Site icon Random Scottish History

Scottish Wedding Customs

[IndyLive Research Contents]



   OUR Scottish jurisprudence, from its simplicity, comprehension, and efficiency in regulating the rights between man and man, has often induced reform in the law of England. English lawyers may not be ready to acknowledge the obligation; but it is not the less true that such help has been given. England is now to make a bold stride in assimilating her law to that of Scotland. It is proposed to constitute a new Court for the trial of matrimonial causes, which shall be vested with the power of absolutely annulling a marriage. Hitherto a divorce in England was a privilege which none need seek unless expense was a matter of no consequence. No Court of Law in England could dissolve a marriage. That, required the interposition of Parliament, and accordingly was a step never resorted to, except by those in high degree. The law of England viewed marriage as a contract too solemn to be dissolved by any Court of the realm. A marriage was in fact legally indissoluble during the lives of the parties, and the intervention of Parliament only confirmed that rule because the special act passed in a particular case was a new law that only applied to those concerned. In Scotland the law concerning marriage has been of a very different character. This Presbyterian country has regarded marriage according to the Scriptures as essentially a civil contract. The Gretna Green publican, with his two witnesses and register, can affect the destiny of thousands of acres or ten thousands of money as surely as any Doctor of Divinity in the land. As with the constitution of marriage under the law of Scotland – i.e., the law is founded on the divine word, which sanctions a bill of divorcement under certain circumstances. 

– ‘Stonehaven Journal,’ Thursday 22nd June, 1854. 


AMONG the peasantry betrothals were conducted in a singular fashion. The fond swain, who had resolved to make proposals, sent for the object of his affection to the village alehouse, previously informing the landlady of his intentions. The damsel, who knew the purpose of the message, busked herself in her best attire, and waited on her admirer. She was entertained with a glass of ale; then the swain proceeded with his tale of love. A dialogue like the following ensued – ‘I’m gaun to speir whether ye will tak’ me, Jenny.’ ‘Deed, Jock, I thocht ye micht hae speir’t that lang syne.’ ‘They said ye wad refuse me, lassie.’ ‘Then they’re leers, Jock.’ ‘An’ so ye’ll no refuse me, lassie?’ ‘I’ve telt ye that twice ower already, Jock.’ Then came the formal act of betrothal. The parties pressed the thumbs of their right hands, which they licked, together, and vowed fidelity. The ceremony possessed the solemnity of an oath, the violate of such an engagement being considered guilty of perjury. In allusion to this practice, a favourite Scottish song commences – 

There’s my thumb, I’ll ne’er beguile thee. 

The pressure of moistened thumbs, as the solemn ratification of an engagement, was used in other contracts. The practice, as confirmatory of an agreement, existed both among the Celts and the Goths. The records of the Scottish courts contain examples of sales being confirmed by the judges on the production of evidence that the parties had licked and pressed their thumbs on the occasion of the bargain. The Highland and the Lowland schoolboy still lick their thumbs in bargain-making. At the close of the eighteenth century another method of betrothal was adopted. When the damsel had accepted her lover’s offer, the pair proceeded to the nearest stream, and there washing their hands clasped across the brook. A ceremony of this description took place between Burns and ‘Highland Mary.’ When the parties had mutually betrothed themselves, they proceeded diligently to revive their acquaintance with the Church Catechism, for every clergyman insisted that candidates for matrimony should be able to repeat the Creed, the Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer. A marriage was stopped by the Kirk-Session of Glasgow in 1642, until the bridegroom should inform himself of these religious fundamentals. Latterly the Church has permitted persons to enter into the nuptial bonds without any inquiry as to scriptural knowledge. Between the first Sunday of the proclamation of banns and the day of marriage forty days were allowed to elapse. The reason of the delay has not been explained. On the evening before the wedding the bride was attended by her maidens, who proceeded to wash her feet. Much diversion was a concomitant of the ceremonial; it ended with festivities… In the burgh of Rutherglen, Lanarkshire, till within the last twenty years, persons were married, without proclamation of banns, by a peculiar arrangement on the part of the authorities. A friend of the parties was sent to the Procurator-Fiscal, to lodge information that they had been married without legal banns. The Fiscal summoned the delinquents before the Sheriff, who, on their admitting the charge, imposed a fine of five shillings. The Fiscal took the penalty, and handed to the parties a printed form, duly filled up, which, by discharging the fine, certified the marriage. Ruglen or Rutherglen marriages have passed into a proverb. A birth was attended with much concern to the wives of the neighbourhood. They hastened to make personal inquiry concerning the mother’s health, and to embrace the young stranger. Every new-born child was, irrespective of the season of the year, plunged into a vessel of cold water. Before touching the infant the female visitors crossed themselves with a burning brand. When the heir of an estate was born, he was exhibited to the tenantry. The neglect of such a proceeding would have led to unfavourable rumours concerning the appearance of the young stranger. There is a tradition in Fifeshire that one of the infant kings was exhibited to the public on a payment proportioned to the rank of each spectator, and that the humbler classes were admitted to see the juvenile monarch on the presentation of a small coin, equal to the English halfpenny, and which consequently was styled a bawbee. – Scotland, Social and Domestic: Memorials of Life and Manners in North Britain. By the Rev. Charles Rogers. 

– ‘Renfrewshire Independent,’ Saturday 28th August, 1869. 


   THE day is approaching when Scotland will be a-blaze from the lowliest vale to the peak of Ben Nevis, the loftiest point in Great Britain. Like beacon lights of old and warlike times, the bonfires in celebration of the nuptials of “the Lord of LORNE” and the Princess LOUISE will gleam from crag to crag, and from hill-top to hill-top, stretching from John O’Groat’s House to the Grampians, and from the Grampians to the Cheviots – taking the Law of course on the way – for Dundee has not forgotten its ancient loyalty! These fires will speak, in language that will not soon be forgotten, of the joyous occasion when the daughter of our QUEEN was wedded to the son of a “Scottish Chief.” Nor need we wonder that, in view of the auspicious day, young couples with thoughts intent on matrimony should be found fixing their weddings for the 21st of March. May the Royal marriage stimulate some to cross the Rubicon who, until they considered this “marriage in high life,” had no thought of matrimony. “The man without a wife is no better than an ass,” says a very comic and Irish song. But making allowances for exceptional cases – under which, however, many a crusty old bachelor will excuse himself, and hide away like a trout under a stone – the sentiment is as true and valuable as the ground in which we have found the gem embedded in Irish and comic. This much will be allowed by the vast majority of Benedicts who read these lines. However unwilling they may be to confess their obligations to the sex in general, and their wives in particular, yet their “inner consciousness” tells them that these obligations are many and deep to them both – especially to their wives. 

– ‘Dundee Courier,’ Friday 10th March, 1871. 


   It was formerly the custom in many parts of Scotland for the bride, immediately after the wedding, to walk round the church unattended by the bridegroom; and matrimony was avoided in the months of January and May. After a baptism the first food that the company tasted was cowdie, a mixture of meal and water, or meal and ale. Of this every person took three spoonfuls. The mother never set about any work until she had been kirked. In the Church of Scotland there is no ceremony observed on such occasions, but in this instance, the woman, attended by some of her neighbours, entered the church, sometimes in service time, but oftener when it was empty,  went out again, walked round it, and then returned home. After baptism the father placed a basket filled with bread and cheese on the pot-kook that hung suspended over the fire in the middle of the room in which the company were, and the child was handed across the fire with the intent to frustrate all attempts of evil spirits or evil eyes. The custom appears to have been designed as a purification, and is analogous with that of the Israelites, who made their children pass through the fire to Moloch. 

– ‘Glasgow Evening Post,’ Wednesday 16th March, 1887. 



   “THE Wife of a Scotch Factor” contributes to the Daily Telegraph her views upon matrimony. She says:- My object in writing is to suggest that it would be a priceless blessing to this country if Scottish maidens were not allowed to marry until they were provided with what we call a “tocher,” and the French term a “dot.” It rarely happens that a Scotch girl in the lower and middle classes has any dowry at all, and being penniless she jumps at the first offer of marriage made to her by a man who, in Carlyle’s words, “displays insane anxiety to maintain another man’s daughter.” If a girl has, as occasionally happens, a dowry, she understands as well as any girl in the world how to turn it to the best account. Whenever a young Scotchman makes matrimonial advances to one of our “long-tochered Nancies,” he has no chance of winning her hand unless he can offer at least as much “gear” as she herself will bring; but when a Scotch girl has, as is usually the case, no “tocher” at all, she cares little whether the man who courts her be young or old, be handsome or ugly, be sober or a slave to whisky. As an instance of the imbecility of our Scotch education for girls, let me quote the following passage from “The Personal Recollections of Mary Somerville,” one of the most gifted Scotch women that ever lived. Mrs Somerville writes – “My mother taught me to read the Bible, and say my prayers morning and evening; otherwise she allowed me to grow up a wild creature. I amused myself in the garden, watching the flight and habits of the birds. In due time, my mother set me to learn the Catechism of the Kirk of Scotland, and to attend the public examinations in the Kirk. These meetings were attended by many old women who came to be edified. The minister once said to one of them – ‘Peggy, what lightened the world before the sun was made?’ She answered – ‘Deed, sir, the question is mair curious than edifying.’ ” 

   If I had my own way, sir, I would enact (1) that no Scotch girl should be allowed to marry unless she had a “tocher,” however slender; and (2) that in every town and village there should be an institution in which girls might be taught the elementary rules of housekeeping, such as sewing, cooking, and making simple dresses. I would allow no Scotch girl to marry unless she had a certificate from one of these institutions, showing that she had acquired all the knowledge necessary for the management of a small household. As matters now stand, I know hundreds of Scotch wives who cannot make their own or their children’s clothes, and whose knowledge of cooking is confined to preparing “parritch” and “boiling a lumber.” I lay no claim to originality in making these suggestions, the first of which will be found in Montesquieu’s “Spirit of Laws,” and the second in the writings of Sir H. S. Maine. In Scotland, however, the loose views of the matrimonial tie which are sanctioned by our marriage laws have always prevailed. With us, marriage is not only an entirely civil contract, but may be entered into with the same freedom as any other contract which requires nothing but mutual consent. We divide marriages into regular and irregular, of which the first take place after the proclamation of banns in the parish church, some religious ceremony being performed by a clergyman; or, if the two parties to it prefer, they declare themselves married in the presence of a clergyman, either in church or in a private house. In irregular marriages, it is sufficient for a man to point to a woman, and say in presence of two witnesses, “This is my wife.” 

– ‘Haddingtonshire Courier,’ Friday 24th August, 1888. 









   Of marriage rites before Christianity was introduced to Scotland we know nothing. Nor even at first does it seem that the priest officiated at the ceremony in Roman Catholic times. The first meeting of the Church sanctioning the nuptial bond is in the eighth century. A curious custom prevailed in Scotland for long, viz., “handfasting,” i.e., a man and woman engaging to live together for the period of a year, being held free at its expiry, if they pleased. This custom prevailed among high and low and received its death-blow at the Reformation. At first an acknowledgement by parties of being husband and wife made either by word or writing and followed by living together was held as a valid marriage. But the General Assembly ruled in 1563 “that no contract of marriage made secretly should be recognised till the offender submitted to discipline and the contract be verified.” In feudal times a marriage tax, called the “merchet” was exacted by superiors from their vassals on the marriage of daughters, on the ground that when daughters married the overlord was deprived of their services. When parties were betrothed they usually moistened with the tongue the thumbs of their right hands and then pressed them together. The violation of a contract so sacred was deemed equal to perjury. Writing about 1736, George Halket, schoolmaster of Rathen, in his song of “Logie o’Buchan,” represents the breaking of a sixpence between two lovers as constituting the love pledge. His heroine sings:- 

“I sit on my creepie and spin at my wheel, 

And think on the laddie that lo’ed me sae weel; 

He had but a’e saxpence, he brak it in twa 

And he gied me the half o’t, when he gaed awa’.” 

It was customary for parties to plight their troth across a stream. Burns and his Highland Mary clasped their hands across the Fail stream of Coilsfield. The “booking” of parties was an early ceremonial and enforced by the General Assembly. At first forty days had to elapse between “booking” and the day of marriage. Formerly all marriages were solemnised in church. By and by the custom crept in, owing to the carelessness and indifference of the clergy, of having the ceremony conducted in the manse or a private house. A century ago in the Highlands the bride at the close of the marriage ceremony walked round the party saluting each one with a kiss. Then a collection was made, the amount collected being handed to the bride to purchase some useful articles for her new home. Marriage festivities often lasted for several days and were carried out very sumptuously. On entering their new home a cake called the “infar cake,” a kind of shortbread, was broken on the bride’s head. In 1571 the General Assembly ordered that “all marriages be made solemnly in the face of the congregation at the close of the morning service.” But two years after the Assembly relaxed their law and granted leave to marry on a week day, but in church. So far were festivities carried, that we find the Kirk-Session of St Cuthberts ordaining that a penalty of £10 should be levied on parties invited more than twenty-four persons to the wedding. The church also set its face strongly against dancing on such occasions. The right of controlling matrimonial concerns was by the church strictly asserted. In 1394-99 the Presbytery of Glasgow decreed “That in respect that James Annan is in great ditt therefore can nocht ordein Helen Bar to be married upon him.” When the Earl of Bothwell sought to have his marriage with Queen Mary published in the Canongate Church he was vigorously questioned by the minister – Mr John Craig, – and inasmuch as he answered unsatisfactorily, Mr Craig, in publishing the banns, took heaven and earth to witness “that he abhorred and detested the marriage, because it was odious and scandalous to the world.” There were a few anomalous things about marriages at Portpatrick. Being a seaport banns of marriage were not demanded. There the Session-Clerk on receiving the fee of one guinea entered the village church and there published the banns. Presenting them to the minister, the parties were at once married. At Gretna Green natives of England, who desired to marry without consent, could accomplish their purpose by simply declaring that they were man and wife. Robert Elliot, the last of the so-called “Border Priests,” published a book called the “Gretna Green Memoirs,” in which he says that between 1811 and 1839 no fewer than 7744 persons were married by his certificate. Owing to the grave irregularities border marriages were suppressed by Parliament in 1856. 


– ‘Portobello Advertiser,’ Friday 21st March, 1890. 


   Of all the contracts that any man and woman could possibly enter into, there was none, he said, more solemn, none more binding, and none more important than that of marriage. Some judicial writers defined it as a civil contract like partnership or sale – a definition which was as repulsive as it was misleading. Marriage did undoubtedly partake of the nature of a contract, for it required the consent of two parties to perfect it; but when it came to be compared with other contracts it was at once seen how little of a civil contract it embraced. In an ordinary civil contract parties could adject as many conditions as they pleased, so long, of course, as these conditions were legal and capable of being implemented; but not so with marriage. When once celebrated it was no longer subject to, nor governed by, the agreement of parties, but by the law of the land, which ignored all private stipulations. It could not be entered into conditionally, nor terminated at the will of the parties, although these things might be stipulated for in the civil contract. Again in the case of the latter contract the object was generally gain or profit, or at least something in the way of remuneration, and any essential error or fraud as to pecuniary results would be a ground for reducing the transactions; but as regarded marriage, the motive did not rest on worldly ends, but on personal preference and attachment, and reference to all other considerations was excluded. Tracing 


from the earliest times, he said let them go back as far as they pleased, and they would find that marriage had been always – and properly so – regarded more as a divine institution than a civil contract, and that if it was not the former it certainly was not the latter. In support of this view quotations were read from certain Roman lawyers and from Stair and Fraser – one of the greatest authorities on the law of marriage – whose opinions were thought conclusive on the point. Proceeding, he next took up the subject of 


dealing (1) with its constitution, (2) its effects, and (3) its dissolution. Marriage was regular or irregular according to the manner in which it was consummated. A public or regular marriage was one celebrated by a clergyman before two witnesses after due proclamation of banns, or registrar’s notice. Every other marriage not celebrated in this way was irregular. An irregular marriage might be constituted in one or other of three ways, any of which was as binding in law as the most regular. Regarding one of the modes – that by declaration de praesenti, or by present consent – it was perhaps the mode which had given rise to so many peculiar motions regarding Scots marriage. But be that as it might, in the words of Lord Fraser it must be now taken as the fixed and established law of Scotland that sponsalia de praesenti (or consent by present words) without sacerdotal benediction, whether given in writing or verbally, and whether before witnesses or not, and without proclamation of banns, constitute valid marriage to all purposes whatever.” The most explicit promise of marriage to take effect at a certain future time, or in a certain future event, would not be purified into marriage by the arrival of the time or the event. Thus, such a promise – which generally founded a claim for damages if not implemented – unlike a declaration de praesenti, was not construed into marriage, the former being future and accordingly uncertain, while the latter was both present and certain. Under this head of marriage by present consent, reference was incidentally made to 


and it was pointed out that prior to the Marriage Act, 1856, the English swain who was desirous of having the nuptial knot spliced, and of escaping the restriction to which the marriage laws of his own country then subjected him, frequently fled across the Border with the object of his affections to Gretna Green where a blacksmith – who assumed the roll of clergyman – was got to clinch the matrimonial link and declare them married. But by the Act referred to it was declared that no irregular marriage was valid unless one of the parties had lived in Scotland for 21 days preceding it; and as their English friends came hither in hot haste to get united, this enactment effectually put a stop to their haste, and an end to Gretna Green marriages. Reference was also made to what is known as 


No doubt announcements had from time to time been noticed in the newspapers of the marriage of certain parties by “special licence.” But there was no such thing in Scotland as marriage by special licence. This was simply a popular fallacy. A marriage by special licence, as it was so called, was nothing more nor less than an irregular marriage. The parties in this case had just contracted a marriage by consent, or by acceptance of each other as husband and wife, declaring themselves married persons. Thereafter they applied to the sheriff for a warrant to register the marriage; and upon proof of the marriage, and of residence in Scotland for the period of 21 days, the sheriff granted warrant as craved. After the marriage was registered, a certificate of registration by the registrar was evidence of a valid marriage. 


were next treated; and in regard to the disqualification arising from nonage or immaturity of age, it was explained that Scots lawyers had adopted the rule of the Roman lawyers who fixed the time at an age suited to the climate of Italy. The age of 12 in the case of females, and 14 in that of males, had thus been fixed as the period of capacity for marriage – an age which, to say the least, was rather ludicrous when one recollected that it corresponded with the age made compulsory for attendance at school. At such an early age, indeed at any age below that of majority (21) neither one’s physical nor intellectual development could be complete, yet in the case of marriage – the most important thing which any man or woman could possibly undertake – the law permitted minors who were not fully alive to the serious nature of their undertaking, or who in popular language didn’t know their own minds, to marry without any restriction. Regarding 


allusion was made to the inability of the wife, as a general rule, to enter into contracts or grant obligations, or to sue and be sued in any action without the intervention of the husband. As to the liability of the husband for the ante-nuptial debts of the wife, it was shown that this liability had now been greatly modified by the Married Woman’s Property Act, 1877. In all marriages, however, contracted before 1st January, 1878, the husband still continued liable for the support of his indigent mother-in-law; but if his marriage fortunately took or takes place subsequent to that date then he got rid of that exacting personage who had no claim upon him unless her daughter had brought him any property, to the extent of which his liability was limited. Under the Married Woman’s Property Act, 1881, it was further shown that the right, by which the husband formerly acquired through his marriage the personal property of his wife, had been abolished altogether, and such property vested in the wife herself. Lastly, in connection with the dissolution of marriage, it was observed that marriage was dissolved in two ways – by death and divorce; that the latter was only granted on two grounds – adultery and wilful desertion for four years; and that the effect thereof was to leave the parties at liberty to marry again. The effects of the dissolution consequent on death and divorce were also adverted to. In 


Mr Bruce said it would be noticed how important the institution of marriage was, and how once the matrimonial link was welded – and it has been shown how easily it could be done – it was not so easily broken, and lasted during life itself. If no ordinary care was therefore necessary in the case of a civil contract, it surely required extraordinary and most serious care in entering into marriage; and yet there was perhaps no other contract which was oft-times more lightly or thoughtlessly undertaken. Was there any cause for wonder then that there should be so much talk about marriage being a failure? A failure it would undoubtedly continue to be so long as parties, who had little in common with each other, rushed thoughtlessly into it, and without giving the subject that serious consideration which its importance demanded. 

   Mr G. A. O. Green, as critic, very favourably criticised the paper, which was also favourably commented on by Mr McInnes, Mr J. Henderson, and Mr Moodie, on whose motion Mr Bruce was cordially awarded a vote of thanks for what was termed an able and excellent paper. 

– ‘John o’ Groat Journal,’ Tuesday 24th February, 1891. 



   From the earliest times white was the uniform colour for a virgin bride, and three ornaments were worn by her on her way to the altar. These were the ring on her finger, the brooch on her breast, and the garland on her head – the first being typical of the endlessness of matrimonial love, the brooch signifying maidenly innocence, while the garland was the reward accorded to her for having successfully resisted the temptations to evil that had beset her course from childhood to matrimony. No widow on her re-marriage might wear a garland, nor could any bride whose reputation had suffered from her own lightness of conduct. The garlands were mostly composed of roses and myrtle, and the hair was generally worm in loose tresses to the altar, in token of her freedom, but on laying aside her virgin crown the newly-made bride bound up her hair, significant of her subjection to a husband. After the marriage ceremony had been performed, it was customary for the bridal procession to walk round the less sacred part of the church before sitting down to the wedding feast, which was often held in the nave, this part being generally used in those early times for the transaction of secular business and the enjoyment of social diversion. The feast being over, the bride and bridegroom, accompanied by their guests, went in procession of their new home; after a short interval of time the majority of the guests took their departure, leaving the bridesmaids and groomsmen to perform their last duty to the newly-married pair, which was to undress them and put them to bed, preparatory to the arrival of the priest, whose duty it was to bless the bed and its occupants, while the acolytes, waving to and fro their burning censers, fumigated the room with hallowing incense. These ceremonies being completed, the happy couple were left to their own reflections and the enjoyment of each other’s society. – Frank Shelley, in “Lippincot’s Magazine.” 

– ‘Aberdeen Evening Express,’ Thursday 25th January, 1894. 



   There were, in the olden times, three distinct stages in the career of Hymen’s devotees, “contracted, orderlie proclaimed, and married.” The word “contracted” refers to “handfasting,” a ceremony of pre-Reformation times in which parties purposing marriage appeared before the priest and one or more witnesses, and, joining hands in their presence, pledged themselves to one another. To this day we talk of bestowing one’s “hand” in marriage. This ancient custom, or something closely akin to it, continued to prevail in the early Reformed Church. 

   In too many cases the mere betrothal was looked upon by the parties as an actual marriage, and in 1575 – fifteen years after the Reformation – the General Assembly evidently desired to put a stop to this evil. It was then declared that all that was necessary with a view to marriage was that parties should “give in their names, that their bands may be proclaimit.” 

   But, as regards their social manners and customs, the Scotch are essentially a conservative people. The “contract” does not disappear from our Church records with this act of the Assembly. In course of time, however, it took the shape of a written agreement between the parties more immediately concerned, signed by them in the presence of witnesses, to the effect that neither of them should withdraw from the position which he or she had taken up. It may be questioned if, in some parts of Scotland, such a custom does not prevail even to this day. There is lying before the writer one of those marriage contracts, dated so recently as 1850, in which the contracting parties bind themselves to “marry each other within the space of forty days hence, under a penalty of forty pounds Scotch money payable if incurred by the party failing to fulfil the terms of this engagement.” 

   Like the old public betrothal, the written contract had its attendant evil – or what in those strict times was looked upon as an evil. The signing of the contract soon came to be regarded as an occasion for family rejoicing, and the more strait-laced among the divines looked askance at such social gatherings, and held up their hands in pious horror at the “promiscuous dancing” which was reported to be indulged in. 

   The parties contracted, the next step was the proclamation of the banns. Between the two stages a considerable time occasionally elapsed, sometimes six or seven years. The practice of “cryin’ oot” in one day is a thing of the end of last, or, in many parishes, of the beginning of this [19th] century; but in olden times the law of the Church explicitly required proclamation “on three several Lord’s days.” This is what is implied in the term “orderlie proclamation.” 

   We now come across another quaint custom. Parties, on handing in their names for proclamation, were required to lodge what were termed “pawnd” or “pledge dollars.” The twofold object of these dollars was, “as a security that neither of the persons to be proclaimed, shall recede from their purpose of marriage, with[out] sufficient reason thereof; or that the said parties be not guilty of anything which may be scandalous to the church.” The pledges lay in the treasurer’s hands for “three-quarters of an year,” and, in the older marriage registers, their ultimate fate is usually recorded, the date when they were returned being stated after the entry recording the marriage, except in those cases (alas! but too frequent) where we find the word “forfeited” inserted. In some cases, too, the “pawnd” dollars served another purpose. They were held in security for payment of the “marriage dues,” which kirk-sessions were empowered by law to exact, and which, like the forfeited dollars, were devoted to the maintenance of the poor. 

   Though of comparatively rare occurrence in our day, it was no uncommon thing in olden times for proclamations of marriage to be “sisted” or objected to, the objection generally resting on the plea that the consent of the parents had not been obtained, or that one of the parties had previously bestowed his or her affections on the complainer. 

   The First Book of Discipline required that persons purposing marriage be of a certain age, the man fourteen years and the woman twelve years at least – rather an unnecessary stipulation, one would be inclined to think, had we not cases on record of kirk-sessions being compelled to stay proceedings until this condition was fulfilled. A case of this kind arose in St Andrews in 1568, when the Superintendent of Fife inhibited solemnisation of marriage until the man (!) “war fourtein of aige compleit,” he having confessed “to be bot threttein yeris of aige at Sanct Laurence day last bipast.” Another requirement was, as we have seen, the consent of parents or curators. 

   But perhaps the most curious regulation was that forbidding ministers to marry “bot sic as can say the Lordis Prayar, Beleif [the Creed], and Ten Commandimentis.” One extract from the St Andrews records bearing on this point may be of interest. It is of date 1597:- “William Broun… and Marioun Pryde… ar contractit in mariage. William can nocht rehers the commandis. To rehers the samyn befoir marage. xxxs. payit becaus thai culd nocht rehers the commandimentis.” 

   In the early days of the Reformed Church marriages were celebrated on Sabbath, and on Sabbath only, the ceremony being invariably performed in church. but in 1579 it was declared by the General Assembly that “bands being three severall Sundays lawfullie proclamit, the marriage may be any day of the weik solemnizat,” the only required being that “ane sufficient number and witnesses be present.” For long, however, the custom prevailed of marrying either on the Sunday or on the day on which the weekly sermon – an institution in vogue in those days – was held. It was not until towards the close of the seventeenth century that this latter custom began to be disregarded. Marriage in private – by which we mean in the house of one of the parties – so common throughout Scotland in the present day, seems to have crept in about the same time. 

   By an Act passed in the time of Charles II., persons marrying “in a clandestine, inorderly way, or by Persons not Authorised by the Kirk,” rendered themselves liable to imprisonment for three months and the infliction of a fine. The Church contented itself with rebuking the parties for their irregular conduct, followed by the exaction of a fine “for the benefit of the poor.” We need not remind any Scotchman that Burns was married. But it may be a surprise to some to learn that the marriage was an irregular one; and Dr Edgar gives us the minute of the Kirk Session of Mauchline recording the appearance of the poet and his “bonnie Jean” before them. It is dated 5th August, 1788 – 

   “Compeared Robert Burns with Jean Armour, his alleged spouse. They both acknowledged their irregular marriage, & their sorrow for that irregularity, & desiring that the Session may take such steps as may seem to them proper in order to the solemn confirmation of the said marriage. The Session, taking this affair under their consideration, agree that they both be rebuked for this alleged irregularity, & that they be taken solemnly engaged to adhere faithfully to one another, as husband and wife, all the days of their life. In regard the Session have a tittle in law to some time, for behoof of the poor, they refer to Mr Burns his own generosity. The above sentence was accordingly executed, & the Session absolved the said parties from any scandal on that account. 


   WILLIAM AULD, Moderator.                                                                               JEAN ARMOUR. 

   Mr Burns gave a guinea note for behoof of the poor.” 

   We cannot close without a passing reference to the “penny weddings,” those quaint gatherings on modern-day co-operative principles, when all the guests, without regard to sex, paid their “lawing” or contribution towards the providing of the entertainment. Jovial gatherings they must have been, but a terrible category of evils was attributed to them. Various methods of putting a step to those disorders were resorted to. The Synod of Fife insisted that the number of guests should be restricted to “twenty and at most twenty-four,” the Kirk Session of Stirling requiring that consignation money be lodged to the extent of ten pounds, which was to be forfeited “gif thair be mair taine for ane man or ane woman’s lawing nor Vs.” Perhaps the most curious attempt to regulate these gatherings was that of Cambusnethan Kirk Session, who evidently thought they were striking at the root of the evil when they enacted in 1649 “that ther sould be no pypers at brydels, & who ever sould have a pyper playing at thair brydell on thair marriage day, sall loose their consigned money, & will be farder punisched as the Sessione thinks fitt.” The Kirk Sesion of Hailes (Colinton), in dread of the consequences of turning the church furniture to profane uses, or desiring to level a blow at the old marriage festivals, put a stop to “the lending out of ye communione tables & fourmes for ye use of pennie weddings!” – Scots Magazine. 

– ‘Southern Reporter,’ Thursday 24th August, 1894. 



   “THULE” writes to the Weekly Scotsman – I have read with interest the account of “An Orkney Wedding” in the Weekly Scotsman lately, and think perhaps readers might like to hear of one that took place in the Shetland Isles about forty years ago, as the ceremonies constituting a real Shetland wedding are still substantially the same. 

   The marriage day being fixed, the parties are “cried” – as proclamation of banns is termed here – on the Sunday preceding the wedding. On Monday the young couple go together to invite their friends to their marriage for the following Thursday, that being the invariable bridal day in Shetland. If well-to-do people, they mention the wedding was “free,” but if nothing was said beyond the invitations being given, then it was understood each young man was to bring a bottle of whisky with him to assist at the festivities. The marriage I am telling of was a free one, however. 

   On the wedding morn the guests assembled at the bride’s home for breakfast, and that being concluded, the young woman proceeded to dress for the occasion. Most were dressed in neat dark stuff dresses, spotlessly white stockings, and low shoes, but all without exception – the bride included – wore white muslin caps trimmed with bows of narrow bright ribbons. The taste of the various wearers was displayed in the making and trimming of these caps. They were made up on a stiff frame, not unlike the bonnet frames of our days. Some made them neatly and simply, with bows of bright ribbon of one colour, and most becoming head-dresses they were; while others stuck them all over with knots of ribbon of all colours of the rainbow; more striking certainly than tasteful. 

   Dressing being completed, the bridal procession was formed. Only one married couple were permitted to accompany the party to church. “The married couple,” as they are called, are generally old friends of the families about to be united, the bride choosing the “married woman,” the bridgegroom the “married man.” This custom is probably one of great antiquity, as we find that as early as the ninth century it was customary for a bride to be accompanied by a matron called the “brideswoman,” and followed by maidens called her “bridesmaids.” The bridegroom’s man was termed the “forewistman” or foremost man, whose duty it was to see all the arrangements carried out properly. In Shetland the bride does not choose her bridesmaid from among her own friends, but must have the bridegroom’s eldest unmarried sister, and the bridegroom must return the compliment by having for his best man her eldest unmarried brother. 

   The married man, with the bride on his arm, headed the procession to church. Then came the bridegroom with the married woman; next the bestman and bestmaid, all the rest of the party following in couples; for at a Shetland wedding there is always an equal number of lads and lasses. The only odd one is a man termed the “gunner,” who, with gun in hand, precedes the company, firing every few minutes, the men shouting when he fires. Church having been reached at noon – that being the invariable hour for church weddings here – the ceremony was proceeded with in the usual way, and very speedily the party emerged once more into the open air. The newly married pair headed the procession homewards to the bride’s house, preceded as before by the gunner, and followed by the “married couple,” and the bestman and bestmaid, the rest following in the same order as they came. 

   On nearing the house they were met by the bride’s parents and a number of other married guests, who congratulated the young couple, and just as the bride crossed the threshold her mother broke the bride’s-cake over her head, and all present partook of it and drank health and happiness to the newly married pair. Dinner of a most substantial kind followed, consisting of broth, mutton, geese, fowls (all boiled), with plates of bread and butter all dotted over the table, whisky going its round between courses. After ample justice had been done to this meal, all proceeded to an adjoining barn, where the squeak of a fiddle preparing for work was heard, and there dancing was carried on vigorously, old and young alike joining in the pastime. The intricate-looking Shetland reel, which is danced by three couples, was the only dance, set after set occupying the floor in rapid succession. 

   After some hours had been spent in this way tea was partaken of, after which dancing was resumed and kept up till supper was served about twelve o’clock. This meal was a repetition of dinner, excepting that broth was not presented again; but the hard exercise they had been engaged in had made all quite ready to enjoy a very substantial repast. Though whisky again made its rounds as at dinner, it was taken in such moderation that none were the worse of it, and indeed it was, and is, a rare sight to see any tipsy on such occasions. 

   After supper dancing was kept up till between three and four o’clock, when all being worn out and the night dark and stormy the floor of the barn where the dancing had been carried on was strewn with straw, and the whole company, with the exception of the newly married couple, who had retired some time previously, lay down, and were speedily in the land of dreams. 

   Thus ended the festivities of the marriage I have been describing. Often, however, in those days they were kept up all Friday and Saturday, and on Sunday as many of the guests lived in the neighbourhood accompanied the young couple to church to be “kirkened,” as it is termed here. This fashion of wedding guests forming a procession on “Kirkening Sunday” and going to church with the newly married pair, though obsolete here, is still kept up in some of the islands.

– ‘Orkney Herald, & Weekly Advertiser & Gazette for the Orkney & Zetland Isles,’ Wednesday 15th January, 1896. 





   A young man conducted his courtship in a very peculiar fashion in olden times. Instead of telling his “whole tale of love” to his sweetheart and then applying to her father for his consent to the marriage, the love-sick swain betook himself to an inn or public-house, confided his secret to the wife of mine host and persuaded her to send for the young woman to whom he had lost his heart. The chosen maiden rarely refused to comply with the lover’s request, and so, between copious libations of brandy, whisky, and beer, the marriage was amicably arranged! The contracting parties joined the thumbs of their right hands and pressed them together, vowing fidelity the while. The curious custom is celebrated in verse thus:- 

My sweetest May, let love incline ye, 

Accept a heart which he designs ye; 

And as you cannot, love, regret it, 

Syne for its faithfulness receive it.

‘Tis proof as shot to birth or money, 

But yields to what is sweet and bonny; 

Receive it then wi’ a kiss and a smile aye; 

There’s my thumb, it will ne’er beguile ye. 

The practice of trysting the Session-Clerk to the inn to put in the banns on a Saturday resulted in numerous scandals. The jovial sederunts were prolonged into the early hours of Sabbath morning, until such time as the Church interfered and put a stop to these convivial meetings. 


naturally were a fruitful source of superstition and peculiar customs. The time of the event was a most important consideration, and then as now there was a common aversion to May weddings. The notion of ill-luck originated with the Romans, time, and caused every other rite or religious service to cease for the nonce, so that those who elected to marry during that period were supposed to arouse the fury of the Fates. There is nothing remarkable, however, in this ancient influence, for the majority of Scottish wedding customs were closely analogous to the nuptial rites and religious observance of ancient Rome, and indeed a wedding of 60 years ago differed but slightly from that of 600 years B.C. Previous to the auspicious day, the bride lived in a state of semi-seclusion, and refrained from attendance at church until such time as she had changed her name. On the eve of the wedding, her presents, outfit, and providing were conveyed to her new home under the direction of the best maid, who was careful to carry in first thing a quantity of salt and sprinkle it on the floor as a protection against an evil eye. The house set in order, she returned to the bride’s parental abode, and along with a number of companies proceeded to wash the bride’s feet. This act was considered a survival of an old Scandinavian rite, by means of which the bride was compelled to undergo a bath as a sort of religious purification. The bridegroom too had to undergo a similar ordeal at the hands of his friends. The nuptial knot was frequently tied at the house of the minister, whither the party repaired either on foot or on horseback. The company was divided in two. The bride’s friends met in her home, where they were joined by 


whilst the bridesmaid attached herself to the groom’s gathering under his father’s roof. The men conducted the women to their respective places, and then the bride’s procession, headed by her father, started off first, although both parties contrived to arrive simultaneously. The ceremony accomplished, there was a general rush amongst the young men to snatch the first kiss from the blushing bride. Unusually, however, they were outwitted by the minister, who exacted it as his fee. On the return journey, a keenly contested race, known as running the brooze, or braize, or broo, was started by the young men. He, who first arrived at the young couple’s house, was presented with a bottle of whisky and a glass, and thus armed, he returned to meet the party and distribute his prize. The winning of the race was esteemed a great honour, and farmers’ sons, eager for the coveted distinction, would even borrow racing horses for the occasion. In some parts of the country the bride was lifted over the threshold, or first step, 


or an ill e’e being cast on her. Inside the door the bridegroom’s mother broke a specially prepared cake of bread over her daughter-in-law’s head, and thereafter presented her with the poker, tongs, and broom as symbols of her office. Later on, the keys of the house were handed her, and thus she was established mistress in her new home. The remnants of the cake – the predecessor of our more elegant bridescake – were distributed amongst the young women and girls, and then feasting and dancing set a period to the day’s festivities. 


were originally intended to give the young people a friendly “lift.” A company sometimes numbering 300 or 400 assembled, and each guest paid not only for what he ate and drank, but contributed his share of the fiddler’s fee. Each lad, of course, paid for his lass, and the profits sometimes amounted to the nice little sum of £20 or £30. The celebrations began with the “booking,” a process similar to “pittin’ in the cries,” and in addition to his fee the Session-Clerk – usually the dominie – claimed “ba’ money” for the school children, and, as a non-compliance entailed an inconvenient penalty, the money was duly paid. The boys were thus entitled to meet the bride as she came out of church, snatch a shoe off her foot, and keep it as a pledge till their demands were satisfied. Then came the bidding by word o’ mou’, and the bride’s invitation was sometimes accompanied by the gift of an apron to wear at the ceremony. These weddings, so called because each guest subscribed a penny Scots, became notorious, and the riotous festivities, which continued for several days, were at length put down by an Act of the General Assembly. 


were common until 150 years ago, and previous to 1700, fines were imposed on persons married in private houses. The snood – the badge of virginity – was discarded by the bride on the evening of her wedding day, and the following morning some of her married neighbours entered the house and crowned her head with “the curtch” or “close” cap in token of her wedded state. Friday was a favourite day for marriages, and couples who elected to join in the holy bonds of matrimony then, usually spent the Saturday in company with their groom and bridesmaid. If their home was in the country they journeyed to town, and vice versa. On Sunday it was the practice to be kirked in the morning, to walk out in the afternoon, and to spend the evening under one or other of the parental roof-trees, where at family worship the young couple were solemnly enjoined to keep up “the readin’ ” at their own fireside. The first duty which devolved on an eident bride was the spinning of linen anent the day of her death. Dr Jamieson writes:- “When a woman of the lower class in Scotland, however poor, or whether married or single, commences house-keeping, her first care after what is absolutely necessary for the time is to provide death linen for herself and those who look to her for that office.” Captain Burt in his Highland letters refers to the fact that soon after the wedding day the newly married wife sets herself about spinning her winding sheet, and “a husband that shall steal or pawn it is esteemed among men most profligate.” Another writer of more recent years states that a similar practice prevailed in his youth, and that these garments were periodically brought from their seclusion and spread before the fire to air. On such occasions mirth and jollity were banished, and the day was kept as solemnly as a Sabbath. 

– ‘Aberdeen People’s Journal,’ Saturday 29th April, 1899. 


   In the course of the MacCormack matrimonial case in London the other day, Mr Alfred Daniell, one of the witnesses, a barrister, said he knew the poetical epitome of the law of Scotland upon marriage, composed by that eminent Scottish judge, the late Lord Neaves, which appeared in the notes to the case McAdam v. Walker: 

Ye tourists who Scotland would enter, 

The summer or autumn to pass, 

I’ll tell you how far you may venture, 

To flirt with your lad or your lass. 

How close you may come upon marriage 

Still keeping the wind of the law, 

And not, by some foolish miscarriage, 

Get woo’d and married an a’. 

[Woo’d and married an’ a’, 

Married and woo’d an’ a’; 

And not by some foolish miscarriage 

Get woo’d and married and a’.] 

This maxim itself might content ye – 

That marriage is made by consent, 

Provided it’s done “de praesenti,” 

And marriage is really what’s meant. 

Suppose that young Jocky or Jenny 

Say “We two are husband and wife,” 

The witnesses needn’t be many 

They’re instantly buckled for life. 

[Woo’d and married an’ a’, 

Married and woo’d an’ a’; 

It isn’t with us a hard thing 

To get woo’d and married an’ a’.] 

Suppose the man only has spoken, 

The woman just giving a nod; 

They’re spliced by that very same token 

Till one of them’s under the sod. 

Though words would be bolder and blunter, 

The want of them isn’t a flaw 

For “nutu signisque loquuntur” 

Is good Consistorial Law. 

[Woo’d and married an’ a’, 

Married and woo’d an’ a’, 

A wink is as good as a word 

To get wood and married an’ a.] 

If people are drunk or delirious, 

The marriage, of course, will be bad, 

Or, if they’re not sober and serious 

But acting a play or charade. 

It’s bad if it’s only a cover 

For cloaking a scandal or sin, 

And talking a landlady over 

To let the folks lodge in her inn. 

[Woo’d and married an’ a’, 

Married and woo’d an’ a’; 

It isn’t the mere use of words 

Makes you woo’d and married an’ a’.] 

You’d better keep clear of love-letters 

Or write them with caution and care; 

For, faith, they may fasten your fetters, 

If wearing a conjugal air. 

Unless you’re a knowing old stager, 

‘Tis here you’ll most likely be lost; 

As a certain much-talked-about Major 

Had very near found to his cost. 

[Woo’d and married an’ a’ 

Married and woo’d an’ a’; 

They are perilous things pen and ink, 

To get woo’d and married an’ a’.] 

I ought now to tell the unwary 

That into the noose they’ll be led, 

By giving a promise to marry, 

And acting as if they were wed. 

But if, when the promise you’re plighting, 

To keep it you think you’d be loathe, 

Just see that it isn’t in writing, 

And then it must come to your oath. 

[Woo’d and married an’ a’ 

Married and woo’d an’ a’; 

I’ve shown you a dodge to avoid 

Being woo’d and married an’ a’.] 

A third way of tying the tether, 

Which sometimes may happen to suit, 

Is living a good while together, 

And getting a married repute, 

But you who are here as a stranger, 

And don’t mean to stay with us long, 

Are little exposed to that danger; 

So here I may finish my song. 

[Woo’d and married an’ a’, 

Married and woo’d an’ a’; 

You’re taught now to seek or to shun 

Being woo’d and married an’ a’.] 

– ‘Edinburgh Evening News,’ Monday 17th July, 1899. 



JUNE was the month which the Romans considered the most propitious season of the year for contracting matrimonial engagements, especially if the day chosen were that of the full moon or the conjunction of the sun and moon; the month of May was especially to be avoided, as under the influence of spirits adverse to happy households. All these pagan superstitions were retained in the Middle Ages, with many others which belonged more particularly to the spirit of Christianity: people then had recourse to all kinds of divination, love philters, magical invocations, prayers, fastings, and other follies, which were modified according to the country and the individual. A girl had only to agitate the water in a bucket of spring-water with her hand, or to throw broken eggs over another person’s head, if she wished to see the image of the man she should marry. A union could never be happy if the bridal party, in going to church, met a monk, a priest, a hare, a dog, cat, lizard, or serpent; while all would go well if it were a wolf, a spider, or a toad. Nor was it an unimportant matter to choose the wedding day carefully; the feast of Saint Joseph [19th of March] was especially to be avoided, and it is supposed, that as this day fell in mid-Lent, it was the reason why all the councils and synods of the church forbade marriage during that season of fasting; indeed, all penitential days and vigils throughout the year were considered unsuitable for these joyous ceremonies. The church blamed those husbands who married early in the morning, in dirty or negligent attire, reserving their better dresses for balls and feasts; and the clergy were forbidden to celebrate the rites after sunset, because the crows often carried the party by main force to the ale-house, or beat them and hindered their departure from the church until they had paid a ransom. The people always manifested a strong aversion for badly assorted marriages. In such cases, the procession would be accompanied to the altar in the midst of a frightful concert of bells, sauce-pans, and frying-pans, or this tumult was reserved for the night, when the happy couple were settled in their own house. The church [in France] tried in vain to defend widowers and widows who chose to enter the nuptial bonds a second time; a synodal order of the Archbishop of Lyons, in 1577, thus describes the conduct it excommunicated: ‘Marching in masks, throwing poisons, horrible and dangerous liquids before the door, sounding tambourines, doing all kinds of dirty things they can think of, until they have drawn from the husband large sums of money by force.’  

A considerable sum of money was anciently put into a purse or plate, and presented by the bridegroom to the bride on the wedding-night, as a sort of purchase of her person; a custom common to the Greeks as well as the Romans, and which seems to have prevailed among the Jews and many Eastern nations. It was changed in the Middle Ages, and in the north of Europe, for the morgengabe, or morning present; the bride having the privilege, the morning after the wedding-day, of asking for any sum of money or any estate that she pleased, and which could not in honour be refused by her husband. The demand at times became really serious, if the wife were of an avaricious temper.  

How the ring came to be used is not well ascertained, as in former days it did not occupy its present prominent position, but was given with other presents to mark the completion of a contract. Its form is intended as a symbol of eternity, and of the intention of both parties to keep for ever the solemn covenant into which they have entered before God, and of which it is a pledge. Our marriage service is very nearly the same as that used by our forefathers, a few obsolete words only being changed. The bride was taken ‘for fairer, for fouler, for better, for worse;’ and promised ‘to be buxom and bonny’ to her future husband. The bridegroom put the ring on each of the bride’s left-hand fingers in turn, saying at the first, ‘in the name of the Father;’ at the second, ‘in the name of the Son,’ at the third, ‘in the name of the Holy Ghost;’ and at the fourth, ‘Amen.’ The father presented his son-in-law with one of his daughter’s shoes as a token of the transfer of authority, and the bride was made to feel the change by a blow on her head given with the shoe. The husband was bound by oath to use his wife well, in failure of which she might leave him; yet as a point of honour he was allowed ‘to bestow on his wife and apprentices moderate castigation.’ An old Welsh law tells us that three blows with a broomstick, on any ‘part of the person except the head, is a fair allowance;’ and another provides that the stick be not longer than the husband’s arm, nor thicker than his middle finger.1 

The penny weddings, at which each of the guests gave a contribution for the feast, were reprobated by the straiter-laced sort as leading to disorders and licentiousness; but it was found impossible to suppress them. All that could be done was to place restrictions upon the amount allowed to be given; in Scotland five shillings was the limit. 


A curious custom in connexion with marriage prevailed at one time in Scotland, and, from the manner in which it was carried out, was called ‘Creeling the Bridegroom.’ The mode of procedure in the village of Galashiels was as follows. Early in the day after the marriage, those interested in the proceeding assembled at the house of the newly-wedded couple, bringing with them a ‘creel,’ or basket, which they filled with stones. The young husband, on being brought to the door, had the creel firmly fixed upon his back, and with it in this position had to run the round of the town, or at least the chief portion of it, followed by a number of men to see that he did not drop his burden; the only condition on which he was allowed to do so being that his wife should come after him, and kiss him. As relief depended altogether upon the wife, it would sometimes happen that the husband did not need to run more than a few yards; but when she was more than ordinarily bashful, or wished to have a little sport at the expense of her lord and master – which it may be supposed would not unfrequently be the case – he had to carry his load a considerable distance. This custom was very strictly enforced; for the person who was last creeled had charge of the ceremony, and he was naturally anxious that no one should escape. The practice, as far as Galashiels was concerned, came to an end about sixty years ago, in the person of one Robert Young, who, on the ostensible plea of a ‘sore back,’ lay a-bed all the day after his marriage, and obstinately refused to get up and be creeled; he had been twice married before, and no doubt felt that he had had enough of creeling. 

– ‘Book of Days’ (1886), June. 

If a woman was seen standing at a man’s left hand, it was a presage that she would be his wife, whether they were married to others, or unmarried at the time of the apparition.  

If two or three women were seen at once standing near a man’s left hand, she that was next to him would undoubtedly be his wife first, and so on, whether all three, or the man, were single or married at the time of the vision or not. 


Among the various modes of social intercourse which gladdened the minds and dissipated the worldly cares of the Highlanders, weddings bore a distinguished part, and they were longed for with a peculiar earnestness. Young and old, from the boy and girl of the age of ten to the hoary headed sire and aged matron, attended them. The marriage invitations were given by the bride and bridegroom, in person, for some weeks previous, and included the respective friends of the betrothed parties living at the distance of many miles.  

When the bride and bridegroom had completed their rounds, the custom was for the matrons of the invited families to return the visit within a few days, carrying along with them large presents of hams, beef, cheese, butter, malt, spirits, and such other articles as they inclined or thought necessary for the approaching feast. To such an extent was this practice carried in some instances in the quantity presented, that, along with what the guests paid (as they commonly did) for their entertainment at the marriage, and the gifts presented on the day after the marriage, the young couple obtained a pretty fair competence, which warded off the shafts of poverty, and even made them comfortable in after-life.  

The joyous wedding-morning was ushered in by the notes of the bagpipe. A party of pipers, followed by the bridegroom and a party of his friends, commenced at an early hour a round of morning calls to remind the guests of their engagements. These hastened to join the party, and before the circuit, which sometimes occupied several hours, had ended, some hundreds, perhaps, had joined the wedding standard before they reached the bridegroom’s house. The bride made a similar round among her friends. Separate dinners were provided; the bride groom giving a dinner to his friends, and the bride to hers. The marriage ceremony was seldom performed till after dinner, The clergyman, sometimes, attended, but the parties preferred waiting on him, as the appearance of a large procession to his house gave additional importance and eclat to the ceremony of the day, which was further heightened by a constant firing by the young men, who supplied themselves with guns and pistols, and which firing was responded to by every hamlet as the party passed along; “so that, with streamers flying, pipers playing, the constant firing from all sides, and the shouts of the young men, the whole had the appearance of a military army passing, with all the noise of warfare, through a hostile country.”  

On the wedding-day, the bride and bridegroom avoided each other till they met before the clergyman. Many ceremonies were performed during the celebration of the marriage rites. These ceremonies were of an amusing and innocent description, and added much to the cheerfulness and happiness of the young people. One of these ceremonies consisted in untying all the bindings and strings about the person of the bridegroom, to denote, that nothing was to be bound on the marriage day but the one indissoluble knot which death only can dissolve. The bride was exempted from this operation from a delicacy of feeling towards her sex, and from a supposition that she was so pure that infidelity on her part could not be contemplated.  

To discontinue practices in themselves innocent, and which contribute to the social happiness of mankind, must ever be regretted, and it is not therefore to be wondered at, that a generous and open-hearted Highlander, like General Stewart, should have expressed his regret at the partial disuse of these ceremonies, or that he should have preferred a Highland wedding, where he had himself “been so happy, and seen so many blithe countenances, and eyes sparkling with delight, to such weddings as that of the Laird of Drum, ancestor of the Lord Sommerville, when he married a daughter of Sir James Bannatyne of Corehouse.”1  

The festivities of the wedding-day were generally prolonged to a late hour, and during the whole day the fiddlers and pipers never ceased except at short intervals, to make sweet music. The fiddlers performed in the house, the pipers in the field;2 so that the company alternately enjoyed the pleasure of dancing within and without the house, as inclined, provided the weather permitted.  

No people were more attached to the fulfilment of all the domestic duties, and the sacred obligation of the marriage vow, than the Highlanders. A violation thereof was of course of unfrequent occurrence, and among the common people a separation was almost unknown. Rarely, indeed, did a husband attempt to get rid of his wife, however disagreeable she might be. He would have considered his children dishonoured, if he had driven their mother from the protection of his roof. The punishment inflicted by the ecclesiastical authority for an infringement of the marriage vow was, that “the guilty person, whether male or female, was made to stand in a barrel of cold water at the church door, after which, the delinquent, clad in a wet canvass shirt, was made to stand before the congregation, and at close of service the minister explained the nature of the offence.”3 Illicit intercourse before marriage between the sexes was also of rare occurrence, and met with condign punishment in the public infamy which attended such breaches against chastity.  

This was the more remarkable, as early marriages were discouraged and the younger sons were not allowed to marry until they obtained sufficient means to keep a house and to rent a small farm, or were other wise enabled to support a family.  

The attachment of the Highlanders to their offspring and the veneration and filial piety which a reciprocal feeling produced on the part of their children, were leading-characteristics in the Highland character, and much as these mountaineers have degenerated in some of the other virtues, these affections still remain almost unimpaired. Children seldom desert their parents in their old age, and when forced to earn a subsistence from home, they always consider themselves bound to share with their parents whatever they can save from their wages. But the parents are never left alone, as one of the family, by turns, remains at home for the purpose of taking care of them in terms of an arrangement. “The sense of duty is not extinguished by absence from the mountains. It accompanies the Highland soldier amid the dissipations of a mode of life, to which he has not been accustomed. It prompts him to save a portion of his pay, to enable him to assist his parents, and also to work when he has an opportunity, that he may increase their allowance, at once preserving himself from idle habits, and contributing to the comfort and happiness of those who gave him birth. I have been a frequent witness of these offerings of filial bounty, and the channel through which they were communicated, and I have generally found that a threat of informing their parents of misconduct, has operated as a sufficient check on young soldiers, who always received the intimation with a sort of horror. They knew that the report would not only grieve their relations, but act as a sentence of banishment against themselves, as they could not return home with a bad or blemished character. Generals McKenzie, Fraser, and McKenzie of Suddie, who successively commanded the 78th Highlanders, seldom had occasion to resort to any other punishment than threats of this kind, for several years after the embodying of that regiment.”4 

– ‘History of the Highlands’ (1850), Chapter V. 

1  “On that occasion, sanctified by the puritanical cant of the times, there was one marquis, three earls, two lords, sixteen barons, and eight ministers present at the solemnity, but not one musician; they liked yet better the bleating of the calves of Dan and Bethel – the ministers’ long-winded, and sometimes nonsensical graces, little to purpose, than all musical instruments of the sanctuaries, at so solemn an occasion, which, if it be lawful at all to have them, certainly it ought to be upon a wedding-day, for divertisement to the guests, that innocent recreation of music and dancing being much more warrantable and far better exercise than drinking and smoking tobacco, wherein the holy brethren of the Presbyterian (persuasion) for the most part employed themselves, without any formal health, or remembrance of their friends, a nod with the head, or a sign with the turning up of the white of the eye, served for the ceremony.” Stewart’s Sketches – Memoirs of the Sommerville Family.  

2  “Playing the bagpipes within doors,” says General Stewart, “is a Lowland and English custom. In the Highlands the piper is always in the open air; and when people wish to dance to his music, it is on the green, if the weather permits; nothing but necessity makes them attempt a pipe-dance in the house. The bagpipe was a field instrument intended to call the clans to arms, and animate them in battle, and was no more intended for a house than a round of six pounders. A broadside from a first-rate, or a round from a battery, has a sublime and impressive effect at a proper distance. In the same manner, the sound of bagpipes, softened by distance, had an indescribable effect on the mind and actions of the Highlanders. But as few would choose to be under the muzzle of the guns of a battery, so I have seldom seen a Highlander, whose ears were not grated when close to pipes, however much his breast might be warmed, and his feelings roused, by the sounds to which he had been accustomed in his youth, when proceeding from the proper distance.” – Sketches, App. xxiii.  

3  Dr McQueen’s Dissertation.  

4  Stewart’s Sketches, I. 86.

Exit mobile version