For many brides, waking down the aisle on their father’s arm is one of the most dramatic moments of the wedding but, ladies, you should know the historical and cultural significance of that walk.
Wedding rites in Western culture trace their origin from the Sarum Rite, a revision of Roman rites that incorporated Anglo-Saxon traditions. That was way back in the 11th century when women were no more than pawns and chattels, and such status was reflected in the wedding ceremony.
For millennia, women passed from the parental authority of their father to the spousal authority of their husband upon marriage. During the wedding processional, the bride’s father walked her down the aisle to “give her away” to her husband. And the status of the woman is reiterated throughout the ceremony.
And then, there’s the matter of the wedding vows.
For the longest time, while the groom vowed “to love and to cherish” his wife, the bride vowed “to love, cherish, and to obey” her husband. Although “obey” was not always the word used, the bride’s vows always included a vow of obedience.
Obey. Before marriage, woman obeyed their fathers. After marriage, women obeyed their husbands.
Wedding vows have evolved over time.
In 1928 — just two years after British women were first allowed to own property the same way that men were — an attempted revision to the Church of England marriage service left out the “obey.”
By 1947, “to obey” had apparently been removed from the wedding vows of the Church of England so it was quite surprising, and rather controversial, that then Princess Elizabeth insisted on including “to obey” in her vows.
The ceremony was recorded and broadcast by BBC Radio to 200 million people around the world.
In Netflix’s The Crown, Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s wife, Clementine, whispered to her husband questioningly, “To obey?”
“She insisted,” replied Churchill to his wife. “It was discussed.”
The first royal wedding to omit the vow “to obey” was Diana‘s and Charles’s. It was also omitted in the wedding vows of Kate Middleton when she wed Prince William, as well as Meghan Markle’s when she married Prince Harry.