English Marriage Law And Custom English Literature Essay

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Wedding is, from the past to present, one of the most important days in life of each person, especially with women. Although different countries have their own laws and customs about marriage, the nature is the same. 16th century in England was the holy time of Renaissance when the wedding customs were quite different from today. Despite of the most important day life of a woman, wedding was the arranged and contracted. Women had little choice in who her husband might be. Even men, they also had the same situation when their marriages were frequently arranged to bring prestige or wealth to both families. Elizabethan era considered women as the 'second-class citizens' who were thought to be witches if living single. The marriage in many cases was arranged right after the baby's birth via a formal betrothal. Renaissance marriages were often held at the bride's house. Couples belonging to the nobility would have their weddings in medieval castles. Arrangements for weddings would have been with local church. Weddings were always a religious ceremony, conducted by a minister or priest. The religions varied but the legal process prior to the wedding was always the same. There were no Registry Office marriages or marriages conducted by a Justice of the Peace. Wedding ceremonies were most likely to take place in a chapel or at the church door. Renaissance marriage ceremonies and celebrations depended largely on the social class of the bride and groom. Inheritance and property rights were usually two reasons why marriages were often arranged. Agreements or contracts were drawn up describing the rights of both the bride and groom. Often a title of nobility together with land ownership was conveyed with the nuptials. The Elizabethan wedding custom dictated that the couple's intention to marry had to be announced in the church three times on three consecutive Sundays or Holy days. This allowed time for any objections to be raised or pre-contracts to be discovered. Any marriage not published beforehand was considered clandestine and illegal.

2. Age of Marriage

It was legal, with parental permission, for boys to marry at 14 and girls at 12. Noble women sometimes didn't marry until the age of 24, but this was rare. More than 3/4 was married before they reached 19. By today's standards, Western Europe was inhabited by the young, with more than half of the population under 20 years of age. In the ceremony the prospective bride and groom were brought in front of a priest to make solemn promises. After rings and kisses were exchanged, the couple would wait for a period of roughly 40 days before the actual wedding ceremony took place. Marriages were not allowed to be performed during certain times of the year such as Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost. Grooms had to pay a "deposit" at the time of the betrothal, and if he tried to back out of the agreement it would cost him four times that price. Husbands usually promised one-third to one-half of their estate on his bride to ensure her livelihood in case they passed away.

3. Wedding ceremony

Renaissance wedding ceremonies may not have had clergy present at the time of the betrothal. Ceremonies called handfastings were popular in some parts of medieval Europe, with the couple exchanging vows as simple as, "Would you marry me?" Some ceremonies would be held outside, in a parent's home, or even a tavern, where vows and gifts would be exchanged. The couple would later go to the Church door to have the marriage blessed by the clergy, or the priest would stop by the newlyweds' house and bless the union there. The Renaissance brought more control over the ceremony and decrees were issued that only marriages performed with a church official present would be declared valid. Nuptial Masses made Sunday the traditional wedding day. The processional would lead the newlyweds into the church. Women would sit on the left side of the church and men sat on the right. The bride would be blessed under a "Pall," a silken cloth traditionally carried by four unmarried persons. The "Bride's Blessing" was only allowed only once in her life and only if the woman was of childbearing age. This blessing has Roman pagan origins, and used to prepare the bride for her new life.

Wedding customs meant agreements or contracts were drawn up describing the rights of both the bride and groom. Medieval marriage ceremonies and celebrations depended largely on the social class of the bride and groom.

For noble classes arranged marriages would be decided when the future bride and groom were very young, often when they were 10 or 11 years old. The wedding day, held 5 to 6 years later would be their first meeting. Love was rarely and issue as marriage meant sharing a lord's property or a noble name. The most important goal of marriage between nobles was continued success and the acquisition of wealth. Minstrels, jugglers and other entertainers would add to the wedding day's celebration with. The manor's inhabitants would attend along with other nobles and the families' distant relatives. The castle lord might mark the occasion by freeing prisoners, and after the feast beggars would gather at the gates to receive leftover food. Just as with the higher classes, marriages among the poor were also matters of business. Arranged marriages were common, but many weddings among lower classes were often the result of pregnancy. Betrothal ceremonies would take place at the house of the bride and the village would gather to celebrate the day, and perhaps give the couple gifts of wooden utensils or other tools. After "robbing" local village men of a possible wife, tradition dictated that grooms would buy a round of drinks for the denied suitors. These men, in return, would often organize mock serenades.

4. Marriage costume

The bride did not wear white dress which was later tradition. Instead she wore her best gown and kirtle, or even a new gown if the money is available. The gown would cover most of the body and would be full length. A cloak was used as outer garment. The nobility often used Velvet, Satins, and Corduroy which were very expensive. The wedding garments belonging to the majority of brides were generally made from Flax, Cotton, and Wool. Colors came in a variety of different shades: reds, blue, greens, yellow, white, grey, black, orange, and tan. Corsets were occasionally worn but any additional garments were rarely heard of. A shift, or chemise, would also be worn beneath the gown. Although the vast majority of the body was covered, it was permissible for the dresses to have plunging necklines. A necklace was often worn. Fresh flowers were central to the clothing. The bride would wear flowers in her hair and they would also adorn her gown. Wealthy brides had garments which were adorned with jewels, gold, and silver thread. It was traditional to carry a bouquet. A bride would have bridesmaids and these would be similarly attired.

Renaissance fashion and costumes mirrored the advancing culture, as increasing trade made more clothing materials available. Nobility dressed themselves in elaborate and brightly colored robes, gowns and other vestments. The upper class reserved silk for themselves, and in some areas, peasants were forbidden to possess it. Embroidery of gold and silver thread would be sewn to form fanciful designs depicting scenes from legends, nature or religion. Those living during the Renaissance would adorn themselves in jewelry, furs, and elaborate belts. Wigs crafted from peasant's hair were also very popular.

5. Wedding party

Feasts would be held to celebrate a wedding, whether the bride and groom were peasants or came from nobility. Guests would eat with their fingers and dine on a variety of fare. Some of the food that could have been served at a Renaissance marriage feast include: Quail, goose, venison, roasted boar, fish, roasted peacock, mutton, cheeses, nuts, fresh fruits, oysters steamed in almond milk, stewed cabbage, tarts and custards, and spicy mulled wine.

Apples were the only cultivated fruit, but others could be found. Wild fruits like pears, quinces, and even peaches were served on some medieval tables. Strawberries raspberries, red currants could be found in the woods. Nobility could afford exotic foods like dates and pistachio nuts.

Many kinds of vegetables were known during this era, but few were eaten. Vegetables of this period include: carrots, cabbage, lettuce, leeks, cardoons, onions, shallots, parsley and asparagus.

Wedding parties would drink water, ale, beer, mead, milk, and wine. Fruit juices made from cherries, sloes, and mulberries may have been available, but most of them would have been fermented. Wine was believed to nourish the body, restore health, aid digestion, clarify ideas, open the arteries, cure melancholy and help in procreation. In the days before discos, stag nights and hen dos, this was certainly the standard for a celebratory event devoted to the happy couple.

Food would be seasoned with cloves, cinnamon, saffron, mace, pepper, ginger, anise, and nutmeg. Salt was the most common flavoring, and was also used to preserve foods. Herbs like basil, parsley, basil, and rosemary were used in preparing foods. Sauces could be made from ground spices and herbs mixed with wine. Mustard was the most popular sauce. Ceremony dictated proper ways to service a Renaissance table. Squires learned every aspect from the carving of the meat to correct placement and order of dishes on the table.

II. Vietnamese traditional marriage law and custom

1. Pre-Marriage Relationships

In olden days, chastity was strongly emphasized with young people being carefully supervised. As with Confucianism, the physical development of love was not highly regarded. Parents frowned on courtship and love affair, and thought badly of its advocates.

Marriage was considered to be a duty, and was generally arranged in a non-emotional manner by the elders in the family. Sometimes, mere children have been committed to each other for later marriage.

Formerly, couples readily submitted to the parents choosing their mates and still do to a great extent in the countryside. In the cities, they have begun to "fight for their rights." Youngsters have more opportunities to meet each other these days, so often the role of the parents has been cut down to merely advising and counseling.

2. Choice of Marriage Partners

Certain standards should be maintained in the choice of mate under the traditional system. For instance, social rank, education, moral history, etc. should be similar in background and on as equal a level as possible.

The couple's horoscope should be in accord and not conflict. Horoscope data has been deliberately misread on occasions in order to be able to tactfully refuse an offer of marriage. Usually a mediator works between the families, and if successful, is often rewarded with a present, such as a pig's head.

3. Age at Marriage

Formerly, girls were often wed as early as 13 and boys at 16. Economic reasons often spurred on young marriages. For example, one family may have wished to have their daughter marry so that they would have one less mouth to feed. On the boy's side, a wife would mean another helping hand in the field, plus the prospect of more children to work on the land. Traditionally, it is the best if the girl is 2 years older than the boy; the second best is if the boy is 1 year older than the girl.

Daughter-in-laws were considered to be "free domestic help," and many girls were older than their bride-grooms. On occasions, marriages were held for very young couples to bring about alliances between families.

In Vietnam today, the marriage age is legally range from 18 for women and 20 for men. These figures rise to higher level of age in the cities where the Western influence is felt. Child marriages are not common in Vietnam today.

4. Rituals

Though many things have changed, the rituals have stayed more or less the same in traditional marriages. A description of each of the important rituals follows.

4.1. Presenting Gifts

This is often called "the crossing of the girl's house-gate." It is a time when the boy's family brings the girl's family gifts which must include a bunch of betel leaves and areca nuts. Tea, cakes, and candies may also be included. The day and hour must be exactly right by the horoscopic calendar.

The procedure is usually quite formal with everyone dressed in his best clothing. Led by a distinguished elder member of the boy's family, the family walks to the girl's home. Boys dressed in black with red sashes around their waists carry the gifts on round red trays balanced on their heads. The bridegroom and the intermediary or matchmaker are also present. The matchmaker will discuss the gifts that the bridegroom will later present to the bride's family. The date for the formal proposal of marriage is set at this time.

The wedding gifts that the bride's family request will be given to relatives and friends of the girl's family. The gifts are often sets of tea, candies, areca nuts, betel leaves, etc. These gifts are in addition to the ones brought to the home on this day. If the girl's parents have a wide circle of friends, then a large number of gifts are required.

In addition to these, the bridegroom's family must provide the bride with a trousseau of jewels such as engagement ring, earrings, necklaces, bracelets, and perhaps even a certain amount of money.

4.2. Formal Proposal of Marriage

The horoscope must be consulted for the right time and hour, and once again the entourage of family and friends descend on the bride's home in much the same manner in the "gift presenting ceremony." At the home of the bride-to-be, they are graciously received with tea, areca nuts, betel leaves, and perhaps liquor being served. The gifts brought by the bridegroom-to-be are placed on the ancestral altar. Joss sticks and lights are lit and incense is burned. The girl's father, the future bride and groom ceremonially bow before the altar. After this, the bride may withdraw to another room and her future husband may take over the entertainment of the guests, acting as a member of the bride's family.

After a long period of conversation, the head of the girl's family removes the gifts from the altar, thanks everyone, and divides the edible gifts into two parts, one smaller than the other. The smaller part is given back to the groom's family indicating that they have been far too generous and that the bride's family is not greedy. This also indicates good luck and a close alliance between the two families. Later, the other edible gifts are distributed to friends of the bride's family.

In the past, the waiting time from this date until the actual marriage was sometimes as long as two or three years. All the while, the bridegroom-to-be was supposed to keep up his relationship with his fiancée's family with generous gifts on many special days. Today, this waiting period has been drastically reduced. The man was not allowed to see the girl very often and then they were closely supervised. Should they by chance meet in public, the bride-to-be would cover her face discreetly with her hat. Instead of being dismayed, this made the future groom proud, as it indicated to all that his future wife was chaste. This old custom has changed considerably in Vietnam today. There are, however, those in the rural areas who still maintain these practices.

5. The Wedding Celebration

Horoscopes are especially important for the wedding and numerous checks are made, for no one would want to start a marriage off on the wrong foot. Usually the day before the wedding, the boy's family has a banquet. Among the poor, it may be a tea party or nothing at all.

On the wedding day, the family of the bridegroom goes with the groom at a specially chosen hour to the bride's home. They all walk together in a procession led by an old man in dark robes carrying an incense burner. The groom's parents and older relatives follow the elderly man. Next in line is the bridegroom dressed in new clothes and surrounded by his numerous attendants. They are followed by the brothers and sisters and close friends. Women carry betel leaves and areca nuts and offer them to the wedding party en route.

The procession on foot is common in rural areas, especially among the poorer people. It is a status symbol to be able to have other means of transportation in the procession and a great deal of money is often spent by those wishing to make a good impression on others. It is not unusual in large cities to see such processions made up of fancy cars bedecked with garlands of flowers.

When they reach the bride's home, they are welcomed and invited in by the girl's parents. The parents never come out beyond the gate of the home, as they do not wish to appear as initiating the move of offering their daughter's hand in marriage.

After sipping tea, the head of the boy's family makes a solemn formal request to take the bride away to their home where she will be a daughter-in-law to the family. Solemnly, the father or head of the girl's family agrees.

Then the girl's father or head of the family performs a rite in front of the family altar, requesting acceptance of the marriage by his ancestors. The bride and groom follow suit.

A banquet is often held at this point, but near the end, the groom's family traditionally acts as though they are very anxious to take the bride to their home.

The groom's entourage then begins the trip home in procession, with the bride and her attendants, friends and relatives joining in.

Little children sometimes set up road blocks and ask tolls of the wedding party. These are readily paid, as they consider it bad luck to refuse.

Upon arrival at the groom's house, the party is met by the loud noise of firecrackers. The guests are invited inside with the bride and groom and another ceremony which honors the genie of marriage soon commences.

The genie of marriage is often called the Rose Silk Thread God and is believed to be responsible for the couple getting married. A special altar is set up and lighted with candles, and incense and joss sticks are burned in honor of the genie. An older member of the groom's family leads the ceremony. He and the bridal couple bow many times before the altar, and a red sheet of paper on which a plea for aid and protection is written to the genie of marriage. This is read aloud. Three cups are filled with a clear white alcoholic beverage by the elder man leading the ceremony. The old man bows three times and gives one cup to the groom who sips a little of the liquid and passes it to his bride who also sips a little. The groom takes some ginger and rubs it in salt, eats a little of it and then shares it with his bride. This symbolizes that no matter what happens, their love will remain true. The sheet of red paper is then burned and the three people bow once again paying their final respects to the genie.

At this point, the couple is considered married and a party is usually held with a lot of speech making, gift giving and merrymaking.

Just as in the West, the groom's attendants try to keep him busy as long as they can and play jokes on him. In olden days, the bride and groom spent their first night of marriage in separate rooms with their attendants.

The couple usually live with the husband's parents, at least until children are born. It is expected that the bride will wait on her husband's family, almost as a servant. This is no the custom with the educated and well-to-do class of people in Vietnam. They are somewhat Westernized in their approach.

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