Marriage Customs Of Scotland
( Originally Published 1897 )
THE old Scottish custom of the " Penny Wedding " has been thus described :—" When there was a marriage of two poor people who were esteemed by any of the neighbouring gentry, they agreed among themselves to meet and have a dance upon the occasion, the result of which was a handsome donation, in order to assist the new-married couple in their outset in life."
Another writer says : A Penny Wedding is when the expense of the marriage entertainment is not de-frayed by the young couple, or their relations, but by a club among the guests. Two hundred people, of both sexes, will sometimes be convened on an occasion of this kind."
In the same work the Minister of Monquitter, speaking of the time of " our fathers," observes :—" Shrove Tuesday, Valentine Eve, the Rood-day, &c., were accompanied by pastimes and practices congenial to the youthful and ignorant mind. The market-place was to the peasant what the drawing-room is to the peer, the theatre of show and of consequence. The scene, however, which involved every amusement and every joy of an idle and illiterate age was a Penny Bridal. When a pair were contracted they, for a stipulated consideration, bespoke their wedding at a certain tavern, and then ranged the country in every direction to solicit guests. One, two, and even three hundred would have convened on these occasions to make merry at their own expense for two or more days. This scene of feasting, drinking, dancing, wooing, fighting, &c., was always enjoyed with the highest relish, and, until obliterated by a similar scene, furnished ample materials for rural mirth and rural scandal. But now the Penny Bridal is reprobated as an index of want of money and of want of taste. The market-place is generally occupied by people of business. Athletic amusements are confined to schoolboys. Dancing, taught by itinerant masters, cards, and conversation, are the amusements now in vogue ; and the pleasures of the table, enlivened by a moderate glass, are frequently enjoyed in a suitable degree by people of every class."
Of the parish of Avoch, co. Ross, it is said :
Marriages in this place are generally conducted in the style of Penny Weddings. Little other fare is provided except bread, ale, and whisky. The relatives, who assemble in the morning, are entertained with a dram and a drink gratis. But, after the ceremony is performed, every man pays for his drink. The neighbours then convene in great numbers. A fiddler or two, with perhaps a boy to scrape on an old violoncello, are engaged. A barn is allotted for the dancing, and a house for drinking ; and thus they make merry for two or three days, till Saturday night. On Sabbath, after returning from church, the married couple give a sort of dinner or entertainment to the present friends on both sides : so that these weddings, on the whole, bring little gain or loss to the parties."
Jamieson, in his Etymological Dictionary, quotes an Act of the General Assembly, 13th February, 1645, for the restraint of Pennie Brydals.
The following account, taken from a story published in the earlier part of the present century, will give the reader a fair idea of the way in which a Penny Wedding used to be celebrated in Scotland :
Johnny Stewart first saw Jeannie Buie at the kirk, when she excited lively emotion within him. He after-wards met her at Elgin fair, and gave her a bumper of drink, while her master was discussing the price of cattle. He saw her a mile or two on the road home that night. The next year it was arranged they should be married when Martinmas came round.
Jeannie left her place on Whitsunday so that she might have time to spin her wool for blankets, and lint for sheets, before she got married. Three weeks before the wedding the bride and bridegroom went the round to invite their friends. On the eve of the marriage-day the friends all came to the Feet-washing. They drank a good deal of mountain dew in its original state," and by ten o'clock they were very merry and insisted that Jeannie should have her feet washed. A tub filled with hot water was placed in the middle of the room, and a ring from the finger of a married woman was thrown into it.
Jeannie, blushingly, removed her stockings and plunged her feet into the water, and the lads and lasses crowded round the tub that they might wash the bride's feet and, perchance, find the ring, for the person that finds it will be the first to get married. When this ceremony was over, and the company had had some pulls from the Tappit Hen " (a large bottle containing four quarts), they became exceedingly jovial, and one member of the company after the other was called upon for a song. An admirer of Jeannie's sang :
" There's mony lasses round about
The grandmother also sang about the " good old times " and the sad alterations of the present day, whereupon the men got into a heated discussion about the " march of intellect." This being stopped, they drank " the health of the King—God bless him," and after a final glass of Glenlivet the company separated.
On the wedding morning Jeannie packed her wardrobe in a chest, and a cart was loaded with her belongings. The bride's party set out after breakfast for the manse, where the ceremony was to be per-formed.
One of the young men, who escorted the bride, carried a bottle of whiskey, out of which he must fill a glass for the first person the party met on their way ; this person—called " the First Foot "—must also turn back and walk a mile or so with the wedding party, be his business never so urgent.
The bridegroom's party was waiting at the manse, and the wedding took place without delay. Both parties mixed, and proceeded to Fallowlea, the home of the young couple, the bagpiper playing "She's woo'd an' married an' a'," and the company singing the song on their way. At the cross-roads numerous people joined the party, for many intended being present at the wedding. When they arrived at the cottage the grandmother threw a number of pieces of bride-cake over the young couple's heads, as a token that Jeannie Stewart was welcome to a house with plenty in it." Just before she entered the house a lad came up, claimed and took a kiss from the bride, to which he had a good right, as he had been successful " in running for the Kiles." For when the company were about 200 yards from the house, a number of young men started to run to the house, and whoever reached the homestead first, claimed the kiss.
The bride then took her place at the head of the table among her relations ; the rest of the company took their dinner in the barn. The fiddlers fiddled away during the meal to their hearts' content, and when it was over " two decent middle-aged men " went round, one with a glass of whiskey for every person, and the other with a basin to receive the shilling that each paid as the price of the meal.
Then the bridegroom led out the bride to the green, and they, with another lad and lass, danced the " Shamit Reel " before the company. This reel was called the " Shamit " because it was considered that it would take away the bashfulness under which the bride laboured before so many people.
Dancing was kept up in the house and barn with great spirit until the evening ; for every lad that chose to give a " bawbee " to the fiddlers could have what tune he liked played a dozen times over. When the fiddlers made a pause the lads cried " kissing time," it being the custom that every lad should then kiss his partner. They kissed one another right heartily and made " the roof and rafters dirl " with the sound.
At twelve the bride went to bed, and after a short time had elapsed her husband entered the room accompanied by a noisy troop of friends. She then threw her stocking in the air, and all present scrambled to clutch it, for the virtue in the stocking was, that who-ever gained possession of it would be the first to be married. The best man presented whiskey to the married couple and the company, and then all departed, the best man locking the door of the bedroom. The rest of the party kept up dancing until six o'clock. At nine o'clock next morning the married couple were presented with a glass of whiskey before they got up.
During the next two days the dancing was kept up, and on Sunday about forty couples accompanied the bride and bridegroom to church.
It may be mentioned here that, at Scotch country weddings, not very long ago, the bridegroom's men and others ran, as in Wales, straight from the church to the bride's house, in order to see who could first bring the intelligence that she had been duly married. Nor was the feat without danger, for in every village where they might be expected the young men were received with shots from pistols and guns, and if any men stumbled, or were somehow upset, there was great merriment. At the bride's house a bowl of broth was prepared for the winner of the race. Hence the expression "running for the brose." It appears that sometimes these races took place on horseback. A Scotch newspaper, The Courier, of January 16, 1813, records a case in which a young lady came in first :—" Immediately after the marriage, four men of the bride's company started for the broos, from Mauchline to Whitehall, a distance of thirteen miles ; and when one of them was sure of the prize, a young lady, who had started after they were a quarter of a mile off, outstripped them all, and notwithstanding the interruption of getting a shoe fastened on her mare at the smithy on the road, she gained the prize, to the astonishment of both parties."
In Great Britain, as in some other countries, May used to be considered unlucky for marriages, especially May 14th. The 13th was old May Day, and no doubt the festivities connected with May Day celebrations were often marred by much unseemly license, being survivals of old Heathen observances. The Christian Church, in refusing to countenance certain practices, probably caused the whole of this month to be avoided for formal and proper unions.
In the Orkney Islands they prefer to marry only during the waxing moon, or at flood-tide. A bright day is generally a good omen : " Blest is the bride the sun shines on " is a well-known saying.
The Fairies, or little-folk," so skilful in magic, are supposed to be active at these times ; hence no green should be worn at weddings among the Lowland Scotch, for green is the fairies' colour, and whoever wears it will be overtaken by ruin. They would even go so far, in some cases, as to banish green vegetables from the meal. In the Highlands, the bridegroom must put on his shoe without horn, or lace ; otherwise the witches may play their evil tricks. Also, the people were careful to let no dog run between the bridal pair.