The History of Traditional Wedding Vows - Changes Through the Years

The History of Traditional Wedding Vows: Changes Through the Years

The historical roots of the wedding vows we speak today, whether or not you opt for traditional vows, go back centuries and  serve as articulations of your commitment to spend your life with another person. 

In the Middle Ages, wedding vows were shared in front of a church, serving as a public affiliation between the two individuals getting married, as well as their families.

The traditional wedding vows we know today have roots in the Anglican Church, under the rule of King Henry VIII. It was then that he approved the following vows, found in what is known as the Common Book of Prayer, published in 1549. They probably sound quite familiar:

“I take thee to be my wedded wife/husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, honor and to worship/cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance.”

Nowadays, many couples opt for a customized take on these traditional vows, while others still prefer the elegant simplicity of this version. After all, they’re hundreds of years old, which adds a sense of transcendence to any ceremony.

If you’re planning on using the traditional vows, it may interest you to see just how they’ve changed over the years, especially concerning the meaning behind them. While it’s easy to grasp the concept behind sickness, health, good times and bad, it’s understandable that we may get a little hung up on cherishing and—a part of traditional wedding vows that has since been omitted—obeying. 

Making a Choice

Traditionally, the bride and groom had two choices for their vows. They could both promise to “love and cherish” the other, or the groom could promise to “love, cherish, and worship” his bride. At this, the bride would promise to “love, cherish and obey” her husband. 

Making a Change

These options were considered the status quo for hundreds of years. In 1922, the Episcopal Church voted to remove the term “obey” from the bride’s portion of the wedding vows, opting instead to replace it with the promise that the wife would “love, honor and cherish” her husband. 

This was no doubt the result of protests from the Episcopal Church. Interestingly enough, this change occurred on the heels of the 1920s Women’s Suffrage Movement’s monumental victory—being given the right to vote in America, and along with it, other rights of citizenship.

Traditional Wedding Vows in the News

Despite the fact that the word “obey” has been omitted from traditional wedding vows for nearly 100 years, it still makes headlines. For instance, one day before Kate Middleton’s April 29 wedding to Prince William, it was announced she, like Princess Diana before her, would not include the word obey in her vows either, setting off a frenzy of blog postings, news articles, and royal commentators.

Other Changes in Traditional Wedding Vows

Other well-known marital phrases, such as “speak now or forever hold your peace,” also take their roots to the Common Book of Prayer. When the phrase was first included in the marriage liturgy, it may have been given as an option if the bride’s father had not fulfilled the requirements of her dowry, or if the bride’s virginity was in question. This phrase, too, is often omitted by choice from current marriage vows.

Choosing the Vows that are Best for You

While some of the phrases in the traditional wedding vows we know today may have changed over the years, the general meaning of these words have not. They still serve as an opportunity for a couple to pledge their lives to one another, and as such, can be tailored to fit the specific relationship.

With the hustle and bustle of wedding planning, this important detail can often get pushed to the sidelines. With this in mind, you may find you’ll feel more comfortable to allot small pockets of time to dedicate to your vows before your wedding, so you feel completely confident. Consider whether you want to use fully traditional vows, vows you both write on your own, or perhaps a mix of the two. Talking with an officiant about your wedding vows can also be a huge help.

When you’ve given yourself the time to reflect on the meaning of your vows—traditional or customized—you’ll know what options are best for both of you.


Lisa is a special needs teacher and a hugger. She always makes time for everyone and lightens up everybody’s lives with her presence. When she is not chasing her students around the yard, she finds time to write about what she truly loves, and you guessed it, its people and relationships.