A marriage is the legally or formally recognized union of (usually) two people. This socially recognized union establishes rights and obligations between the spouses, as well as any biological or adopted children and affinity. Numerous marriage customs are described in A Song of Ice and Fire. These customs vary considerably between the lands and major faiths, i.e. followers of the old gods, the Faith of the Seven, R'hllor, and the Drowned God. All appear to be religious ceremonies between one man and one woman (who should not be more closely related than first cousins), involving the exchange of vows in the presence of particular sacred witnesses e.g. a septon (for the Faith of the Seven), a heart tree (for the old gods), or a priest or priestess (in case of the Drowned God or R'hllor). The wedding is followed by a feast, where the bride and groom eat and drink with everyone. Afterwards, the bedding takes place, where the marriage is consummated.
In the Valyrian Freehold it had been custom among the dragonlords to marry brother to sister, or, if that was not possible, an uncle to a niece, or an aunt to a nephew. Also accepted were polygamous marriages, though this practice was less common. The Valyrians had their own religious ceremonies, though a priest does not seem to be a necessity here, as Queen Visenya Targaryen was capable of officiating a wedding performed per this Valyrian ceremony. Following Aegon's Conquest, House Targaryen continued their incestuous marriage customs, even though the Faith of the Seven, the main faith in the southern kingdoms of Westeros, saw incest as a vile sin. This resulted in an uprising by the Faith Militant, which began during the reign of King Aenys I Targaryen, and continued during the reign of King Maegor I Targaryen.
Most betrothals among nobility are to ally with another family, not for love; such marriages of convenience are also common among the middle class and peasants. According to Stannis Baratheon, "the surest way to seal a new alliance is with a marriage". Betrothals and marriages can be part of a pledge of support: For example the marriage of Margaery Tyrell to King Renly Baratheon, King Joffrey I Baratheon, and later King Tommen I Baratheon, the offer of a marriage of King Cleon to Queen Daenerys Targaryen, and the secret marriage pact, in which Viserys Targaryen is promised military support from Dorne in exchange for marrying Princess Arianne Martell.
The head of house is expected to arrange matches for his or her children and any unwed younger siblings. Although a lord cannot force the marriage if their dependent refuses to say the vows, this would carry serious consequences. An example is Ser Brynden Tully, whose refusal of a girl his brother and liege, Lord Hoster Tully, had chosen for him, caused a severe strain on their relationship. While lords do not necessarily arrange marriages for their vassals or household knights, they would be wise to consult him and respect his feelings when arranging their own matches. Betrothals can be made at a large variety of ages. Children might be as young as two years old (e.g. ladies Baela and Rhaena Targaryen, though generally betrothals are made when the people involved are somewhat older. Eleven is considered a more normal age for a betrothal, though when severe political matters are involved, children might be younger (e.g., Myrcella Baratheon, who at nine years old, was betrothed to eleven-year old Trystane Martell to form an alliance between the Iron Throne and Dorne during the War of the Five Kings.)
Betrothals can be broken. However, this can have serious consequences. When Prince Duncan Targaryen broke his betrothal to a daughter of Lord Lyonel Baratheon to marry Jenny of Oldstones, Lord Lyonel rose in rebellion. When King Robb Stark broke his betrothal to a girl from House Frey to marry Jeyne Westerling, the Freys refused to lend him any further aid in the War of the Five Kings, resulting in the Red Wedding.
If a nobleman who has been betrothed dies before a political marriage can occur, a sibling or heir may take his place. An example is the case of Brandon Stark, who died before he could be wed to Catelyn Tully, after which his younger brother and the new Lord of Winterfell, Eddard Stark, married her in Brandon's place during Robert's Rebellion.
Though dowries in the Seven Kingdoms are paid by the family of the bride to the groom’s family, in the Free Cities this might not be the common practice, as King Daeron II Targaryen paid a dowry to the Archon of Tyrosh as had been promised by his father, when his half-brother Daemon Blackfyre married Rohanne of Tyrosh.
Age at marriage
Just as men and women can be betrothed at a large variety of ages, they can also be wed at a large variety of ages, which might depend on the necessity of an heir, or the political environment. While marriages to girls who have not yet reached their majority or even their first flowering have happened, they are rare. Moreover, bedding these girls before they are at the least flowered is seen as perverse. Generally, weddings are postponed until the girl has passed into maidenhood with her flowering (i.e., has had her first menstruation). Most highborn girls have their first menstruation at the age of twelve or thirteen. It is not uncommon for a girl to be married after she has had her first menstruation, or within the first year following her first flowering, though usually weddings are postponed until the bride is even older, closer to her majority (i.e., the age of sixteen) or even beyond (e.g., Catelyn Tully). Nonetheless, marriage have also occurred to infants (e.g., the marriage of the infant Lady Ermesande Hayford, no more than a year old, to Tyrek Lannister, so claim could be placed on her family’s lands) though this happens rarely..
In Westeros, the wedding ceremony is a religious ceremony. The bride's father, or the person standing in his place (usually kin or whoever else is closest to living kin), will escort the bride to her future husband and those presiding over the marriage. Thus far, all the wedding gowns that have thus far been described have been a shade of white – Sansa Stark wore a gown of ivory samite, Margaery Tyrell wore ivory silk, and Jeyne Poole wore white lambs-wool.
In case of the Faith of the Seven, a septon presides over the ceremony, which involves prayers, vows, and singing, and takes place in a sept. The bride wears a cloak in the colors of her house, called the “maiden's cloak”. The bride's father, or the person standing in his place, is to remove the cloak from her shoulders, so that her husband can place a cloak of his own house colors about her shoulders. This signifies the bride passing from her father's protection into her husband's protection. The bride and groom speak the words “With this kiss I pledge my love”, potentially followed with an additional “… and take you for my lord and husband” and “ …and take you for my lady and wife” by the bride and groom respectively, after which the septon will declare them to be man and wife, stating they are “one flesh, one heart, one soul, now and forever”.
For those who follow the old gods, ceremonies are significantly shorter, and contain no priests. The bride is escorted to her groom, who awaits her in front of the weirwood tree in the godswood, and a ceremonial conversation follows, where the identity of the bride, of the groom, and of the person giving the bride away are established. The bride is asked to accept her husband, and upon her agreement (“I take this man”) bride and groom join hands, kneel before the heart tree, and bow their heads in token of submission. When they rise following a moment of silent prayer, the groom removes the maiden’s cloak, and places the bride’s cloak around her shoulders, after which he will carry her to the feast in his arms.
Wedding customs in Essos differ somewhat from Westerosi ceremonies. Weddings done under the Lord of Light do involve priests. A priest (or priestess) recites ceremonial prayers, which are answered by the wedding guests. The priest and groom await the bride by a ditchfire. The bride is escorted to the priest, who first asks the bride to identify herself, and next asks who comes to claim the bride. Both bride and groom are asked whether they will share their fire with their spouse-to-be, to warm him/her "when the night is dark and full of terrors". Bride and groom are to leap over the ditchfire together, to emerge as one. Following this, the groom removes the maiden’s cloak and places the bride’s cloak around the bride’s shoulders.
As is traditional in Ghiscari wedding customs as practised in Meereen, the female relatives of the groom examine the bride's womb and female parts, to ensure her fertility. Three Graces witness this ancient ritual, and recite prayers. The bride is to be stripped completely naked for this purpose. After the examinations are done, the women eat a cake baked specially for betrothals, which men are forbidden to taste. Usually, the bride is to wash the groom's feet, signifying that she will be her husband's handmaid. Under special circumstances, it might be the groom who washes the feet of the bride. When Daenerys Targaryen marries Hizdahr zo Loraq, she sits in an ivory chair whilst he washes her feet with water from a golden bowl, while fifty eunuchs sing to them. The bride traditionally wears a tokar of white silk, with dark red veils. The tokar is fringed with baby pearls, which symbolize fertility. Weddings of the highest nobility in Meereen takes place at the Temple of the Graces. The ceremony might last up to four hours, and when husband and wife emerge from the temple, they are bound together wrist and ankle with chains of yellow gold.
Both the different Westerosi wedding ceremonies as well as the Ghiscari ceremony is followed by a feast, which in turn is followed by the bedding. For highborn weddings done by the Faith of the Seven, a wedding pie will be presented during the feast, which the bride and groom cut open. The pie is filled with living birds (e.g. doves, bluejays, skylarks, pigeons, mockingbirds, nightingales, sparrows, parrots or other songbirds), which fly away once the pie is cut open.
It is considered to be ill luck to refuse a knight hospitality on your wedding day. Tourney's might be held to celebrate a wedding, though it is not customary to have melees at a wedding.
Among the Dothraki, weddings occur beneath the open sky. The ceremony might last the entire day, during which the guests feast, drink, dance, and fight. A wedding without at least three deaths is seen as a dull afair. Towards the end of the ceremony, the bride is presented with her bride gifts. A khaleesi will be presented with a gift from each of her husbands bloodriders, which she is to decline and give to her husband instead. Following the receiving of the gifts, the khal and khaleesi will consumate their marriage. Following the wedding, the khal is to present his new bride to the dosh khaleen at Vaes Dothrak.
Following the feast, the bedding takes place. The bride is escorted to her bedroom, usually by the male guests from the feast, who will undress the bride along the way while making rude jokes. The women at the feast will do the groom the same honors. Usually, once the bride and groom are in the bedchamber they are left alone, though wedding guests might stand on the other side of the door, shouting suggestions. Nonetheless, in some cases, witnesses might be present for the bedding, though it is unknown how far this witness duty goes.
Women, more so for noble women, are generally expected to be virgins on their first wedding night. After some weddings, the bedsheets are displayed to show the blood, thereby proving the breaking of the bride’s maidenhead and thus her virginity at her wedding night. However, since it is known that horse riding can break a girl’s maidenhead, few families are insistent on physical proof.
Even though it is rare for a marriage to occur before the bride has had her first flowering, they do sometimes occur. However, it is considered to be perverse to bed a bride who is so young. Nonetheless, it is considered to be bad luck for the marriage if the man to sleep apart from his bride on their wedding night.
Lords in Westeros once had the right to the first night, the custom of bedding newly-wed women before their husbands. Queen Alysanne convinced King Jaehaerys I to abolish it, but it is still practiced illegally in some parts of the north.
Legality, Divorce and Annulment
Vows said at swordpoint are not held to be valid, and in theory, a person cannot be declared to be married if they refuse to say the vows. However, there are still issues of consent. Marriages may be conducted between children or babies, and even if the marriage occurred under force, a lord might claim the marriage to be legal if e.g. lands are at stake.
In the cult of the Drowned God, it is possible for someone to be married by proxy without their consent and without saying the vows for oneself. However, as such a marriage has thus not been consummated, it can easily be set aside again.
Divorce in Westeros is not common. Instead, man and wife might decide to live seperately (e.g., Doran Martell and Mellario). Nonetheless, a king is able to put his queen aside – even if she has given birth to his children – and marry another.
However, marriages in the Seven Kingdoms can be ended in several ways. In the Faith of the Seven, a marriage that has not been consummated can be set aside by the High Septon or a Council of Faith. Neither bride nor groom needs to be present for an annulment; However, it must be requested by at least one of the wedded pair. The role and procedure of a Council of Faith has not yet been stated. Another way of ending a marriage is by having the bride join the silent sisters. When a man takes the black and takes the vows of the Night's Watch, the marriage is over as well.
While most marriages are between only one man and one woman, polygamous marriages do occur in the known world.
In the times before the Andals came to Westeros, King Garland II "The Bridegroom" Greenhand, King of the Reach, had multiple wives. In order to marry the daughter of Lord Lymond Hightower, he put aside his other wives aside. And according to the songs, Storm King Ronard Storm had twenty-three wives.
Though not a common practice, the dragonlords and sorcerer princes in Valyria sometimes took multiple wives. King Aegon I Targaryen, who invaded Westeros and united six of the Seven Kingdoms under the rule of one monarch, had wed both of his sisters. While the Faith of the Seven does not allow polygamy and considers it to be a sin, Aegon I's rule was accepted. In fact, during his Conquest, Aegon received a proposal from the Storm King, Argilac Durrandon, who offered his daughter Argella as a wife to Aegon, while Queen Regent Sharra Arryn of the Kingdom of Mountain and Vale offered herself in marriage to Aegon as well. Aegon’s younger son, Maegor I Targaryen, is the last Targaryen known to have taken multiple wives. In doing so, he upset the Faith of the Seven, resulting in his own exile. However, according to Maester Yandel, Daemon I Blackfyre believed he would be able to take two wives, and according to Jorah Mormont, Daenerys Targaryen is able to take two husbands.
While followers of the Drowned God may take only one "rock wife", with whom they have trueborn children, they are allowed to take multiple “salt wives”. Children fathered on salt wives are not considered to be bastards, and may even inherit if there are no heirs by a man’s rock wife.
Among the Dothraki, at least the Khal is known to be allowed to practise polygamy. For example, Khal Jommo is known to have four wives. Additionally, according to the "ancient ways", a Khal might share his Khaleesi with his bloodriders, a custom still practiced in some khalasars.
What has love to do with marriage? A prince should know better.
- Definition of "marriage" obtained from English Oxford Dictionaries, retrieved on December 27, 2017
- Definition of "marriage" as retrieved from Wikipedia on December 27, 2017
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