Golden Age Courtship Rites
The Golden Age is often romanticized for intricate and highly complex courtship routines. The heart of Golden Age culture, Arindell, is best known for this, though many of the same customs were found in Sun's Beacon. The rules of courtship are a part of the larger chivlrous code called Conduct, which formally dictated the actions of proper ladies and gentlemen.
- 1 Formal Courtships
- 2 Informal Courtships
- 3 Wedding Rituals
- 4 Pre-Wedding Customs
- 5 Divorce and Remarriage
- 6 Dowries
- 7 Historical Significance and Later Influences
A couple would first meet in a public setting, usually at a formal event. These were held across all socioeconomic classes, with each done according to their own wealth. The lower-class citizens emulated as best they could the traditions and routines of the upper-class. If a young man admired a young woman, he would first establish a cordial platonic relationship with her, meeting at events and getting to know her.
The man would then contract the services of a matchmaker, who would determine for him if the woman was already courting anyone and also if they were likely to be a good fit. Most matchmakers were older women, but some large-scale professional matchmaking services did exist. The matchmaker would determine if the girl had any other serious suitors while also estimating the likelihood of a good match. Professional matchmakers were said to be quite skilled. Many romantic novels from the era, center around a young and egotistic male protagonist, whose matchmaker forces him to learn to be a gentle soul before he can court the woman he loves.
Once the matchmaker has determined the request for courtship is likely to be well-received, the young man must approach the girl's father and request permission to court. The father could deny the request, though this was most common in upper-class societies where politics and inter-family dynamics played a role. It was also important for the father to like and respect the boy, lest he reject him on those grounds. Typically, the young man will have been coached in the finer points of social interaction by the matchmaker. If the father is not in the picture, permission must be granted by the young lady's legal guardian. Traditionally, if the young lady is cared for by her mother, the mother will appoint a trusted male relative or friend to give her permission by proxy. Tradition dictates that the request must be passed and permission given by men, even if the decision makers are women. If the father or proxy grants the request, the man must ask the woman, who can refuse if she so chooses.
Formal courtships most often begin the late teens. Part of the process was for young people to learn how to communicate with adults. Once permission to court had been granted, the two would continue to meet at public events to begin their relationship. A very complex code was developed around the Regalia colors of the Slayer Dragons with single and dual combinations able to propose a wide variety of communications.
Courting couples and sometimes single friends would gather for special activities of their own, usually without oversight. Mostly these were simply visits to the entertainment of the era. More infamously were the secretive "petting parties" in which groups of youths would gather in seclusion and engaging in petting routines. The theory was, if they did this as a group, no one would "go too far", and they would be able to police each other. Practice did not hold up these theories.
When it came time to propose, the man was expected to ask the woman. He did not need to request permission again from her father or guardian, as the initial request to court assumed the possibility of a proposal. It was then solely up to the woman to accept or deny the request.
Young men were usually also expected to perform "feats of strength and endurance", styled after The Trials undertaken by Slayer Dragons. These were usually self-imposed tasks meant to impress the young lady, though a woman's father or guardian was allowed to present tasks. Whether or not the man completed feats assigned by the young lady's father was up to him. A popular method of telling a young man that permission to court his daughter had been revoked, was for a father to assign him to climb High Mountain. This being both a technical impossibility and suicide by dragon, the message was generally received.
Most of the tasks were to be completed personally, though athletic competitions were common. Since there can only be so many winners in any competition, the feat usually just involved competing. Along with purely physical endeavors such as races and swimming, demonstrations of mental discipline were also important, such as reciting classic poetry or reading certain books. In the later stages of courtship, men might recite lengthy oaths of love and fidelity.
While much of the courtship rites were conducted openly, many elements could also be communicated through an elaborate code of dress, based on the regalia of then-sitting Slayer Dragons and changed regularly. Every eligible young person would have to own, at the very least, a neckerchief and scarf in every regalia color. Wealthier individuals would own a wide array of outfits and accessories.
While dress based on Slayer Dragon regalia was common throughout society, the colors took on special significance in matters matrimonial. A young man seeking courtship would dress in the colors of a Slayer Dragon expected to become the next Pendragon. When he'd begun actively courting a young lady, he'd change to the colors of the carrying-Pendragon. Women would wear colors according to a Slayer Dragon whom she felt matched her temperament, to help better indicate what she was looking for in a suitor. When a woman began courting a young man, she would wear only one of the colors of the Pendragon. If she appeared in public wearing different colors, it was often a sign that the courtship had ended or she was losing interest.
Additional to clothing were small strips of cloth. While attending social events, young men would carry a bag or stuff a pocket with colored strips. When he spotted a woman he was interested in, he would take the strips corresponding to his own colors as well as those of his fancy, and have a messenger deliver them to her. If she tied all four strips together, it meant she was interested; if she tied only hers, it meant she was already courting; and when she tied just his, it indicated she understood him to already be in a courtship with another and did not wish to be a second (multiple consecutive courtships were not uncommon).
The pattern and tightness of the knots could also indicate the strength of a woman's feelings on the subjects. Knots tied only loosely meant she did not feel very strongly about her response, and the potential suitor could possibly change her mind. Tighter knots indicated a firmer decision. Sending back a young man's packet of fabric strips with each individual strip tied in very tight knots was a clear rejection.
Significance of White
Since white was never used as a regalia color, by the early-to-mid Golden Age, it took on signficiance during courtship. When a couple became formally engaged, both parties would wear white as a sign that they were 'off the market'. Other colors not used in regalia were also meant to indicate this, but white was the most popular. Pure white fabrics were expensive and keeping a garment that color required special care. Among the poorer classes, it was used as a symbol of commitment; with individuals usually wearing only a scarf or headband. The upper classes flaunted their all-white engagement garments as signs of wealth.
Engagement rings did not become common until the very late Golden Age. It was customer upon proposal for a man to give his wife-to-be an expensive gift as a sign of his ability to care for her. In the early part of the age, this was most popularly a white garment. A man who could afford to give a white gown was usually highly regarded.
During the second century of the Golden Age, white gowns were also associated with virginity. A young woman who wore white during her engagement and to her wedding was doing so as a statement that she was virginal. Given the values of Golden Age culture, however, it would be completely unheard of for a woman to admit publicly to not being a virgin at the time of her first wedding. During this part of the era, women remarrying did not wear white, if they were involved in a formal courtship at all.
By the mid third-century, the notion of both parties dressing in white to signify their commitment to one another had become firmly entrenched, though common wedding tradition still had the bride wear white while the groom dressed in the colors of the Pendragon. By the middle of the age, the tradition had shifted to the bride wearing one color while the groom wore the other, with their members of their wedding party wearing both.
Surviving Knot Codes
During the early to mid Golden Age, an entire code was based around strips of cloth braided or tied in knots. The language was as complicated as any written word, able to carry whole conversations, poetry, and convey other nuances. Nearly all of it has been lost, except, of course, for the one part of every language newcomers always flock to first.
In particular, Golden Age sensibilities did not allow for outward discussions of intimate activity, in particular between a courting couple. In private, after becoming engaged, perhaps, but before that such matters had to be determined clandestinely. A whole section of the knot code was dedicated to communicate, in detail, what level of activity both parties sought or could tolerate. The original code was extremely specific, with signs stating that a male suitor could touch his beloved on the bosom under her dress but over her corset; or specific derivations such as a kiss on the hand, on the lips, with open mouth, etc. Even more explicit acts, taboo but still in practice, had especially secretive codes on par with a military cipher (indeed, armies all over the Greater Continent employed codes based on the knot system, knowing many recruits would be familiar with it). Even the colors were important: the colors of a younger Slayer Dragon might mean the girl was tolerant but not comfortable, while those of an older one indicated it was welcome, and the Pendragon's colors meant the contact was desired.
While the more complex meanings eventually fell away, a highly simplified version remained, denoting what level of intimacy an individual preferred. Even the colors were abandoned, and the braids themselves remained only in the language: 'One knot' meant a kiss, while a 'braided knot' indicated a more serious make-out. A 'braided knot that got untied' referred to fondling a bosom, while a 'low half hitch' indicated light activity below the belt. The term 'full hitch' came to mean sex, while adding the phrase 'tightened' meant a committed relationship. So a person might say, "We tied down a full-hitch but didn't tighten it", indicating a casual sexual encounter. Likewise, "Getting hitched" came to mean, Consummating a marriage.
By the early Second Age, even the concept of 'tightening' was dropped, and the whole matter came to be associated with ropes. The connection to the Golden Age concept of courtship was forgotten, but the colloquialism endured and passed through many changes. By the late Second Age it was common slang to use a number of knots to denote different levels: 1 knot for kissing, two for touching, three for oral, and four for intercourse.
While dances and large parties happen every week, there are a few events with significant importance. The fall cotillion is when the debutantes traditionally come out, marking their availability for courtship (though many may already be in courtships at this point).
At the Spring Cotillion, couples traditionally announce formal courtships to the world. This is done subtly, usually by arrival announcements. Any girl not in a courtship is "escorted by" an available youth, while any girl formally in one is "accompanied by" her partner.
The formal rites were mostly practiced by the upper class and by younger individuals in all rungs of society. Among the lower classes, courtship or even marriages were often ignored by those in their late twenties. Middle-class citizens would practice a very relaxed informal courtship, similar to the formal but with much more direct communication.
Golden Age weddings were an interesting and ever-changing affair. As with most aspects of societal life, these centered heavily around the Slayer Dragons.
Having an ornate, decorative sword at your wedding was considered imperative: usually a replica of Sword Echbalder, though tastes and aesthetics varied. Wealthier couples would typically commission a unique sword which would then be kept in their marital home. Among the middle classes it was more common to rent a sword, with several named, high-profile items being in the highest demand. Effectively, securing a good location for your wedding was less important than making sure an especially pretty sword was present at it. Most prized were actual enchanted swords left over from the Mage Wars, with special signficance if you could get the current owner of the sword to be present.
Interestingly, it was considered the lowest form to have to borrow someone else's marital sword for your wedding. While renting one was widely accepted, borrowing one was a sign of financial difficulties.
The lower classes had another interesting deviation on the ritual. For them, borrowing a sword was simply expected, and often times the borrowed weapon would not be particularly fine or ornate. Swords of the city watch were the most common, and similarly it was considered a great honor to be asked to bring your sword to a wedding. In truth, being invited to a lot of weddings was widely regarded as a 'perk' of being a city guard. In addition to the real sword, poor couples would always purchase a fake, often wooden (though metal if they could afford it) mock-up of a sword to hang in their marital home, which would be present at the wedding. While these were often ornate and quite decorative, it was always according to the means of the couple.
During the early part of the era, the poorest of the poor would carve a wooden sword themselves. As time went by, however, this practice became a symbol of love; and thus carving a wooden sword for your wedding became the norm. This custom was even seen occasionally in upper and middle-class weddings, and briefly adopted as part of the formal courtship rites.
Tradition dictated that the full wedding party should consist of ten (again, in reference to the Slayer Dragons): the bride, groom, and eight of their close friends or relatives. While the clothing of the bride and groom changed over time, the rest of the party would always wear outfits based on Slayer Dragon regalia. For those that could not afford ornate clothing, simply wearing the colors of a specific Slayer Dragon would do.
The party members would also traditionally carry weapons. Usually these were faux, though practical, ornate weapons were used by those that could afford them. In the early part of the Age, shields were carried. During the wedding, the party would form a 'shield wall' around the couple. A shield and pike were the most common armaments, though swords and axes were also used. Later in the era, the party would carry weapons and wear costumes modeled on those of the current Slayer Dragons.
As with all aspects of courtship and marriage, the quality of the props varied according to the means of the couple. Wealthier individuals would purchase, middle-classes would rent, and poor would make their own. For the lower-classes, these were usually made from paper or wood, though making them was considered a fun and popular activity itself, so that even wealthier couples might take this route. Around the middle of the Age, it was in vogue for members of the wedding party to provide their own ceremonial weapons, with the quality and artistry of these as a show of respect for the married couple.
Party Size and Composition
Typically, a wedding party would have the bride, groom, four bridesmades, and four groomsmen. It was considered very improper to have more than ten, though there were numerous other roles to fill. In some cases, the wedding party would be determined by the then-sitting number of Slayer Dragons, with the same number of men and women. However, as there could occasionally be as few as one female Slayer Dragon within the Order, this was never heavily in fashion.
The wealthiest couples of society's elite would build extravagant shrines in their marital homes, of the wedding clothes and ceremonial weapons of the party, which of course had to be regularly cleaned and maintained. When the couple grew older, pieces of their shrines would often be lent to the weddings of their children. By the end of the Age, the shrine might contain the full genealogy of the family, with each item holding a special significance for the dozens of weddings it had graced. Marital shrines were one custom only ever practiced by the extremely wealthy, as anyone of lower means would not typically have a room to dedicate to memorializing their wedding day; but most ceremonial accoutrements were necessarily handed down in families, at all levels.
Weddings of the time were modeled in practice on the Magical Quests according to the laws of Antiquity. Though many different variations were practiced, one that endured was the notion of the Noble Benefactor. This was most commonly the bride's father, or whomever had initially given the groom permission to court her. The benefactor would bestow upon the young couple the "task" of marriage, and usually give a speech about their specific roles. While this was often recited from a list of popular speeches, it was not unusual for the benefactor to create his own. The role of benefactor was regarded as a high honor, especially if the bride was fatherless or her father could not be in attendance. A benefactor who did not perform well at the wedding, such as by failing to put enough feeling into his speech, or by being drunk, could expect to be called out on his behavior by others.
In Arindell and Sun's Beacon where these customs originated, nearly the entire population were cardinalists. Those that did not practice cardinalism had their own traditions. The officiator, therefore, was always a priest. In stark contrast to many of the other rituals, the rank of the officiator within the church was not valued, but rather his 'closeness' to the bride and groom.
Indeed, high-ranking church officials often lamented how rarely they were asked to officiate weddings, as their stations often precluded them from much interaction with the public. This also led to an interesting dichotomy wherein mid-level priests often performed marriages for middle and lower class individuals, where the wealthy typically had a very low-level priest officiate. The wealthy and well-to-do typically lived in less densely-populated areas, and therefore attended much smaller churches.
Attendees at Golden Age era weddings could expect a lot of sitting, standing, and awkward turning. A typical wedding procession consisted of the bride and groom, the wedding party (bridesmaids and groomsmen), one or more Sword Bearers, a Caller, and a File (the ceremonial bodyguard). Though many weddings were held indoors, the size of these processions often necessitated at least starting them outside. As such, nearly every church had a large grass or stone area outdoors for this purpose.
The wedding party would be proceeded by the Caller, who would call out "Make Way!" at every other step. Behind the Caller, the wedding party itself would march in two lines: typically with the bride and bridesmaids on one side and the groom and groomsmen on the other. The bride and groom would be in the center, with the rest of the party spaced out around them in a defensive posture. The party would be followed by the Sword Bearers, who carried the marital sword. They were followed by the File, who represented the First File that backed the Slayer Dragons. These were usually friends of the bride and groom who had been invited to participate but were not a part of the formal wedding party.
The procession would initially form outside of view of the gathered attendees. The Caller was tasked with informing the audience. In a well-planned procession, his voice would slowly come into range, with the guests expected to remain as silent as possible in anticipation of the party's approach.
The procession would then walk up to the benefactor. This was usually at the back of the church, necessitating the quests to stand and turn or twist in their chairs. The benefactor would then deliver his tasks (the responsibilities of bride and groom), usually from a podium or pulpit, where everyone could see him. During this time, the wedding party would take up a defensive posture around the bride and groom, while the sword bearer would kneel in front of them, holding up the marital sword.
Next, the procession would first circle the gathered guests, then walk up a central aisle. This was symbolic of a long journey as part of a magical quest. At the altar, the bride and groom would kneel together before the officiator, then the Sword Bearer would present the sword to the officiator. The next routine varied during the age, but the officiator would either touch the shoulders of the bride and groom with the sword and hold it throughout the ceremony, or lay it across their shoulders.
The bride and groom themselves did not typically speak during a wedding ceremony. Instead, after the sword had been presented, the wedding party would make brief statements about the bride and groom's love for each other. The bridesmaids would speak of the bride's purity and faithfulness, while the groomsmen would speak of the groom's deeds during courtship and his commitment to his bride. In later centuries, these statements were given according to set scripts. The officiator would then pray over the bride and groom, blessing their union before God and his angels.
Once the prayers had been completed, the procession would reform and the party would escort the bride and groom away from the wedding. Their path would be covered by flower petals thrown either by the crowd or by young girls (thus beginning the tradition of the flower girl). The whole ceremony, in wealthy families, could take several days; and in the poorest families, only a few minutes.
Interestingly, in contrast to later wedding ceremonies, the bride and groom did not speak, nor make any public declarations of love and commitment. Marital Oaths were made in private, before the wedding, and taken very seriously. A couple's pretense at the wedding was considered proof enough that they had made these oaths to each other.
Marital oaths were never standardized, but considered very important. After the man had proposed, the couple would discuss their oaths, and take them at some point before the wedding. Throughout most of the Golden Age, this was done completely in private, but in later centuries it became customary for a very small number (often no more than two) individuals to be present to witness the oath. This was usually the best man and maid of honor, though such titles were not introduced during the Golden Age. When literacy became more widespread, it was customary for the witnesses to write statements. Not about the contents of the oaths, but that they had been made, and about their validity. These would then be held by the church, and were commonly brought out as evidence in divorce proceedings.
It was only after the Golden Age that it became customary to record the oaths themselves; which were eventually standardized and used as the basis for the first marriage licenses. Oaths eventually became vows spoken during the marriage ceremony: either by bride and groom, or by the officiator, or by some representative appointed from among the party, for that purpose.
Reception and Consummation
In the early Golden Age, wedding receptions were no more than the gathered wedding guests sticking around to gossip and talk after the public portion of the marriage ceremony. As travel became more available to the wider masses, formal receptions involving food and fellowship became the norm. However, the bride and groom were not present at these.
Immediately after the completion of the ceremony, the wedding party would escort the bride and groom to a secluded, private place, where they were expected to consummate their union. The wedding party would typically remain nearby, to ensure the couple's privacy. This element was especially important among the lower classes, where having a private place to consummate was a considerable luxury.
Especially during the early centuries of the Golden Age, it was expected that both parties should remain virginal until their wedding day. While this was not often the case, it was at least true as far as public perception. Both parties received considerable shaming for failure to do so, though men actually had it worse. A man who failed to be a virgin for his wife was regarded as weak-willed and unfaithful. Women were pitied more than shamed, as it was considered that a woman who failed to remain virginal must have been taken against her will. In both cases, the bride and groom were expected to disclose this status to one another during their marital oaths. Part of the prayers said over them during the ceremony also included a cleansing, so that, regardless of actual status, both parties were always considered to be virginal at the time their marriage was consummated. In cases of second marriages, this was considered especially important, as it allowed both sides to fulfill what was regarded as an important marital duty. This prayer was included in all wedding ceremonies as a sort of blanket coverage, thus allowing any couple to escape judgement.
During the late second-century, "proof of consummation" was sometimes required, especially among upper-class families. However, given the Golden Age's attitude towards sex, this was generally regarded as poor taste. The concept was formally outlawed by the church at the beginning of the third century. It was replaced by oaths, and later signed statements from the wedding party, to the effect that the couple had been escorted to a private location, and the party had then stood guard over that location for some hours without the new couple having emerged. So long as these statements existed, it was generally regarded that the marriage had been consummated, regardless of actual fact.
Golden Age weddings typically lasted two days, with a handful of special rituals carried out the day before and the public ceremony on the morning after. Later in the era, couples would then leave on honeymoon.
Abduction and Lock In
At some point on the day before the wedding, the groomsmen were expected to 'abduct' the groom. There was no set time for this, but they were to capture him, beat him, bind him, then carry him to a secluded location where all the men would be locked in for the night. The task of the groomsmen was to ensure that the groom did not escape before his wedding. While the beatings were typically superficial, it was expected that the groomsmen would deliver it "as a warning". Any man who ran out on his wedding could expect a much less superficial thrashing. In fact, groomsmen who failed to deliver the required beating to a man who left his bride at the altar, could expect not to be invited to any other weddings, and to probably face scorn and ridicule from their peers.
The bridesmaids, meanwhile, were expected to take on the role of handmaidens for the bride-to-be. On the day before the wedding, they were to gather any materials and complete all the tasks needed to prepare the bride. In the evening, they would spend several hours bathing her and pouring scented oils over her. Her freshly-cleaned body was then laid on a bed of flower petals (which would be used in the procession the next day) while the bridesmaids sat up beside her all night and watch her sleep. If the bride was nervous or slept fitfully, the bridesmaids would be on hand to calm her. In the early morning before the ceremony, the bridesmaids would then help the bride dress and prepare.
It was part of the bridesmaids' duties to help the bride with her hair and later makeup. For this reason, nearly every young woman studied, to some degree, how to dress hair, and arrange jewellery. Bridesmaids who could not fulfill this role would be very ashamed of this.
Divorce and Remarriage
Throughout the Golden Age, marriage was regarded as a covenant between two people and God; and as such did not involve the state. Indeed, the concept of marriage licenses was not even introduced until the Second Age. Divorce, then was carried out by the church.
Divorce was never forbidden or even especially frowned upon (in Arindell), though discouraged. In keeping with the marital oaths, a couple who had to separate was regarded as having broken those oaths. This was seen as a failure to each other and thus very shameful. The best way to avoid this was go through the church, if at all possible enlisting the help of the original officiator, in an early version of couples' counseling, wherein a priest would speak with the couple, and if at all possible help them fix their marriage.
Certain factors could grand an immediate divorce. Infidelity on either sides fault was grounds for separation, and was even occasionally used as an 'escape clause' - though doing so was considered especially shameful. Likewise, physical abuse could be grounds, in which case the abuser would bear the entirety of the shame. In both cases, some measure of proof was required, usually in the form of a third-party witness. The era placed a very heavy emphasis on honor, so if it was later discovered that such a witness had lied about these acts, they too could expect considerable public shame. Men faced much heavier persecution in these matters, especially in cases of infidelity and physical abuse. A man who beat his wife was automatically considered weak, without honor, and completely unworthy of pity. Women, meanwhile, who chose to leave their husbands on similar grounds, could typically expect considerable support from the community; but only if the infidelity or abuse could be proved. Women who committed adultery could also expect considerable shame, though could earn back the respect of the community by being chaste and not beginning to court again too soon.
In cases where infidelity and abuse were not evident, but it was clear that the marriage was just not working, the priest would first try to help the couple fix the marriage. When this failed, they would then assign each individual a series of feats to accomplish. These again were similar to the Slayer Dragon Trials and the courtship rites, though were usually done much more privately. A common feat was to walk the length and breath of the city, a challenge which any fit individual could usually accomplish with a few full days of trekking. Memorizing and reciting scripture were also common, as was preforming services for the church and the community. In the latter stages of divorce proceedings, both parties were expected to perform some public acts of charity, which was usually when the divorce was made public.
By completing these tasks, the couple was considered to have "done the work" necessary to be freed from their oaths to one another, and could then separate without shame. The dispensation of assets was further decided by the church, with women usually being favored especially in the cases where children were present (though custody was another difficult matter). In cases where both parties had a source of income, an equitable split was usually made; while in cases where one party earned for the family, the party without income often got much more. Continuing reparations were very rare, though large lump sums were common. In cases where one member came from a wealthy family and committed adultery or abuse, they could expect to be fined very heavily, with remunerations going to the innocent party. Among wealthy families, teaching young people to be faithful to their spouse was considered a very high priority, since one act of adultery could financially ruin the family.
Depending on the age at divorce (which could sometimes be very young), an individual might begin formal courtship proceedings again. Depending on the nature of the divorce, it was usually expected that they should wait a year before doing so, but there was never a strict rule.
For individuals who had completed a formal divorce through the church, there was very little disgrace attached to having been previously married. For divorces in their late twenties and older, it was typical to abandon the formal courtship process, though a ritualized wedding was still to be expected.
A dowry was not given to the groom's family, but rather to the couple as a single entity. Typically, the wealthier of the two families was expected to provide such a dowry, especially when a large income disparity was present. In cases where both families were wealthy, there was often a competition to see who could provide the larger dowry.
The dowry was not expected to be returned if a marriage fell apart, but would not be presented if the wedding was called off.
Historical Significance and Later Influences
The Golden Age would be the subject of song and story throughout the rest of history.
The tradition of marital swords (specifically having a sword present at your wedding) persisted throughout the whole history of the Alliance, though starting in the Second Age it became common