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Home : The Ancient (and Violent) History of the Wedding Party

The Ancient (and Violent) History of the Wedding Party

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Chances are you and your spouse-to-be have already picked out your wedding attendants or made a list of candidates. A variety of factors probably influenced whom you chose to include, but whatever your reasons, each attendant will become part of a very special group who will accompany you on your journey to the altar. There are, in fact, few bonds among friends and relatives as sacred or as profound as the connection each of you will share when you stand together during your ceremony.

That's all very nice today, but in ancient times the role of the bridal party was a little more intense. Here are a few of our favorite tidbits of bridal party history:

They Were an Old, Old, Old School Version of "Bride Wars"

Until the end of Feudal Europe, weddings were often used to end (or sometimes start) feuds between warring families whose large numbers effectively made them tribes that were in competition for land, wealth, and power. Your future father-in-law may seem a little intimidating now, but in centuries past he might have had a private army.

Groomsmen Were Likely Professional Warriors

With so much conflict, wedding parties were as much about protection as friendship. Groomsmen were typically an armed posse whose job it was to secure (often by kidnapping) and later defend the bride. The "best man" was often the best warrior from the groom's village or extended family.

Seating Was Designed to Favor Right-Handed Fighters

Even if the bridal couple made it safely to the altar there was still no time to rest easy. Fights and kidnapping attempts at weddings were once so common that the placement of the groom (to the right of the bride) was intended to keep his sword arm free. Even seating arrangements in the church were designed, not for convenience, but to minimize the potential for violence.

Bridesmaids Could Turn Themselves into Human Shields

And the groomsmen weren't the only warriors. Typically a maid or matron was chosen to accompany the bride in the weeks leading up to the wedding. Acting as a sort of primitive wedding planner, she and a group of female attendants would assist the bride with her pre-wedding duties and, in extreme cases, defend her from harm as well.

Young man dressed for his first date

Young man dressed for his first date.
The Evolution of a Calmer, Less Violent Bridal Party

As Feudal Europe gradually gave way to modern nation states, weddings became more peaceful and certainly less hazardous. There's still the stress, there's still family squabbles, but all-out war is, fortunately, now a rarity. In this calmer environment the wedding party evolved into what it is today, serving as a source of support, friendship, and love -- and the source for all the pre-wedding partying.

Their Friendship Still Means as Much Today

So no matter how overwhelming your wedding planning may be, take a second to remember how important the members of your bridal party are to you. They may not have had to kidnap anyone (we hope), but the role they play today is symbolically identical to their duties all those centuries ago; and chances are they've all been there when you needed them the most.

Their friendship may not be the matter of life and death that it once was, but friendship will always be about life - let them know you appreciate that they've been a part of yours.

Need to figure out the best way to say thanks? Read our guide to Wedding Party Gift Etiquette or check out our other free wedding articles!

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