Religious and Legal Norms

The Form of Solemnization of Matrimony, from The Book of Common Prayer

[Click on image to enlarge] The Liturgy of Solemnizing Marriage from The Book of Common Prayer (1559), the established form of worship in the English Church, shows us the directives most English men and women heard at their own wedding and every wedding they attended, as to their respective roles and duties in marriage and the family. This liturgy emphasized for them the purposes of marriage (with procreation primary), the indissolubility of marriage, and the biblical texts undergirding that definition of marriage and establishing patriarchy. It also held up the ideal of mutual love and help, which is represented in the emblem from George Wither's A Collection of Emblems (1635). The Latin motto reads in English, "Hand Washes Hand."

Black text here indicates the basic narrative description of the liturgy; red text is that spoken by the priest.


First the banns must be asked >> note 1 three several Sundays or holy days, in the time of service, the people being present after the accustomed manner.

And if the persons that would be married dwell in divers parishes, the banns must be asked in both parishes, and the curate of the one parish shall not solemnize matrimony betwixt them without a certificate of the banns being thrice asked from the curate of the other parish. At the day appointed for Solemnization of Matrimony, the persons to be married shall come into the body of the church, with their friends and neighbors. And there the priest shall thus say.

(Red) Dearly beloved friends, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of his congregation, to join together this man and this woman in holy matrimony, which is an honorable estate, instituted of God in paradise in the time of man's innocency, signifying unto us the mystical union, that is betwixt Christ and his Church: which holy estate Christ adorned and beautified with his presence and first miracle that he wrought in Cana of Galilee, and is commended of Saint Paul to be honorable among all men, and therefore is not to be enterprised nor taken in hand unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly, to satisfy men's carnal lusts and appetites, like brute beasts that have no understanding, but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God, duly considering the causes for which matrimony was ordained. One was, the procreation of children to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and praise of God. Secondly, it was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication, that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ's body. Thirdly, for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity: into the which holy estate these two persons present come now to be joined. Therefore, if any man can show any just cause why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or else hereafter forever hold his peace.

And also speaking to the persons that shall be married, he shall say.

(Red) I require and charge you (as you will answer at the dreadful day of judgment, when all the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed) that if either of you do know any impediment >> note 2 why ye may not be lawfully joined together in matrimony, that ye confess it. For be ye well assured, that so many as be coupled together otherwise than God's word doth allow, are not joined together by God, neither is their matrimony lawful.

At which day of marriage, if any man do allege and declare any impediment why they may not be coupled together in matrimony, by God's law or the laws of this realm, and will be bound, and sufficient sureties with him, to the parties, or else put in a caution to the full value of such charges as the persons to be married doth sustain to prove his allegation: >> note 3 then the Solemnization must be deferred unto such time as the truth to be tried. If no impediment be alleged, then shall the curate say unto the man.

(Red) N[ame]. wilt thou have this woman to thy wedded wife, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of matrimony? Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honor and keep her, in sickness, and in health? And forsaking all other, keep thee only to her, so long as you both shall live?

The man shall answer.

(Red) I will.

Then shall the priest say to the woman.

(Red) N. wilt thou have this man to thy wedded husband, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of matrimony? Wilt thou obey him and serve him, love, honor, and keep him, in sickness, and in health? And forsaking all other, keep thee only unto him, so long as you both shall live?

Then shall the minister say.

(Red) Who giveth this woman to be married unto this man?

And the minister receiving the woman at her father or friend's hand, shall cause the man to take the woman by the right hand, and so either to give their troth to other. The man first saying.

(Red) I N. take thee N. to be my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forth, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness, and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us depart, >> note 4 according to God's holy ordinance: And thereto I plight thee my troth.

Then shall they loose their hands, and the woman taking again the man by the right hand shall say.

(Red) I N. take thee N. to be my wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forth, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness, and in health, to love, cherish, and to obey, till death us depart, according to God's holy ordinance: And thereto I give thee my troth.

Then shall they again loose their hands, and the man shall give unto the woman a ring, laying the same upon the book with the accustomed duty >> note 5 to the priest and clerk. And the priest taking the ring, shall deliver it unto the man, to put it upon the fourth finger of the woman's left hand. And the man taught by the priest shall say.

(Red) With this ring I thee wed: with my body I thee worship: and with all my worldly goods I thee endow. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Then the man leaving the ring upon the fourth finger of the woman's left hand, the minister shall say.

(Red) O eternal God, creator and preserver of all mankind, giver of all spiritual grace, the author of everlasting life: Send thy blessing upon these thy servants, this man and this woman, whom we bless in thy name, that as Isaac and Rebecca lived faithfully together, so these persons may surely perform and keep the vow and covenant betwixt them made, whereof this ring given and received is a token and pledge, and may ever remain in perfect love and peace together, and live according unto thy laws, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Then shall the priest join their right hands together, and say.

(Red) Those whom God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.

Then shall the minister speak unto the people.

(Red) Forasmuch as N. and N. have consented in holy wedlock, and have witnessed the same before God and this company, and thereto have given and pledged their troth either to other, and have declared the same by giving and receiving of a ring, and by joining of hands: I pronounce that they be man and wife together. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

* * *

All ye which be married, or which intend to take the holy estate of matrimony upon you, hear what Holy Scripture doth say, as touching the duty of husbands toward their wives, and wives toward their husbands. Saint Paul (in his Epistle to the Ephesians, the fifth chapter) doth give this commandment to all married men.

"Ye husbands love your wives, even as Christ loved the Church, and hath given himself for it, to sanctify it, purging it in the fountain of water, through thy Word, that he might make it unto himself a glorious congregation, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing, but that it should be holy and blameless. So men are bound to love their own wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his own wife, loveth himself. For never did any man hate his own flesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord doth the congregation: for we are members of his body, of his flesh and of his bones.

For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This mystery is great, but I speak of Christ and of the congregation. Nevertheless, let any one of you so love his own wife, even as himself."

Like wise the same Saint Paul (writing to the Colossians) speaketh thus to all men that be married. "Ye men love your wives, and be not bitter unto them." (Col. 3.)

Hear also what Saint Peter the Apostle unto Christ, which was himself a married man, saith unto all men that are married. "Ye husbands, dwell with your wives according to knowledge, giving honor unto the wife as the weaker vessel, and as heirs together of the grace of life, so that your prayers be not hindered." (1 Pet. 3.)

Hitherto ye have heard the duty of the husband toward the wife.

Now likewise ye wives hear and learn your duty toward your husbands, even as it is plainly set forth in Holy Scripture.

Saint Paul (in the forenamed Epistle to the Ephesians) teacheth you thus, "Ye women submit yourselves unto your own husbands as unto the Lord, for the husband is the wife's head even as Christ is the head of the Church. And he is also the savior of the whole body. Therefore as the church or congregation is subject unto Christ, so likewise let the wives also be in subjection unto their husbands in all things." And again he saith, "Let the wife reverence her husband." And (in his Epistle to the Colossians) Saint Paul giveth you this short lesson, "Ye wives submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is convenient in the Lord." (Col. 3.)

Saint Peter also doth instruct you very godly, thus saying, "Let wives be subject to their own husbands, so that if any obey not the Word, they may be won without the Word, by the conversation >> note 6 of the wives, while they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear, whose apparel let it not be outward, with broided >> note 7 hair and trimming about with gold, either in putting on of gorgeous apparel, but let the hid man which is in the heart, be without all corruption, so that the spirit be mild and quiet, which is a precious thing in the sight of God. For after this manner (in the old time) did the holy women which trusted in God apparel themselves, being subject to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham calling him lord; whose daughters ye are made, doing well, and being not dismayed with any fear." (1 Pet. 3.)

© 2010 W.W. Norton and Company :  Site Feedback  :  Help  :  Credits  :  Home  :  Top of page