Monday, February 9, 2009

The history of romance-customs and courtship

With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, I thought it would be nice to take a look at the history of romance. A big thank you to for being such a great resource.
What was courtship and marriage like for our distant ancestors? Was it more formal than now? Less formal? Beginning with the ancient Greeks' recognition of the need to describe more than one kind of love, inventing the word "eros" to describe carnal love, and "agape" to mean a spiritual love, take a stroll back through romantic heritage with this timeline of romantic customs, dating rituals, and tokens of love.
In ancient times, many of the first marriages were by capture, not choice - when there was a scarcity of nubile women, men raided other villages for wives. Frequently the tribe from which a warrior stole a bride would come looking for her, and it was necessary for the warrior and his new wife to go into hiding to avoid being discovered. According to an old French custom, as the moon went through all its phases the couple drank a brew called metheglin, which was made from honey. Hence, we get the word, honeymoon. Arranged marriages were the norm, primarily business relationships born out of the desire and/or need for property, monetary or political alliances.
From buying a woman dinner to opening a door for her, many of today's courting rituals are rooted in medieval chivalry. During medieval times, the importance of love in a relationship emerged as a reaction to arranged marriages, but was still not considered a prerequisite in matrimonial decisions. Suitors wooed their intended with serenades and flowery poetry, following the lead of lovelorn characters on stage and in verse. Chastity and honor were highly regarded virtues. In 1228, women first gained the right to propose marriage in Scotland, a legal right that then slowly spread through Europe.
All the Nordic countries have courtship customs involving knives. For example, in Norway when a girl came of age, her father let it be known that she was available for marriage. The girl would wear an empty sheath on her belt. If a suitor liked the girl, he would put a knife in the sheath, which the girl now wore as a sign that she was betrothed.
The custom of bundling, found in many parts of 16th and 17th century Europe and America, allowed courting couples to share a bed, fully clothed, and often with a "bundling board" between them or bolster cover tied over the girls legs. The idea was to allow the couple to talk and get to know each other but in the safe (and warm) confines of the girl's house.
Dating back to 17th century Wales, ornately carved spoons, known as lovespoons, were traditionally made from a single piece of wood by a suitor to show his affection to his loved one. The decorative carvings have various meanings - from an anchor meaning "I desire to settle down" to an intricate vine meaning "love grows."
Chivalrous gentlemen in England often sent a pair of gloves to their true loves. If the woman wore the gloves to church on Sunday it signaled her acceptance of the proposal.
In some parts of 18th century Europe a biscuit or small loaf of bread was broken over the head of the bride as she emerged from the church. Unmarried guests scrambled for the pieces, which they then placed under their pillows to bring dreams of the one they would someday marry. This custom is believed to be the precursor of the wedding cake.
Many cultures throughout the world recognize the idea of matrimony as the "ties that bind". In some African cultures, long grasses are braided together and used to tie the hands of the groom and bride together to symbolize their union. Delicate twine is used in the Hindu Vedic wedding ceremony to bind one of the bride's hand to one of the hands of the groom. In Mexico the practice of having a ceremonial rope loosely place around both
So, what’s the romance like in your life? How did you and your other half meet? What’s the most romantic date you’ve ever had? Leave me a comment to celebrate the day.

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Myst Bloodstone said...

Very informative and well written. Thank you for sharing.

Emma Lai said...

Bundling. Weren't some guys literally sewn into the sheets? Better make sure those seams are strong.

Judith Rochelle said...

Yup. They used strong canvas and rawhide thread. Although I don't think that would stop any of my aslpha heroes! LOL!

Emma Lai said...

What's a little material when faced with the brawniness and strength of a romance hero?

Emma Lai said...

Ooh. Forgot to tell you my story! Hubby and I met at work. He interviewed me for my first professional job, but we didn't start dating until he left the company and went back for his MBA. Most romantic date was during his internship in New York. I flew up for a visit and he took me to Le Bernadin. It was pretty much the date where we decided it was going to be forever. The actual proposal came years later and was quite amusing. I had been bugging him about it not knowing he had a PLAN. So, he took me to meet his mom and on the way back from the airport after the visit, he turns to me and says so when are we getting married? It took two weeks for him to convince me he was serious. It took only another two for the actual wedding to occur. Hehe. I knew better than to wait.

Catherine Chernow said...

Great post, Judith/Desiree.

So perfect for the upcoming Valentine's Day holiday.

You can check out how I met my hubby at

: )

Catherine Chernow

Lisabet Sarai said...

Fascinating post, Desiree! I particularly like the custom with the knife and the empty scabbard. So romantic!

I met my husband at a professional conference. He came up to me after I presented my research paper and told me how interesting he thought it was... Somehow I knew that wasn't his only interest (LOL)!

We're still going strong 27 years later, so he must have had good instincts.


Janice said...

Nicely writen and very imformative. Funny thing agape was going around my head a few weeks ago and I didn't know what it was, lol now I do. Spirtual love.

I met my hubby through a mutual friend. Actually I had met him a couple of times and he keep his eyes right on me. Actually it kind of creeped me out those big brown eyes following me every where. But he was in the Navy and came by on Christmas day with said mutal friend, and we got to talking. Our first date was the day after Christmas. I use to call him my Christmas present, and twenty-nine years later we're still married.


Kaz Augustin said...

Good roundup, Desiree! I actually worked with my husband (in academia) 5 years before I actually met him (in the private sector)! Ah, it was a fun ole time. Happy Valentine's Day to all! :)

Jean Hart Stewart said...

Tried to leave this before, but will try again..Very interesting post. I love anything about tradition and customs. How about one specializing in customs in colonial America? I have the impression they varied widely....Jean