After the HEA (Happily Ever After) is understood by romance readers to be a wedding, whether it is actually seen in the book or not. In the tradition of today, the bride wears white, or ivory, if she is a first timer. However, for those of us who write historical novels, a wedding dress might be any color or style of dress that the bride desired. A red dress might signify the bride's favorite color, or her best ball gown, without any commentary on her virtue. This, of course, held true until 1838, when Queen Victoria married Prince Albert in, what else, a white dress. So, thereafter, every other correct British bride wore white, and whatever the Brits deemed correct traveled across the Atlantic and became the thing to do in America.
What intrigued me was why? Victoria wore white. I always thought it was because she was very young, and like all proper young women of the upper classes, she wore white dresses. Of course, most of us think that the white symbolizes virginity. In actual fact, Victoria chose a white dress to match some white lace that she wanted to use on her wedding day.
Other British wedding tradition that made their way to America are the reading of the Banns in church on three Sundays before the wedding day. This was intended to give anyone who objected to the marriage to state their reasons in public. In some churches the intended bride and groom were not allowed to be present when the Banns were read. If the Banns were read 3 times without objection, then the bridr and groom could marry without a license in any county where one of them had been a resident for 15 days. They did have to be registered in the church records for the marriage to be legal.
Marriage by license could be had by anyone who could pay for a license, but they had to marry in a church that kept records and in their county of residence. Only a Special License, very costly and available only from the Archbishop of Canterbury, allowed you to marry anywhere in England without Banns and without records (for of course the Archbishop is likely to keep a record himself.)
British weddings even today cling to the tradition of a wedding at Noon followed by a seated meal called "The Wedding Breakfast", a sumptuous meal topped off with a tiered frosted fruitcake and a chocolate groom's cake. Why would a family choose to hold a wedding from their home, bearing the cost and fuss of a large meal and many guests? Why, status, of course. Even those of the merchant class or labor class would marry off their daughters in similar style, tailoring the event to their financial circumstances. For this reason as well, many weddings were held in the autumn when the crops were in, work had tapered off and the makings of a great feast were available. Just think of every Thomas Hardy book you've ever seen translated to the screen, or, my personal favorite, the wedding in Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" as done on PBS.
The wedding breakfast has been adapted to a huge, ultra expensive reception and meal, either sit-down or buffet, in today's America. The organizing and presenting of weddings had become a huge business as well. Perhaps that is why I hold fond thoughts for the relatively simpler way that British peoples of the previous centuries 'plighted their troth'.
Next month I will continue the discussion of marriage and wedding ceremonies in Britian and the way these traditions affected American society. In the meantime, I will be working on an edit of "Hunter's Heart", the second book I have presented to my great editor, Eve Mallary, who has inspired me to destroy all adverbs! I just hope she will adopt this second child of mine with the same affection and care that she has shown with "Heart of Gold", my first book that should be out in early 2011. Maybe this will inspire you to add a wedding after your HEA, but I'll bet that your bride won't wear a dress anything like the one that Dee Connolly wears to marry Matt Sutherland in "Heart of Gold".