The History of Marriage Vows

Mar 18, 2013

Marriage vows are an integral – and often favourite – part of our wedding ceremonies. They are intended to cement the marriage union.

They haven’t always been what they are today and they are not the same across the cultures. I thought it might be interesting now to look at their origins.

The traditional wedding vows come from the “Book of Common Prayer” of England.

The groom says:  “I, …, take thee, …, to my lawful wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I plight thee my troth.

The bride says the same (except “husband” replaces “wife” but there is a slightly different wording in the middle: “to love, cherish and to obey “).

“Obey” was a translation from the Latin and really signified “listen deeply”.  The Episcopal Church removed the word “obey” from the woman’s part of the vows, as the Holy Bible defined it as meaning ‘give submission to another’.

“Troth” means faithfulness.

Over the years, some more changes have been made. Nowadays, “love, honour and cherish” has become the preferred norm.

In some cultures, marriage didn’t count just for the bride and groom but also an entire community and village! So the new person was considered to be joining the tribe, and thus swearing allegiance.

In the Middle Ages, marriages were rarely a matter of love. They represented a union and connection between two families, and were often for purposes of business and land. Legally-binding marriage vows then became an essential.

Today, marriage vows, while evolving in details, have stayed much the same. Couples do have the option of writing their own unique wedding vows.


Next time, we’ll take a further look at the content and significance of wedding vows.



Michael Gordon is a wedding celebrant based in London.