In the Medieval times, marriage was quite different than today. Women didn't have a choice as to who they would marry and, most of the time, women didn't even know the man before they wed.
However, men were sometimes able to choose their bride. Marriage back then was not based on love; most marriages were political arrangements. Husbands and wives were generally strangers until they first met. If love was involved at all, it came after the couple had been married. Even if love did not develop through marriage, the couple generally developed a friendship of some sort.
The arrangement of marriage was done by the children's parents. In the middle ages, children were married at a young age. Girls were as young as 12 when they married, and boys as young as 17. The arrangement of the marriage was based on monetary worth. The family of the girl who was to be married gives a dowry, or donation, to the boy she is to marry. The dowry goes with her at the time of the marriage and stays with the boy forever.
After the marriage was arranged, a wedding notice was posted on the door of the church. The notice was put up to ensure that there were no grounds for prohibiting the marriage. The notice stated who was to be married, and if anyone knew any reasons the two could not marry they were to come forward with the reason. If the reason was a valid one, the wedding would be prohibited.
There were several reasons for prohibiting a marriage. One reason was consanguinity, meaning the couple was too closely related. If the boy or the girl had taken a monastic or religious vow, the marriage was than also prohibited. Other reasons that prohibited marriage, but were not grounds for a divorce, were rape, adultery and incest. A couple could also not be married during a time of fasting, such as lent or advent, and a couple not be married by someone who had killed someone.
The church ceremony in the middle ages took place outside the church door before entering for a nuptial mass. During the ceremony in front of the church doors the man stood on the right side and the woman stood on the left side, facing the door of the church. This was because the female was formed out of a rib in the left side of Adam by God. The priest begins by asking if anyone present knows of any reason why that couple should not be married. The priest also then asks the bride and groom so they may confess any reasons for prohibiting their marriage. (Amt, pg 84)
Many of the items and rituals that took place during the time of a wedding have become traditions and are practiced today. The marriage ceremony, for example, contains much of the same wording that was used in the middle ages. Today, the man and the woman stand on the same sides of the altar as they did then. The wedding ceremony of today also includes a ring exchange, and the ring is placed on the fourth finger, the same finger it was placed on during the middle ages. In the middle ages a couple and their families would have a large feast after the wedding, this is still carried on in today's society with the wedding reception.
In today’s marriages, divorce is acceptable for practically any reason. In the middle ages there were few reasons the wedding could be dissolved. One reason was if either the man or woman were not of legal age, 12 for girls and 14 for boys. If the husband or wife had previously made a religious or monastic vow or were not Christian, the marriage would be dissolved. The last reason a marriage could end was if the woman, not the man, was incapable of sexual relations.
Source(s): Amt, Emilie. Women's Lives in Medieval Europe.New York, Routledge:1993