Wed-Flowers-art - 6/17/01
"Flowers for a Period Wedding" by Sarra of Caer Adamant (Sarah Dressler).
NOTE: See also the files: weddings-msg, p-weddings-bib, weddings-e-art, wed-FAQ,
wed-flwrs-FAQ, lavender-msg, roses-art, p-marriage-msg, Ger-marriage-msg.
This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set
of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.
These files are available on the Internet at:
Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author.
While the author will likely give permission for this work to be
reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first
or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.
Mark S. Harris
AKA: Stefan li Rous
FLOWERS FOR A PERIOD WEDDING
by Sarra of Caer Adamant
Plants and flowers have been used to decorate weddings since at least the
time of the ancient Greeks. In many ancient cultures, the Greeks included, paid
homage to the gifts of nature by incorporating them into all of their
celebrations. Brides from the earliest records wore a crown of flowers upon her
head. This circlet of flowers is seen in cultures from all over the world have
been a part of wedding attire since weddings have been celebrated.
With the advent of the British Navy bringing treasures to honor Queen
Elizabeth more then gold and coffee reached England. This was the dawning of
the plant hunters. With each ship that entered the British ports new plants
were introduced to the English. Ever since the countryside became a place of
relative peace and people no longer needed to live within protective town walls
gardens grew. Life was still hard, by modern standards, but the pleasure
garden came into its own during this period. Landowners set aside areas simply
to plant for beauty and pleasure. This timed well with the influx of plant
materials. Weddings bore witness to this new trend in gardening, as nosegays
were being made up with roses, dianthus, foxgloves, and even daffodils.
Even as late as the sixteenth century the word herb referred to all of the
plants in the garden. What we now call herbs were planted in among all the
other plants in a garden and were used similarly. We must keep in mind that
flowers as well as what we now refer to as herbs were used in cooking, medicines
as well as decorations.
In period the bridesmaids would take care of all the floral decorations,
they would make the bouquets and garlands as well as making little posies for
each of the guests. This is probably not practical for a modern wedding. But
many brides choose to have some hand in making their own flower arrangements.
If this idea appeals to you I suggest you make some practice arrangements in
advance to determine how many flowers you will need and how long it will take
you. Keep in mind that you will have a lot of other things to take care of at
the last minute, and you don't want to stay up all night arranging flowers the
night before your wedding.
The fashion during Elizabethan England was to strew fresh rushes and herbs
on the floors to sweeten the atmosphere. They also made it a common practice to
prepare potpourri, to freshen the air. For special occasions, like weddings,
they would be sure to include special herbs and flowers in the strewing herbs.
Gardens in Elizabethan England were used in a variety of ways. They were
a source of food, and medicines, as well as a trysting place for lovers, they
supplied flowers and herbs for nosegays and decorations as well as strewing
herbs for the floors, and there were many a banquet served in a formal garden.
Queen Elizabeth had a Maid of Honor on a fixed salary, whose job it was to keep
the queen supplied with fresh flowers and nosegays. The office of "Herb Strewer
to the Queen" was kept in place until as late as 1713.
Fresh flowers and herbs were a major component in masking the odors of
every day life as well as brightening up a room visually. Dr. Liminus, a Dutch
traveler, wrote of his stay in England 1560: "Their chambers and parlours
strawed over with sweet herbs refreshed the mee; their nosegays finely
intermingled with sundry sorts of fragraunte flowers, in their bed-chambers and
privy rooms, with comfortable smell cheered me up, and entirely delighted all my
senses." He went on in a comparison of England to Holland "Altho we do trimme
up our parlours with green boughs, fresh herbes or vine leaves, no nation does
it more decently, more trimly, none more sightly then they doe in England."
Bouquets, Nosegays & Tussie Mussies
The tradition of bridal bouquets dates back to before the Crusades. The
Saracens brides carried sprigs of orange blossom. The orange blossom has long
been a symbol of eternal love and fidelity, as well as a symbol of fertility.
The orange is evergreen and produces both fruit and flowers at the same time.
Some of the Crusaders brought this tradition with them when they returned home.
But as orange trees did not like the climate in England the flowers were chosen
from what was more readily available. Though some wealthy brides would have had
access to orange blossoms even in England. One choice for medieval brides was a
small bouquet of gilded marigolds that were dipped in rosewater. The marigolds
were thought to have aphrodisiac qualities and were sometimes eaten after the
Remember they did not have professional floral designers in period. The
flowers were done by loving but possibly not skilled hands. They would have
been gathered from the garden and local fields. The bouquets should be kept
simple, with herbs and simple old fashioned or wild looking flowers. Tie them
with ribbons that match your gown and maybe even bind a poem in with the
Nosegays were the first step towards formal bouquets. Prior to the Middle
Ages a bride might have carried a loosely gathered bunch of herbs or wild
flowers. During the Middle Ages this clutch of loose flowers became a small but
more formal round posey of herbs and cultivated flowers. These were often
chosen for meanings, but most frequently for their scent. The word nosegay
comes from a Middle English word that meant "something pretty for the nose to
The bride's bouquet was usually given to her, by her mother, and there was
great significance in the choice of flowers and the arrangement.
Some bride's bouquets had love knots hanging from them. Sometimes there would
be dozens of them, with small flowers or buds tucked into the knot. Other
brides chose to have three knots, on to represent herself, one for her groom and
one for future children.
If a bride was wealthy enough to own a prayer book she might have carried
that in place of any flowers. If you are not interested in carrying flowers and
are not religious then you could consider carrying a small book of poems or a
small elegant journal with your vows written inside. This journal could also be
used for your attendants to write you personal messages or remembrances of your
There are several options that would have been used by a Medieval or
Renaissance bride. One of the most prevalent garlands was made of rosemary and
roses. Anne of Cleves in her wedding to Henry VIII in 1540 wore a gold coronet
encircled with sprigs of rosemary. There are period references to brides
carrying the garland until after the ceremony then the garland was placed on her
head for the celebration.
Corsages would not have been worn. However in period everyone carried a
posy or had scented flowers or herbs on their person, sometimes they were pinned
onto or sewn into their clothes. One option for the people you would ordinarily
give a corsage to in a modern wedding is a small posy or a tussie mussie. It
should be made with herbs as well as flowers, maybe decorated with ribbons.
Bride's favors (in lieu of boutonnieres)
You may want to have ribbons that match the colors of your gown or the
maid's gowns given to the men. They could be tied around their arms or pinned
on to their costumes as you might pin a boutonniere. If you really want to have
boutonnieres you can create small posies like miniature versions of the
Bridesmaids posies and pin them to the men's attire. It was not uncommon for
men to wear small posies made of fragrant herbs about their persons to mask the
smells common to every day life in the period.
There would not have been flowers on the alter, however a garland of
greens and symbolic flowers and herbs might frame the door or even decking the
If your site allows flowers to be tossed by the flower girl you could
include fragrant herbs to her basket. Rosemary was one of the most popular
strewing herbs for period weddings because of its association with remembrance
Mint and rosemary were both popular strewing herbs and were often used in
weddings. The rosemary symbolized constancy and friendship, the mint was
thought to refresh the brain and make one more alert, and improve the memory.
In the Middle ages mint was dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
Feel free to garland everything with greens. It was not uncommon to have
garlands of herbs; berries and greens hung for Christmas and other holidays and
weddings would not have been left out in the desire to make a space more
festive. Suggested greens for garlands that are in period would be boxwood, ivy
Wheat and grains played a major role in period weddings as a symbol of
fertility and in reference to prosperity. As a centerpiece or general
decoration that is a direct tie to the Middle Ages you could have a sheaf of
wheat bound with ivy standing on a table or buffet.
The elaborate centerpieces we have come to expect at a modern wedding
would be out of place in period. Though as far as I can tell, according to
paintings and manuscript illuminations the flowers were not generally placed on
the tables. I have read descriptions of banquets that the master required
servants to place fragrant flowers and fragrant waters around the room on any
other flat surface. As to how they would look, they would most likely have
simple vessels that held water and the herbs & flowers gathered from the garden
and nearby fields. You can use pitchers or simple vases. Try to avoid
arrangements that obviously make use of floral foam, as that is truly a modern
You can use fruit; however try to keep in mind that most European
especially northern countries would not have access to summer fruits in the
winter. We can get just about any kind of fruit at any time of year but they
could not air freight fruit and did not have the level of hybridization we have
now that gives us such variety. You can make a pyramid of fruit on a platter, a
wreath, or in a bowl or compote if they look authentic to the period.
If you are having long tables or would like to consider small arrangements
for each place setting you could core apples or a large green pears and fill
with tiny herbs & flowers. These are decorative smell great, without
overpowering, and if you choose edible flowers they can be eaten.
Decorated napkins. If you are using cloth napkins & napkin rings or have
the napkins folded in an appropriate fashion you could tuck a tiny nosegay of
herbs & flowers into the fold/ring. Instead of traditional napkin rings you
could make up slips of paper with the symbolism of the herbs & flowers you have
chosen for their posies and tape/glue them into rings for the napkins to be
A popular decoration at Elizabethan weddings was the kissing knot. The
bride and groom would be seated under knots of ribbons with sprigs of herbs
tucked into them. An alternative is a wreath of herbs (primarily rosemary)
decorated with ribbons suspended above the heads of the bridal couple.
Berrall, Julia S. A History of Flower Arrangement, New York: Viking
de Bray, Lys. 'Fantastic Garlands an Anthology of Flowers & Plants from
Shakespeare', Poole, Dorset: Blandford Press, 1982
Carter, Annie Burnham. 'Shakespeare Gardens Design, Plants & Flower
Lore', Philadelphia: Dorrance & Co. Publishers, 1937
Foote, Bigham, J. 'The Christian Marriage Ceremony', New York: Anson
D.F. Randolf and Company, 1871
Hunter, David G. editor. 'Marriage in the Early Church', Minneapolis:
Fortress Press, 1992
Innes, Miranda & Perry, Clay. 'Medieval Flowers', London: published by
Kyle Cathie Ltd., 1997
James, Edwin Oliver. 'Marriage Customs Through the Ages', New York:
Kerr, Jessica. Illus. Dowden, Anne Ophelia. 'Shakespearešs Flowers',
Belgium, New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co., 1969
Kirschenbaum, Howard and Stensrud. 'The Wedding Book', Rockland, New
York: The Seabury Press, 1974
Medwick, J. 'Period Flowers', Random House Value Publishing Inc., April
Nichols, Beverley. 'The Art of Floral Arrangement', New York: Viking
Reppert, Bertha. 'Herbs for Weddings and Other Celebrations: A Treasury
of Recipes Gifts & Decorations' Publisher Pownal, Vermont: Storey
Singleton, Esther. 'The Shakespeare Garden', New York: Century Co.,
1922, Republished Detroit: Gale Research Co, Book Tower, 1974
Stevenson, Kenneth. 'Nuptial Blessing A Study if Christian Marriage Rites', New
York: Oxford University Press, 1983
Copyright 2001 by Sarah Dressler, PO Box #157, St. Georges, DE 19733
<Floriligeum@aol.com>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related
publications, provided the author is credited and receives a copy.
[Note - Sarah is a professional florist and runs a business called St. Georges
Florilegium in St. Georges, Deleware, specializing in flowers for events,
especially weddings. Those in her area looking for such services, might want to
look her up. -Stefan]
If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in
the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also
appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being
reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.
Copyright © Mark S. Harris (Lord Stefan li Rous)
All Rights Reserved
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Generated: Sun Jun 17 2001