A Mediaeval Wedding
The lead up to and day of an alternative wedding
Our daughter, Clare, and Justin had been engaged for just over a year when, in March 1999, we suddenly received a telephone call. They had decided to get married on May 27th 2000 and, being Millennium Year, had thought they had given plenty of notice. Not so, however, as the church was doubly booked already that day. However, after some pleading and wheedling from our daughter, the vicar gave in and fitted them in. He may have had second thoughts when they considered a cave man's wedding, with Justin pulling Clare up the aisle by her hair, but they settled for a mediaeval marriage, with which he was totally in favour.
June, July and August 1999 were spent researching venues for the reception. A lamb and a pig to be roasted outside was a pre-requisite of the booking. My wife and I and the bride and groom-to-be spent many hours telephoning before, with much relief, the George at Dorchester-on-Thames was found. It fitted all the criteria as well as being an hotel that could put up over half the guests if this was necessary. Michael, the manager, was most enthusiastic, particularly as he had organised mediaeval weddings before. He was most helpful and we owed a lot to him for the eventual success of the day.
Clare's priority was to find a dressmaker who was knowledgeable of mediaeval costumes and who had a good reputation for wedding dresses. After trawling through editions of Bride's magazine, Love in Norwich caught her eye. It was not exactly convenient from an accessibility viewpoint as Clare lives just outside reading, but it meant that she and Justin could come up and stay with us whilst the many fittings went on. Clare was most impressed with the girls at Love. She gave them her ideas for the dress, which they transcribed into drawings. The final drawing was agreed in January and after four fittings, she collected the dress on May 13th.
In February, my wife and I started looking for our costumes to hire. I thought that this would not be too much of a problem but it was obvious quite quickly that North-West Norfolk was not quite ready yet for mediaeval weddings! One of our problems was that, not only did we need our own costumes but also, we needed those for many of the guests coming from overseas. Finally, I found an advertisement in an old copy of Yellow Pages for a dressmaker in Cromer. Next day, we drove there and found this lovely girl who made all the dresses of the period herself. She was an excellent seamstress and had in stock, after a couple of modifications, everything that we required. We duly returned two days before the wedding and collected these beautiful garments, which completely filled our car.
Meanwhile, my wife had decided to make her own costume as well as those of the three bridesmaids. She found an excellent supplier of silk in Runcton Holme of all places. Each bridesmaid had a different coloured plain silk dress whilst my wife's was in a fourth colour. They were quite dazzlingly beautiful.
During this period, Justin had been pursuing the supply of his own attire. He was to be a knight and, whereas he was quite happy to be in a suit of armour, the vicar said that it would cause a lot of problems during the service. Instead, he obtained an imitation suit of chain mail and a full visor. Add to this a beautiful sword that he had specially forged for the occasion, and Justin looked most dashing.
Came the day and came the rain. I arrived at the house to collect and escort my daughter to the church. She and the bridesmaids were performing their final titivations and quaffing a couple of glasses of champagne to steady their nerves. Finally, the car arrived and Clare and I made ready for the dash through the rain. She looked stunning in a dress of burgundy silk with gold embroidery and a gold silk organza overdress. She carried a mediaeval cross, which we had bought from Norwich Cathedral. The bridesmaids also wore silver Celtic crosses that we had specially made by a Silversmith in King's Lynn.
We arrived at the church to be greeted by the vicar, attired in the vestments of a fourteenth century abbot. He was a marvellous man and proceeded to make the ceremony the most relaxed wedding that I have ever attended. Entering the church with Clare on my arm, we were assailed by this riot of colour coming from the costumes of about eighty guests. There were Lords and Ladies, knights, merchants (I was one), peasants, a mother superior, a mummer and a jester. It was quite spectacular. The rest of the wedding proceeded very much on conventional lines except that the photographs were taken near the hotel at Dorchester Abbey because the weather was too bad in Reading. Actually, this added an air of authenticity to the occasion.
The wedding reception was very much like any other, with one exception. Apparently, wedding cake was unknown in mediaeval times and, instead, the guests were supplied with fried sweetmeats. Justin had made a fort out of MDF board and into that were placed hundreds of mini-doughnuts. I think they went down better than the cake! The one sadness was that the outside roast could not take place, but the kitchen did spit-roast the pork and the lamb. And, as if to make up for it, the best man, frightenly costumed as an executioner, gave one of the best speeches ever.
The remainder of the day proceeded very much like a conventional wedding. However, the colour seemed to give it an added lift on such a poor day weather-wise.
To anybody contemplating a mediaeval wedding, I would certainly encourage them to do it, but do make sure that everyone is in costume. And the real up side is that it is very cheap from a dress point-of-view with hire charges only ranging from between £15 and £25. It is a lot of fun and very quickly breaks down barriers with people that you don't know. It was certainly a day that our family will never forget.
If anybody would like further details including the suppliers, the author will be only too pleased to help; just call (01366) 501536.