Before the 1880s, a couple was required by law to have a morning ceremony. By the late 1880s, permissible hours were extended until 3:00 p.m..
The marriage ceremony took place either at home or in church, with many guests or few. In the 1850s, weddings were almost always held in church, and it was customary to use the bride's parish. The clergyman and parish clerk were in attendance.
After the ceremony, the couple signed their name in the parish register in the vestry. The bride signed her maiden name. Flowers decorated the church, the arrangements growing more elaborate as the decades wore on--from potted palms to festoons of evergreens and blossoms.
One usher was usually in charge of matters at church, while the others went to the bride's house for their favors. In England, the bride pinned favors of white ribbon, flowers, lace and silver leaves on the ushers' shoulders. In early Victorian England, the bridesmaids also made favors and pinned them on the sleeves and shoulders of the guests as they left the ceremony. Later in the era, even the servants and horses wore flowers. The servants' favors were handmade by the bride and included a special memento if she'd known them from childhood.
Guests in mourning entered the church quietly and hid amongst the crowd, so as not to cast negative aspersions on the couple.
In England, a country bride and her wedding party walked to church on a carpet of blossoms to assure a happy path through life. For the wealthier, a grey horse pulling the wedding carriage was considered good luck. Church bells pealed forth as the couple entered the church, not only to make the populace aware of the ceremony taking place, but also to scare away any evil forces lurking nearby.
The wedding ring was usually a plain gold band with the initials of the couple and the date of their wedding engraved inside. There were few double ring ceremonies in the Victorian era. It was considered good luck for the ring to drop during the ceremony, thus all evil spirits were shaken out.
After the ceremony, the bride and groom walked out without looking left or right. It was considered bad taste to acknowledge friends and acquaintances. The bride's parents were the first to leave the church, and the best man the last after he paid the clergyman for his services. From a custom dating back to Roman times when nuts were thrown after the departing couple, the practice continued, but in the form of rice, grain or birdseed, a symbol of fertility. The wedding carriage awaiting the bride and groom was drawn by four white horses.
If the ceremony was at home, (as was popular in the 1890s) the decorations were no less elaborate. A profusion of white, and another color according to the theme, abounded in the bride's home, adorning doorways, balustrades, windows and fireplaces.
The wedding-day having arrived, the presents for the bride, if there be any, which may be sent at any time during the previous week, will be handsomely displayed before the ceremony. The presents, which have the names of the donors attached, are for the bride - never the bridegroom, although many of them may be sent by friends of the latter.
The form and ceremony of the wedding will be as various as are the peculiarities of those who marry, and comprise every description of display, from the very quiet affair, with but a few friends present, to the elaborate occasion when the church is filled to repletion, or in the palatial residence of the father of the bride, "the great house filled with guests of every degree."
We will suppose that the parties desire a somewhat ostentatious wedding, and the marriage takes place in church. In arranging the preliminaries, the bride may act her pleasure in regard to bridesmaids. She may have none; she may have one, two, three, four, six or eight; and it is customary to have but one groomsman.
The bridegroom should make the first groomsman the manager of affairs, and should furnish him with money to pay necessary expenses.
Ushers are selected from the friends of the bride and groom, who, designated by a white rosette worn on the left lapel of the coat, will wait upon the invited guests at the door of the church, and assign them to their places, which will be a certain number of the front seats.
The bridegroom should send a carriage at his expense for the officiating clergyman and his family.- He is not expected to pay for the carriage of the parents of the bride, nor for those occupied by the bridesmaids and groomsman.
The latter will furnish the carriages for the ladies, unless otherwise provided. The invited guests will go in carriages at their own expense.
The clergyman is expected to be within the rails, and the congregation promptly in their seats, at the appointed hour. The bridegroom will proceed to the church, accompanied by his near relatives, and should precede the bride, that he may hand her from the carriage, if not waited upon by her father or other near relative.
The bride goes to the church in a carriage, accompanied by her parents, or those who stand to her in the relation of parents (as may other relatives, or legal guardian), or she may be accompanied by the bridesmaids.
When the bridal party is ready in the vestibule of the church, the ushers will pass up the center aisle, the first groomsman, accompanied by the first bridesmaid, coming next, the others following in their order. The groom walks next with the bride's mother upon his arm, followed by the father with the bride. At the altar, as the father and mother 'step back, the bride takes her place upon the left of the groom.
Another mode of entering the church is for the first bridesmaid and groomsman to lead, followed by the bride and groom. When in front of the altar, the groomsman turns to the right, the bridesmaid to the left, leaving a space in front of the minister for the bride and groom; the near relatives and parents of the bride and groom follow closely, and form a circle about the altar during the ceremony.
The former mode is, however, established etiquette. At the altar the bride stands at the left of the groom, and in some churches both bride and groom remove the right-hand glove. In others it is not deemed necessary. When a ring is used, it is the duty of the first bridesmaid to remove the bride's left-hand glove. An awkward pause is, however, avoided by opening one seam of the glove upon the ring finger, and at the proper time the glove may be turned back, and the ring thus easily placed where it belongs, which is the third finger of the left hand.
The responses of the bride and groom should not be too hastily nor too loudly given.
Following the ceremony, the parents of the bride speak to her first, succeeded by the parents of the groom before other friends.
Essentially the same ceremonies will be had, the same positions will be assumed, and the same modes of entering will be observed, in the parlors at the residence, as at the church.
The bride and groom, after the ceremony, will go in the same carriage from the church to the home or to the depot.
Should a breakfast or supper follow the ceremony, the bride will not change her dress until she assumes her traveling apparel. At the party succeeding the ceremony, the bridesmaids and groomsmen should be invited, and all may, if they prefer, wear the dresses worn at the wedding.
The form used by clergymen is essentially the same, though the wording may vary slightly to suit the occasion and conform to the rites of the church under which the parties marry.
The marriage license is returned by the magistrate or clergyman to the clerk that granted it, for record. At the time of procuring the license, however, the bridegroom or other person should obtain a blank marriage certificate, usually furnished by the clerk, which should be filled by the clergyman or magistrate at the close of the ceremony, certifying to the marriage of the parties; which certificate should be always preserved by the husband and wife, as proof of marriage, if necessary, when they have removed to other parts of the country.