A marriage is the legally or formally recognized union of (usually) two people. This socially recognized union establishes rights and obligations between the spouses, as well as any biological or adopted children and affinity. The marriage customs described in A Song of Ice and Fire vary considerably between the lands and major faiths. All appear to be religious ceremonies between one man and one woman (who should not be more closely related than first cousins), involving the exchange of vows in the presence of particular sacred witnesses e.g. a septon (for the Faith of the Seven), a heart tree (for the old gods), or a priest or priestess (in case of the Drowned God or R'hllor). The wedding is followed by a feast, where the bride and groom eat and drink with everyone. Afterwards, the bedding takes place, where the marriage is consummated.
Most betrothals among nobility are to ally with another family, not for love; such marriages of convenience are also common among the middle class and peasants. According to Stannis Baratheon, "the surest way to seal a new alliance is with a marriage". Betrothals and marriages can be part of a pledge of support,[N 1] or to help arrange peace between rivals.
The head of house is expected to arrange matches for his or her children and any unwed younger siblings. Although a lord cannot force the marriage if their dependent refuses to say the vows, this would carry serious consequences. An example is Ser Brynden Tully, whose refusal of a girl chosen by his brother and liege, Lord Hoster Tully, caused a severe strain on their relationship. While lords do not necessarily arrange marriages for their vassals or household knights, they would be wise to consult him and respect his feelings when arranging their own matches. Betrothals can be made at a large variety of ages. Children might be as young as two years old (e.g. Baela and Rhaena Targaryen), though generally betrothals are made when the people involved are somewhat older. Eleven is considered a more normal age for a betrothal, though when severe political matters are involved, children might be younger.[N 2]
Betrothals can be broken, but this can have serious consequences. When Prince Duncan Targaryen broke his betrothal to a daughter of Lord Lyonel Baratheon to marry Jenny of Oldstones, Lyonel rose in rebellion. The breaking of a betrothal might end a military alliance.[N 3]
If a nobleman who has been betrothed dies before a political marriage can occur, a sibling or heir may take his place. An example is the case of Brandon Stark, who died before he could be wed to Catelyn Tully, after which his younger brother and the new Lord of Winterfell, Eddard Stark, married her in Brandon's place during Robert's Rebellion.
Though dowries in the Seven Kingdoms are paid by the family of the bride to the groom’s family, in the Free Cities this might not be the common practice, as King Daeron II Targaryen paid a dowry to the Archon of Tyrosh as had been promised by his father, Aegon IV Targaryen, when his half-brother Daemon Blackfyre married Rohanne of Tyrosh.
Age at marriage
Just as men and women can be betrothed at a large variety of ages, they can also be wed at a large variety of ages, which might depend on the necessity of an heir, or the political environment. While marriages to girls who have not yet reached their majority or even their first flowering have happened, they are rare. Moreover, bedding these girls before they are at the least flowered is seen as perverse. Generally, weddings are postponed until the girl has passed into maidenhood with her flowering (i.e., has had her first menstruation). Most highborn girls have their first menstruation at the age of twelve or thirteen. It is not uncommon for a girl to be married after she has had her first menstruation, or within the first year following her first flowering. Some may wait until their majority or afterwards (e.g., Catelyn Tully). Nonetheless, infants have been married so a claim could be placed on a family's lands,[N 4] though this is very rare.
Marriages when the bride or groom is under the age of puberty are not consummated, though the bride and groom may ceremonially share a bed on the wedding night. If a bride is under the age of majority, many husbands will wait until she is fifteen or sixteen before sleeping with her, to avoid the deaths in childbirth that maesters have recorded for very young mothers..
In Westeros, the wedding ceremony is a religious ceremony. The bride's father, or the person standing in his place (usually kin or whoever else is closest to living kin), will escort the bride to her future husband and those presiding over the marriage. Thus far, all the wedding gowns that have thus far been described have been a shade of white.[N 5]
In case of the Faith of the Seven, a septon presides over the ceremony, which involves prayers, vows, and singing, and takes place in a sept. The bride wears a maiden's cloak in the colors of her house. The bride's father, or the person standing in his place, is to remove the cloak from her shoulders, so that her husband can place a cloak of his own house colors about her shoulders. This signifies the bride passing from her father's protection into her husband's protection. The bride and groom speak the words "With this kiss I pledge my love", potentially followed with an additional "… and take you for my lord and husband" and "…and take you for my lady and wife" by the bride and groom respectively, after which the septon will declare them to be man and wife, stating they are “one flesh, one heart, one soul, now and forever”.
For those who follow the old gods, ceremonies are significantly shorter, and contain no priests. The bride is escorted to her groom, who awaits her in front of the weirwood tree in the godswood, and a ceremonial conversation follows, where the identity of the bride, of the groom, and of the person giving the bride away are established. The bride is asked to accept her husband, and upon her agreement ("I take this man"), bride and groom join hands, kneel before the heart tree, and bow their heads in token of submission. When they rise following a moment of silent prayer, the groom removes the maiden’s cloak, and places the bride's cloak around her shoulders, after which he will carry her to the feast in his arms. Some northmen believe that snow during a wedding will lead to a cold marriage.
Valyrian wedding ceremonies are occasionally performed by members of House Targaryen. Little details are known of the rite except that the participants are "wed by blood and fire", and that the officiant can be a woman.
Wedding customs in Essos differ somewhat from Westerosi ceremonies. Weddings done under the Lord of Light involve red priests. A priest (or priestess) recites ceremonial prayers, which are answered by the wedding guests. The priest and groom await the bride by a ditchfire. The bride is escorted to the priest, who first asks the bride to identify herself, and next asks who comes to claim the bride. Both bride and groom are asked whether they will share their fire with their spouse-to-be, to warm him/her "when the night is dark and full of terrors". Bride and groom are to leap over the ditchfire together, to emerge as one. Following this, the groom removes the maiden’s cloak and places the bride’s cloak around the bride’s shoulders.
As is traditional in Ghiscari wedding customs as practiced in Meereen, the female relatives of the groom examine the bride's womb and female parts, to ensure her fertility. Three Graces witness this ancient ritual, and recite prayers. The bride is to be stripped completely naked for this purpose. After the examinations are done, the women eat a cake baked specially for betrothals, which men are forbidden to taste. Usually, the bride is to wash the groom's feet, signifying that she will be her husband's handmaid. Under special circumstances, it might be the groom who washes the feet of the bride.[N 6] The bride traditionally wears a tokar of white silk, with dark red veils. The tokar is fringed with baby pearls, which symbolize fertility. Weddings of the highest nobility in Meereen takes place at the Temple of the Graces. The ceremony might last up to four hours, and when husband and wife emerge from the temple, they are bound together wrist and ankle with chains of yellow gold.
Wedding ceremonies are usually followed by a feast, which in turn is followed by the bedding. For highborn weddings done by the Faith of the Seven, a wedding pie will be presented during the feast, which the bride and groom cut open. The pie is filled with living birds (e.g. doves, bluejays, skylarks, pigeons, mockingbirds, nightingales, sparrows, parrots, or other songbirds), which fly away once the pie is cut open.
It is considered ill luck to refuse a knight hospitality on your wedding day. Tourneys might be held to celebrate a wedding. It is not customary to have melees at a wedding, but the Golden Wedding of 49 AC had the War for the White Cloaks, a melee tournament. The ceremony was the largest wedding in Westeros history, with forty thousand guests.
Among the Dothraki, weddings occur beneath the open sky. The ceremony might last the entire day, during which the guests feast, drink, dance, and fight, often to the death. Towards the end of the ceremony, the bride is presented with her bride gifts. A khaleesi will be presented with a gift from each of her husband's bloodriders, which she is to decline and give to her husband instead. Following the receiving of the gifts, the khal and khaleesi will consummate their marriage. Following the wedding, the khal is to present his new bride to the dosh khaleen at Vaes Dothrak.
In Westeros, the bedding takes place after the feast. The bride is escorted to her bedroom, usually by the male guests from the feast, who will undress the bride along the way while making rude jokes. The women at the feast will do the groom the same honors. Usually, once the bride and groom are in the bedchamber they are left alone, though wedding guests might stand on the other side of the door, shouting suggestions. Nonetheless, in some cases, witnesses might be present for the bedding, though it is unknown how far this witness duty goes.
Women, more so for noble women, are generally expected to be virgins on their first wedding night. After some weddings, the bedsheets are displayed to show the blood, thereby proving the breaking of the bride's maidenhead and thus her virginity at her wedding night. However, since it is known that horseriding can break a girl's maidenhead, few families are insistent on physical proof.
Even though it is rare for a marriage to occur before the bride has had her first flowering, they do sometimes occur. However, it is considered to be perverse to bed a bride who is so young. Nonetheless, it is considered to be bad luck for the marriage if the man to sleep apart from his bride on their wedding night.
Lords in Westeros once had the right to the first night, the custom of bedding newly-wed women before their husbands. Queen Alysanne convinced King Jaehaerys I to abolish it, but it is still practiced illegally in some parts of the north.
Legality, divorce, and annulment
Vows said at swordpoint are not held to be valid, and in theory, a person cannot be declared to be married if they refuse to say the vows. However, there can still be issues of consent even if vows are spoken willingly. Marriages may be conducted between children or babies. Even if the marriage occurred under force, a lord might claim the marriage to be legal if lands are at stake.
In the religion of the Drowned God, it is possible for someone to be married by proxy, without their consent and without saying the vows for oneself. However, as such a marriage has thus not been consummated, it can easily be set aside again.
Marriages in the Seven Kingdoms can be ended in several ways. A king is able to put his queen aside—even if she has given birth to his children—and marry another. In the Faith of the Seven, a marriage that has not been consummated can be set aside by the High Septon or a Council of Faith. A marriage which has been consummated can be set aside, even a marriage of many years with children. Neither bride nor groom needs to be present for an annulment, but it must be requested by at least one of the wedded pair. The role and procedure of a Council of Faith has not yet been stated.
Before the coming of the Andals to Westeros, Garland II Gardener, a King of the Reach known as the Bridegroom, had multiple wives. In order to marry the daughter of Lord Lymond Hightower, he put his other wives aside. According to the songs, Ronard Storm was a Storm King with twenty-three wives.
Though not a common practice, the dragonlords and sorcerer princes in Valyria sometimes took multiple wives. King Aegon I Targaryen, who invaded Westeros and united six of the Seven Kingdoms under the rule of one monarch, had wed both of his sisters. While the Faith of the Seven does not allow polygamy and considers it to be a sin, Aegon I's rule was accepted. In fact, during his Conquest, Aegon received a proposal from the Storm King, Argilac Durrandon, who offered his daughter Argella as a wife to Aegon, while Sharra Arryn, Queen Regent for Ronnel Arryn, King of Mountain and Vale, offered herself in marriage to Aegon as well. Aegon's younger son, Maegor I Targaryen, is the last Targaryen known to have taken multiple wives. In doing so, he upset the Faith, resulting in his own exile. However, according to Maester Yandel, Daemon I Blackfyre believed he would be able to take two wives.[N 7]
While followers of the Drowned God may take only one rock wife, with whom they have trueborn children, they are allowed to take multiple salt wives. Children fathered on salt wives are not considered to be bastards, and may even inherit if there are no heirs by a man's rock wife.
Among the Dothraki, at least the khal is known to be allowed to practice polygamy. For example, Khal Jommo is known to have four wives. Additionally, according to the "ancient ways", a khal might share his khaleesi with his bloodriders, a custom still practiced in some khalasars.
In the Valyrian Freehold it had been custom among the dragonlords to marry brother to sister, or, if that was not possible, an uncle to a niece, or an aunt to a nephew. Also accepted were polygamous marriages, though this practice was less common. The Valyrians had their own religious ceremonies, though a priest does not seem to be a necessity here, as Queen Visenya Targaryen was capable of officiating a wedding performed per this Valyrian ceremony.
House Targaryen continued their marriage customs after Aegon's Conquest, even though the Faith of the Seven saw incest as a vile sin. The Faith also objected to Maegor Targaryen's multiple marriages. The marriage of Prince Aegon Targaryen to his sister, Princess Rhaena, contributed to an uprising by the Faith Militant which began during the reign of King Aenys I Targaryen, and continued during the reign of King Maegor the Cruel.
King Aerys II Targaryen sent Steffon Baratheon, Lord of Storm's End, to the Free Cities to find a suitable match for his heir, Prince Rhaegar Targaryen. After Steffon's failed mission and death, Rhaegar wed Elia Martell.
Hoster Tully, Lord Paramount of the Trident, wed his daughters Catelyn and Lysa to Eddard Stark, Lord of Winterfell, and Jon Arryn, Lord of the Eyrie, during Robert's Rebellion. King Robert I Baratheon wed Cersei Lannister after the war to bind Tywin Lannister, Lord of Casterly Rock, to his cause.
A Game of Thrones
A Clash of Kings
A Storm of Swords
House Frey ends their alliance with Robb after the King in the North weds Jeyne Westerling. Edmure Tully, Lord of Riverrun, agrees to wed Roslin Frey to restore the alliance. Robb, his mother Catelyn, and many of his bannermen are betrayed and murdered by the Freys and Boltons in the Red Wedding, however.
A Feast for Crows
A Dance with Dragons
If truth be told, I ofttimes wonder how Stannis ever got that ugly daughter of his. He goes to his marriage bed like a man marching to a battlefield, with a grim look in his eyes and a determination to do his duty.
The Lysa who came back from King's Landing is not the same girl who went south when her husband was named Hand. Those years were hard for her. You must know. Lord Arryn was a dutiful husband, but their marriage was made from politics, not passion.
—thoughts of Catelyn Stark
There was this to be said for weddings over battles, at least; it was less likely that someone would cut off your nose.—thoughts of Tyrion Lannister
Daenerys: Why did they wed if they did not love each other?Barristan: Your grandsire commanded it. A woods witch had told him that the prince was promised would be born of their line.
- Examples include the marriage of Margaery Tyrell to King Renly Baratheon, King Joffrey I Baratheon, and later King Tommen I Baratheon; the offer of a marriage of King Cleon to Queen Daenerys Targaryen; and the secret marriage pact, in which Viserys Targaryen is promised military support from Dorne in exchange for marrying Princess Arianne Martell.
- For example, the nine-year-old Myrcella Baratheon is betrothed to the eleven-year-old Trystane Martell to form an alliance between the Iron Throne and Dorne during the War of the Five Kings.
- When King Robb Stark breaks his betrothal to a girl from House Frey to marry Jeyne Westerling, the Freys refuse to lend him any further aid in the War of the Five Kings, culminating in the Red Wedding.
- For example, the marriage of the infant Lady Ermesande Hayford, no more than a year old, to Tyrek Lannister.
- Sansa Stark wears a gown of ivory samite when she weds Tyrion Lannister, Margaery Tyrell wears ivory silk when she weds first Joffrey I Baratheon and then Tommen I Baratheon, and Jeyne Poole wears white lambs-wool when she weds Ramsay Bolton.
- When Daenerys Targaryen marries Hizdahr zo Loraq, she sits in an ivory chair whilst he washes her feet with water from a golden bowl, while fifty eunuchs sing to them.
- Additionally, according to Jorah Mormont, Daenerys Targaryen is able to take two husbands.
- Definition of "marriage" obtained from English Oxford Dictionaries, retrieved on December 27, 2017
- Definition of "marriage" as retrieved from Wikipedia on December 27, 2017
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