Dating and marriage during the middle ages
A ‘wed’ could be any gift understood by those involved to mean consent to marry but was often a ring.
All that was required for a valid, binding marriage was the consent of the two people involved.As God was the ultimate witness, it was not necessary to have a marriage witnessed by other people – though it was highly recommended to avoid any uncertainty.There was also a church service available, but it was not mandatory and the evidence suggests that only a minority married in church.There were various ways in which a medieval couple could use words or actions to create a marriage.Consent to marry could be given verbally by ‘words of present consent’ – no specific phrase or formula was required.The statutes issued by the English church in 1217–19 include a warning that no man should “place a ring of reeds or another material, vile or precious, on a young woman's hands in jest, so that he might more easily fornicate with them, lest, while he thinks himself to be joking, he pledge himself to the burdens of matrimony”.
The vast majority of marriage cases that came up before the courts were to enforce or prove that a marriage had taken place.
It was also expected that everyone would seek the permission of their lord, and kings consulted over their own and their children’s marriages.
Marriage between people of different classes was particularly frowned on.
So, for engaged couples, having sex created a legally binding marriage.
Consent could also be shown by giving and receiving an item referred to English as a ‘wed’.
Indeed, the word ‘wedding’ itself even dates from the period.