Soldier in uniform and bride in white leaving a church

9.6 Solemnization of Matrimony (from the Book of Common Prayer)

The Marriage Ceremony from the Book of Common Prayer

Instead of telling you a story about what we can gather from historical documents, this post is mostly an actual historical document. If that’s not your jam, give it a break and come back for the next regular episode on the African-American bride.

The Book of Common Prayer

In 1549, Thomas Cranmer, archbishop of Canterbury, authorized the first Book of Common Prayer for use in the fairly recently formed Church of England. It included a section called “The Forme of Solemnizacion of Matrimonie.”

Cranmer is generally given credit for having written it. He certainly directed that it should be written. The Book of Common Prayer was subsequently revised several times, but I have compared multiple versions and the differences to this section are pretty minimal. The Church of England still likes the 1662 version today, and yes, the bride still promises to obey her husband in that version. The Anglican church in North America revised as recently as 2019, and no, the bride does not promise to obey in that version. But overall, the sentiment and much of the language remain the same.

Besides the slight revisions, there were times when the Book of Common Prayer was in favor and also times when it was out. The Catholic Mary I didn’t use it, of course, because it wasn’t Catholic. Ironically, the Puritans under Oliver Cromwell also didn’t use it because it had too much Catholic influence. Sometimes you just can’t win.

Except that it did win, because overall it was in favor more often than it was out. So as I read this, you can imagine many an English bride on her wedding day: Anne Hathaway who married William Shakespeare in 1582. Pocahontas (not English) who married John Rolfe (yes, English) in 1614. Martha Custis, who was still an English subject when she married George Washington in 1759. Queen Victoria, who married Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha in 1840. Poet Elizabeth Barrett who married poet Robert Browning in 1846. I could go on with more and more brides up to and including Kate Middleton who married Prince William in 2011. The following service would have been familiar to all of them, with a few slight variations from time to time. Here (with modernized spelling for your reading convenience) is:


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

And if the persons that would be married dwell in diverse 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 Matrimonie, the persons to be married shall come into the body of the church, with their friends and neighbours. And there the priest shall thus say:

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 honourable estate instituted of God in paradise, in the time of man’s innocence, signifying unto us the mysticall 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 honourable among all men; and therefore is not to be enterprised, nor taken in hand unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly, to satisfy men’s carnal lustes 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 the which matrimony was ordained. One cause 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 sinne, and to avoid fornication, that such persons as be married, might live chastly in matrimony, 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 so together: Let him now speak, or else hereafter for ever hold his peace.

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

I require and charge you (as you will answer at the dread full day of judgement, when the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed) that if either of you do know any impediment, 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 of God, neither is their matrimony lawful.

At which day of marriage if any man do allege any impediment why they may not be coupled together in matrimony, and will be bound, and sureties with him, to the parties, or else put in a caution to the full value of such charges as the person’s to be married do sustain to prove his allegation: then the Solemnization must be deferred, unto such time as the truth be tried. If no impediment be alleged, then shall the Curate say unto the man.

[Name], 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,

I will.

Then shall the priest say to the woman.

[Name], 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 to him, so long as you both shall live?

The woman shall answer

I will.

Then shall the Minister say,

Who geveth this woman to be married to this man?

And the minister receiving the woman at her father or friend’s hands: 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.

I [Name] take thee [Name] to my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness, and in health, to love and to cherish, til death us depart: according to God’s holy ordinance: And thereto I plight thee my troth.

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

I [Name] take thee [Name] to my wedded 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, 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 lock their hands, and the man shall give unto the woman a ring, and other tokens of spousage, as gold or silver, laying the same upon the book, and the Priest taking the ring shall deliver it unto the man to put it upon the fourth finger of the woman’s left hande. And the man taught by the priest, shall say.

With this ring I thee wed. This golde and silver I thee give. 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,

Let us pray.

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 (after bracelets and jewels of gold given of the one to the other for tokens of their matrimony) 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 to thy laws; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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

Those whom God hath joined together: let no man put asunder.

Then shall the minister speak unto the people.

Forasmuch as [Name] and [Name] have consented together in holy wedlock, and have witnessed the same here 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 gold and silver, and by joining of hands: I pronounce that they be man and wife together. In the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

And the minister shall add this blessing:

God the Father bless you.   God the Son keep you. God the Holy Ghost lighten your understanding. The Lord mercifully with his favour look upon you, and so fill you with all spiritual benediction, and grace, that you may have remission of your sins in this life, and in the world to come, life everlasting. Amen.


The service is not over at this point, but I am almost done with this service because after that the priest is instructed to read either Psalm 128 or Psalm 67, according to preference. Whose preference? It does not make clear. I hope the bride’s.

And then they do the traditional call and response of Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, etc. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, visit some churches. It’ll be educational.

There is an optional blessing for women who are still in childbearing years.

Then the priest is supposed to give a sermon, but Cranmer helpfully provides a sample sermon for any priest who doesn’t want to bother writing his own. Long live plagiarism.

The sermon Cranmer writes is basically an elaboration on the writings of Paul on the subject of marriage, and according to the traditional interpretations of Paul, he wasn’t a big fan. Anyway, he admonishes husbands to love and cherish their wives. Wives are admonished to submit and obey, blah, blah, blah.

And finally the solemnization of matrimony wraps up with:

The new married persons (the same day of their marriage) must receive the holy communion.

And that’s it. The wedding is over. Married bliss can begin.


The Book of Common Prayer can be found in full in various places, including:

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