Do you enjoy harkening back to a time when all men were dashing and all damsels were fair? The Renaissance may not have been quite as idyllic as we imagine in hindsight, but there’s no reason your wedding can’t be the picture of Renaissance-era bliss with modern plumbing and cold drinks. Whether you’re consulting crumbling scrolls to perfect every detail, or you’re just in it for the giant turkey leg platters, the following are some tips to help you put together a wedding “ye olde guests” will never forget.
Most of the surviving accounts of Renaissance weddings detail marriages between wealthy and important people. This is good news for your wedding; however, you and your intended certainly deserve the best!
One trick that Renaissance weddings employed to get guests in a celebratory mood was the putting on of lavish shows and festivities. There were parades, performances, games, dances, jousts, and a series of elaborate meals (some with over 50 courses). Wedding celebrations could last for days. Part of the reason for such pageantry was to diffuse tensions over potential dowry disputes, merging families, and other topics of disagreement. You never know; the same benefit could apply to your modern-day marriage, as well.
Fun and Games
A Renaissance wedding often commissioned custom-written poems commemorating the marriage. You can embrace this tradition by asking guests to leave you a few lines of poetry in your wedding guest book. For the bolder attendees, you can even set up an open mic where the poets in the audience can recite a running stream of poetic well-wishes. Don’t forget to record it so you can listen while you unwrap presents or set off for your honeymoon.
Historically, a wedding parade through the town served as a way to announce the marriage to the community at large. If you want to hold a modern procession of your own, you can lead your wedding reception around the block in a playful, impromptu conga line. For a less physically-demanding way to share your happiness with the community, there’s always Facebook.
Artistic wedding sets and scenery rivaled anything seen in the theatre. One Medici wedding commissioned an elaborate archway from Niccolò Tribolo, one of the great artists of the day, so the bride could enter under ornate columns that were covered in elaborately detailed scenes and figures. While such a grand commission may not fit into your wedding budget, you can still have fun constructing an archway that represents your personalities and your wedding theme.
Renaissance weddings sometimes employed fireworks. Although the fireworks of the time didn’t have the full range of colors we now associate with them, they were still an impressive mix of sulfur, saltpeter, and charcoal that would ignite with quite a celebratory show. If your venue doesn’t allow full-size fireworks, hand out sparklers to your guests. Especially for night weddings, this will result in spectacular photographs.
The Wedding Feast
One outstanding aspect of Renaissance weddings was the use of sugar sculptures. Depicting nearly any subject from animals to castles, these were freestanding, edible masterpieces that were sculpted entirely of sugar. While the modern-day wedding cake can certainly take any shape you like, you may also want to get Renaissance-fancy with an all-sugar centerpiece. Unlike an ice sculpture, it’s a dramatic statement that won’t melt (until it goes into your mouth, that is).
For your wedding feast, serve such Renaissance delicacies as quail, peacock, boar, goose, venison, mutton, and different types of fish. Vegetarians can feast on a variety of fruits such as apples, peaches, pears, and even quinces. Don’t forget liberal pourings of celebratory wine.
Special Occasion Attire
If you’re a fan of Renaissance Faires, you probably already have some suitable garb in your closet. Keep in mind that period attire doesn’t necessarily mean stodgy corsets and inflexible boning. Those restrictive items were generally associated with upper-class citizens and royalty, while “normal folks” wore plain bodices, skirts, and pants. Since there’s a pretty wide range of Renaissance wear that’s favored in reenactment societies today, you can choose whatever style best fits your personality and comfort level, and no one is likely to call you out for inaccuracy.
For wedding guests who don’t want to invest in a new wardrobe, any plain-colored and loose-fitting clothing made of natural fibers is a good start. Look for earth-tone colors and plant-based dyes. The next step is accessorizing. For cold-weather weddings, use cloaks, robes, and capes with fur (or faux-fur) linings. For warm-weather weddings, use light colors and breezy fabrics like linen with loose, open necklines. Decorative metal pins and clasps add beauty as well as utility. For footwear, look to boots and sandals made of leather, suede, or woven fibers.
Keep in mind that, during Renaissance times, white bridal dresses were not yet in vogue. This means that brides can have fun with dresses in any (natural-dyed) color they wish! Experiment with royal fabrics like brocade or velvet.
To salute the lucky couple, their families, or gathered friends, you can do a lot worse than these famous Shakespearean toasts, which capture the well-wishes of the times:
I wish you all the joy that you can wish.
(The Merchant of Venice)
Honor, riches, marriage blessing,
Love continuance, and increasing,
Hourly joys be still upon you!
Love comforteth like sunshine after rain.
(Venus and Adonis)
“God, the best maker of all marriages,
Combine your hearts in one.”
(King Henry V)
While upper-class Renaissance families often married for wealth and social standing, chances are that your marriage is based on love and compatibility. However, you can still bestow a grand “title” on your new spouse by knighting them “Duke for the Day” or “The Princess Bride.” Now you have an even better reason to spring for that sparkly tiara!
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.