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