Amazing Historical and Contemporary Facts From Your Favorite Authors.
LOVE AND THE MEDIEVAL MAIDEN
THE IMPORTANCE OF VIRGINITY, or LACK THEREOF
Shana Abe, author of THE SECRET SWAN, shares this "virginal" tidbit.
Imagine this... You're in a cold bed in a cold room in a very cold castle. It's your wedding night, and you, a young medieval noblewoman, are awaiting your new lord and master. Your long hair has been combed out; you've been anointed with fragrant oils; you're as nervous and as naked as you've ever been in your entire life. Here comes your groom, and...wait...a whole bunch of "other" men, right behind him. And guess what - they're not leaving. Pity the poor damsel virgin on her wedding night.
Chances are she's barely into her teens, and up until this moment she's been carefully shielded from just about everything. Not for her, the harsh reality of peasant life. She's a flower, a princess, coddled and hidden away, every aspect of her world designed to safeguard her sole, priceless virtue: her virginity.
Medieval European society placed a mighty heavy emphasis on that delicate state. In the eyes of the all-important men, an unwed woman deflowered was worse than worthless. But a virgin, a pure, untouched maiden, was a prize worth fighting for - and certainly worth verifying. Back to our maiden bride. She's wed, she's in bed, and her new husband is right beside her. And right beside "him" are a few more men (or perhaps a "lot" more, depending upon the importance of the marriage), ready to witness the official deflowering - purely in the interest of verification, of course. Their job is to ensure the groom has not been cheated. He was promised an untouched vessel, and by golly, that's what he should get. After all, she's only a woman, and thus, only property.
Is she apprehensive? Of course. Is she shy? Naturally. Is she a virgin? Maybe. Because, let's face it, women aren't stupid. We've had outrageous restrictions placed upon us for centuries, and we've been finding ways around them for just as long. Let's imagine the best of circumstances for our not-quite-virginal bride: her first lover was not the nobleman her father arranged for her to wed, but actually a blacksmith, or a soldier, or some other man impossible for her to marry. And so her first time will not be here, in this chilly castle chamber beneath the avid eyes of strangers . . . but rather was in a secluded place, just the two of them, exploring the thrill and excitement of forbidden love. Alas, she can't escape her fate. Despite the rapture of first love, as a noblewoman she "must" wed according to her station, and so she has. But is her life about to unravel - in the most painfully embarrassing of ways - in front of all these men? Don't worry. She's not defeated yet, our resourceful lady. Carefully hidden beneath the bride's pillow, or perhaps tucked between the blankets, is a small vial of blood, not her own. Hog's blood was often used; so was chicken, probably because hogs and chickens were common in medieval households. It's not much blood, just enough to sprinkle on the sheets when it's all over. Yet she's got to be clever about it, and she's got to be quick. If she's lucky, the witnesses will leave after the act, and her new husband will drift off to sleep. If not, she's got to find a way to get that blood from the vial to the sheets without notice. Not an easy task, and, I'm afraid, not always a successful one. After all, there's a reason why we know about this little trick, and isn't due to its universal success.
Happily, success was not entirely impossible, either. Sometimes ritual observation of the wedding night was simply omitted from the festivities. Sometimes the wine and mead flowed so freely at the wedding feast that the bride didn't have to worry about anyone - including her new husband - noticing anything unusual. (A speculative thought about the groom: unless he was either a complete lout or intoxicated, or both, I imagine the pressure would have been, ah, wilting.) In any case, with that onerous wedding night out of the way, the noble bride, a little wiser to the ways of the world, could move on to fulfill her role as devoted wife and mother, even as a leader of society. Medieval women seemed to be contradictions on many levels: pragmatic yet romantic; courageous yet demure; intelligent but subtle. She followed her heart as well she could in the confines of her time and place, and I trust she silently thanked that hog very much for saving her bacon. So to speak.
Shana Abe is the author of THE SECRET SWAN, a medieval romance. She is author of five other award winning historical romances. Her first book, A ROSE IN WINTER, was nominated for "first best book". Her list of outstanding romance novels include: The Secret Swan, Intimate Enemies, A Kiss At Midnight, The Truelove Bride, The Promise of Rain, A Rose in Winter.