Did royal bed­ding cer­e­monies re­ally take place? If so, why – and what did they in­volve?

BBC History Magazine - - Miscellany - Sarah Grist­wood’s books in­clude Game of Queens (Oneworld, 2016)

O Adamberry, Gi­bral­tar AYes, they did. Through the Mid­dle

Ages and into the early mod­ern pe­riod, the pro­cre­ation of royal part­ners – like their birth, death and bod­ily func­tions – was re­garded as a mat­ter of pub­lic con­cern. More­over, a mar­riage (royal or oth­er­wise) was not con­sid­ered to be legally bind­ing un­til it had been con­sum­mated. While the bride was pre­pared by fe­male guests, the groom was helped into his night­gown by his friends be­fore be­ing led to his wife’s cham­ber amid a stream of bawdy jokes, and a priest would bless the bed and pray for the cou­ple’s fer­til­ity.

Records show that when Henry V mar­ried Cather­ine of Valois in 1420, the bless­ing was given by the arch­bishop of Sens. Henry and Cather­ine were then left alone to­gether, but later in the night their guests re­turned in pro­ces­sion, bring­ing wine and soup to for­tify them af­ter their ex­er­tions.

The de­gree of pub­lic in­volve­ment var­ied: in 1625, Charles I barred his bed­room door so he could get to know his new bride Hen­ri­etta Maria in pri­vacy. But as late as 1770, Marie An­toinette and her new hus­band, the dauphin of France (later King Louis XVI), were es­corted to bed and un­dressed by king and courtiers, who watched as they lay down to­gether – per­haps one rea­son it took them seven years to con­sum­mate their union!

IL­LUS­TRA­TION BY GLEN MCBETH

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