Marriage and Marriage Practices in Renaissance England

Marriage and Marriage Practices in Renaissance England

The Renaissance was the period between the 14th and the 17th century. At this time, marriage seemed to have a different dimension as we know it today. In England, it was a period regarded as Elizabethan or Shakespeare’s era. Some of the concepts still exist up to the current period, but most have been eradicated. The roles played by both women and men in the society have been the main contributors to this change.

During the Shakespeare’s period, marriage was viewed as an economic, religious and a practical necessity (Alchin 1). It was among the main ways that people used to increase their wealth. When people married, their families united in one way or another. They shared in the wealth, and this helped in the development of strong, formidable forces.

The economic aspect involved with marriages was the main reason families were more involved during the process. Marriages were arranged between the relevant families. The bride and the groom to be were not involved in the process of determining who they were going to marry. There was nothing like marrying for love during this period. Families were quite sensitive to the families that their daughters or sons got married to. The marriage must have brought some form of economic benefit to them, for it to be viewed as being viable (Martin 23). Some couples saw each other for the first time during the wedding day. This was something very normal. Women particularly had very little input on who their husbands would be.

During the Renaissance period, women became the husband’s property immediately after marriage. They were expected to obey them at all times. This was regardless of what they thought of the directives being given. It would have been unlawful for women not to obey their husbands. The law recognized them as being subjects of their spouses. Husbands had full rights over their wives.  As a result, they were not expected to question their actions at any given time.

Simply, women were second-class citizens when it came to marriages. They did not share significantly in political, social and economic benefits. Women were also not accorded a fair share of recognition, respect, and consideration. They were always second fiddle to men. Single women were considered to be witches (Sandor 271). This was among the things that pushed women into marriage even when they did not want to. The pressure of being a single woman was so immense.

Women were expected to bring dowry to the groom’s family. This is to say that the dowry benefited the husband. Dowry encompassed an amount of goods, money and property that the bride was expected to bring to the marriage. It was mostly referred to as her marriage portion. This is unlike the current period where in most cultures men are the ones required to give dowry.

Arrangements for most weddings were conducted in local churches. This is something that has prevailed even in the current generation. Weddings were religious ceremonies, conducted by ministers. There was no existence of Registry Office marriages during the Renaissance period. A couple’s intention to marry was announced in churches. This was done three times on three consecutive Holy days. The practice ensured that there was sufficient time for any objections that might be prevalent (Boehrer 97). It also gave time for the discovering of pre-contracts that might be in existence. Marriages that were not registered beforehand were considered to be illegal or clandestine.

In case a couple wanted to marry in haste, an alternative route that was considered as being faster in legalizing a marriage was the acquisition of a Marriage Bond. It acted as a security, contract and proof that issue of the marriage license was lawful. The Marriage Bond ought to have been accompanied by sworn statements that assured there were no pre-contracts. William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway used the Marriage bond during this period. Shakespeare’s father also had to consent since he was not yet of age (Alchin 1).

Despite the treatment that was being given to women, the wedding day was presented as the most important day of their lives. They were anticipated to wear their best gowns. If money was available, they would wear new gowns. Most of these gowns were made from cotton, flax and wool (Bridgeman and Griffiths 116). Most of the body needed to be covered during the occasion. The bride would have flowers on her hair and dress.

For marriage, the age of consent was usually 21. Most men did not marry until they had actualized this age. However, with parental permission, marriage would have occurred before the age of 21. It was legal for girls to get married at age 12 and boys to marry at age 14. It was not traditional or usual for marriages at such young ages (Sokol 38).

In conclusion, marriage and marriage practices during the Renaissance England were quite different to what is being practiced in the current period. Some aspects seem similar, but the differences are quite significant. The changes in lifestyles and gender roles can be considered among the contributors of these changes.

Works Cited

Alchin, Linda. “Elizabethan Marriages and Weddings.” Elizabethan Marriages and Weddings.      Web. 22 Mar. 2016. <         weddings.htm>.

Boehrer, Bruce. Monarchy and Incest in Renaissance England: Literature, Culture, Kinship,         and Kingship. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania, 2015. Print.

Bridgeman, Jane, and Alan Griffiths. A Renaissance Wedding: The Celebrations at Pesaro for      the Marriage of Costanzo Sforza & Camilla Marzano D’Aragona, 26-30 May 1475.             Chicago: Harvey Miller, 2013. Print.

“Love and Marriage.” Life in Elizabethan England 10:. Web. 22 Mar. 2016.             <>.

“Marriage in Elizabethan Times – Nothing But Shakespeare.” Marriage in Elizabethan Times –      Nothing But Shakespeare. Web. 22 Mar. 2016.      <>.

Martin, Randall. Women Writers in Renaissance England: An Annotated Anthology. New York:    Routledge, 2014. Print.

Robin, Diana Maury., Anne R. Larsen, and Carole Levin. Encyclopedia of Women in the   Renaissance: Italy, France, and England. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2007. Print.

Sandor, Monica. “The Renaissance of Marriage.” INTAMS Review 11.2 (2009): 268-273. Web.

Sokol, Mary, and B. J. Sokol. Shakespeare, Law, and Marriage. Cambridge UP, 2003. Print.

“Internet Shakespeare Editions.” The Age of Marriage. 2011. Web. 22 Mar. 2016.             <>.


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