Weddings as we know them today are completely different to those that took place centuries ago. We’ve taken a quick trip back in time to look at the evolution of weddings here in the UK.

Trade agreements 

The word wedding comes from the Anglo-Saxon word ‘wed’, which referred to the security offered by the groom’s family to the bride’s family once the engagement was agreed. An unromantic view perhaps, but it tied into the overall feeling of the time in which a marriage was considered a strategic tool rather than an act of love. This view continued and even intensified; in the 11th century marriage was focused on furthering economic or political advantages. As such, brides’ wishes were barely considered and marriage arrangements were made on her behalf via her father. Charming.


From the 12th to the 17th century, couples practised ‘handfasting’ which was a type of engagement period. The ceremony took place about a month before the wedding and involved the marrying couple formally declaring their wish to be spouses. Unlike today’s engagement, handfasting was legally binding and could only be dissolved by death.

A sacred act 

Marriage started to be considered a sacred act in the 12th century when Roman Catholic writers referred to marriage as a sacrament; but it wasn’t until the Council of Trent in 1563 that marriage officially became known as one of the seven sacraments. By the 19th century, organised religion had well and truly established marriage as a holy act and marriage was no longer considered a contract between husband and wife, rather a union between a man, woman and God.

More paperwork 

From the 17th century onwards, marriages became more formalised. The presence of an officiating priest or magistrate was required for the marriage to be considered legal. And in 1694 the Marriage Duty Act came into force which required marriage licenses. Shortly after this, more rules were enforced dictating where weddings could take place, whom you could and couldn’t marry, the requirement of witnesses and a minimum age for getting married.


Up until 1858 you got married and that was that. But in 1858 a legal process for divorce was established. It was inaccessible to most people as it was very expensive and wives also had the added hassle of proving aggravated adultery, which meant showing their husbands were guilty of the likes of bigamy, incest or bestiality, for instance. The Divorce Reform Act of 1969 allowed couples to state marital breakdown as the reason for the split.

Same-sex marriage 

After a long campaign, in 2004 the Civil Partnership Act was passed, coming into effect in 2005. As a result, same-sex couples could enter into a civil partnership, giving them the same rights and responsibilities as marriage. And finally, in 2013 the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act introduced the long-awaited same-sex marriage to England and Wales. Hurrah!

What do you think weddings will look like 100 years from now? Let us know your thoughts below! 

Love Janie x

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