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Social History of the Highlands

Among the various modes of social intercourse which gladdened the minds and dissipated the few worldly cares of the Highlanders, weddings bore a distinguished part, and they were longed for with a peculiar earnestness. Young and old, from the boy and girl of the age of ten to the hoary-headed sire and aged matron, attended them. The marriage invitations were given by the bride and bridegroom, in person, for some weeks previous, and included the friends of the betrothed parties living at the distance of many miles.

When the bride and bridegroom had completed their rounds, the custom was for the matrons of the invited families to return the visit within a few days, carrying along with them large presents of hams, beef, cheese, butter, malt, spirits, and such other articles as they inclined or thought necessary for the approaching feast. To such an extent was this practice carried in some instances in the quantity presented, that, along with what the guests paid (as they commonly did) for their entertainment at the marriage, and the gifts presented on the day after the marriage, the young couple obtained a pretty fair competence, which warded off the shafts of poverty, and even made them comfortable in after-life.

The joyous wedding-morning was ushered in by the notes of the bagpipe. A party of pipers, followed by the bridegroom and some of his friends, commenced at an early hour a round of morning calls to remind the guests of their engagements. These hastened to join the party, and before the circuit, which sometimes occupied several hours, had ended, some hundreds, perhaps, had joined the wedding standard before they reached the bridegroom's house. The bride made a similar round among her friends. Separate dinners were provided; the bridegroom giving a dinner to his friends, and the bride to hers. The marriage ceremony was seldom performed until after dinner. The clergyman sometimes attended, but the parties preferred waiting on him, as the appearance of a large procession to his house gave additional importance and eclat to the ceremony of the day, which was further heightened by a constant firing by the young men, who supplied themselves with guns and pistols, and which firing was responded to by every hamlet as the party passed along; "so that, with streamers flying, pipers playing, the constant firing from all sides, and the shouts of the young men, the whole had the appearance of a military army passing, with all the noise of warfare, through a hostile country."

On the wedding-day, the bride and bridegroom avoided each other till they met before the clergyman. Many ceremonies were performed during the celebration of the marriage rites. These ceremonies were of an amusing and innocent description, and added much to the cheerfulness and happiness of the young people. One of these ceremonies consisted in untying all the bindings and strings about the person of the bridegroom, to denote, that nothing was to be bound on the marriage day but the one indissoluble knot which death only can dissolve. The bride was exempted from this operation from a delicacy of feeling towards her sex, and from a supposition that she was so pure that infidelity on her part could not be contemplated.

The festivities of the wedding-day were generally prolonged to a late hour; and during the whole day the fiddlers and pipers never ceased except at short intervals, to make sweet music. The fiddlers performed in the house, the pipers in the field; so that the company alternately enjoyed the pleasure of dancing within and without the house, as they felt inclined, provided the weather permitted.

No people were more attached to the fulfilment of all the domestic duties, and the sacred obligation of the marriage vow, than the Highlanders. A violation thereof was of course of unfrequent occurrence, and among the common people a separation was almost unknown. Rarely, indeed, did a husband attempt to get rid of his wife, however disagreeable she might be. He would have considered his children dishonoured, if he had driven their mother from the protection of his roof. The punishment inflicted by the ecclesiastical authority for an infringement of the marriage vow was, that "the guilty person, whether male or female, was made to stand in a barrel of cold water at the church door, after which, the delinquent, clad in a wet canvas shirt, was made to stand before the congregation, and at close of service the minister explained the nature of the offence. Illicit intercourse before marriage between the sexes was also of rare occurrence, and met with condign punishment in the public infamy which attended such breaches against chastity.

This was the more remarkable, as early marriages were discouraged, and the younger sons were not allowed to marry until they obtained sufficient means to keep a house and to rent a small farm, or were otherwise enabled to support a family.

Do check out our Scottish Wedding Guide

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