it is, the fabled “I do”:

[Groom], do you take [Bride] to be your lawful wedded wife?

I do.

Will you love and respect her, be honest with her, and stand by her through whatever may come?

I will.

Despite this, “I do” gets all the good tunes, movies and TV episodes, whilst poor old “I will” gets one song, by the Beatles (which I’ve never heard and may not even refer to wedding vows).

Next time… Just what is a troth and how do I plight it?

Stephen January 8, 2008 at 12:13 am

I’m glad you followed up on the “bonny and buxom” line. I thought at the time that it was a little racy for a church ceremony!

But which soon goes off on a rather alarming tack:

I hate to say it, but most of the elements you objected to (“those who lack the gift of continence”; “love their wives as their own bodies”; “women, don’t plait your hair”) come pretty directly from the Bible.

But I don’t know about the line, “be not bitter against them”. Sounds to me like it was written by someone with a particularly bad marriage.

Catherine February 19, 2008 at 6:41 pm

The answer you seek can most easily be found here – http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/plight

Basically, to plight one’s troth means basically the same as ‘to pledge an oath [to stay together]‘. I always think of it in terms of the Anglo-Saxon culture as they were very keen on making deadly serious oaths of loyalty and fealty and so on. It’s a pretty old phrase, anyway – and yes, the concept of plight is the same as ‘to be in a terrible situation’, whichmay give you pause for thought about the whole marriage thing! :-)

(If you’re really bored, this link might enlighten you a bit – http://www.chass.utoronto.ca/~cpercy/courses/1001TierneyHynes.htm )

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