A popular email hoax has spread all sorts of misinformation about the Middle Ages and "The Bad Old Days." Here we address medieval weddings and bride hygiene.
From the Hoax
Most people got married in June because they took their yearly bath in May and still smelled pretty good by June. However, they were starting to smell so brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odor. Hence the custom today of carrying a bouquet when getting married.
In the agricultural communities of medieval England, the most popular months for weddings were January, November, and October,1 when the harvest was past and the time for planting had not yet arrived. Late autumn and winter were also when animals were usually slaughtered for food, so freshly butchered beef, pork, mutton, and similar meats would be available for the wedding feast, which often coincided with annual festivals.
Summer weddings, which might also coincide with annual festivals, enjoyed some popularity, as well. June was indeed a good time to take advantage of good weather and the arrival of new crops for a wedding festival, as well as fresh flowers for the ceremony and celebrations. The use of flowers in wedding ceremonies goes back to ancient times.2
Depending on the culture, flowers have numerous symbolic meanings, some of the most significant being loyalty, purity, and love. In the late fifteenth century, roses were popular in medieval Europe for their connection to romantic love and were used in many ceremonies, including weddings.
As for "yearly baths," the idea that medieval people rarely bathed is a persistent but false one. Most people washed on a regular basis. Going without washing was considered a penance even in the early Middle Ages. Soap, possibly invented by the Gauls sometime before Christ, was in widespread use throughout Europe by the end of the ninth century and made its first appearance in cake form in the twelfth century. Public bathhouses were not uncommon, although their ostensible purpose was often secondary to their clandestine use by prostitutes.3
In short, there were numerous opportunities for medieval people to cleanse their bodies. Thus, the prospect of going a full month without washing, and then appearing at her wedding with a bouquet of flowers to hide her stench, is not something a medieval bride was likely to consider any more than a modern bride would.
- Hanawalt, Barbara, The Ties that Bound: Peasant Families in Medieval England (Oxford University Press, 1986), p. 176.
- garland" Encyclopædia Britannica Accessed April 9, 2002; verified June 26, 2015.
- Rossiaud, Jacques, and Cochrane, Lydia G. (translator), Medieval Prostitution (Basil Blackwell Ltd., 1988), p. 6.