In honor of the triumphant return of Sanditon this spring, GBH Drama put together an email series to accompany each episode. For those who missed the emails, we now present them here (lightly edited for formatting).
Have you all recovered from the season 2 finale? I’ll be honest with you: I have not! So much so that I’m decided not to even TOUCH what happened with Charlotte and Georgiana in this season finale article (if you want to see my unvarnished reaction, don’t worry, I obviously discussed it in my recap). Instead, we’re talking about the wedding: did Regency nuptials really look like that?
First and foremost, let’s talk about the clothes. Any history nerds out there probably already know that the white wedding dress really wasn’t a thing until Queen Victoria made it popular in 1840. Instead, brides just wore their best dress, or MAYBE had something new made if they were wealthy. Alison Heywood, who as we know is the daughter of a farmer, probably would have worn a dress in a dark color that would be easier to launder and wear again for future formal occasions. Our pal Captain Fraser’s outfit is a bit more accurate, although his breeches would probably have been even tighter. What can I say: they basically liked a man in a legging.
Interestingly, the Regency era sits just after a pretty major update to legal requirements around marriage in England. Before the Marriage Act of 1753, you could basically get hitched with just a few witnesses, but in our friend’s era there were considerably more hoops to jump through. For instance, weddings had to take place before noon (they thought this would make couples more honest and serious). The act also upped the legal age for marriage from 12 for girls and 14 for boys (yikes) to 21, added either a license or the reading of banns followed by a ceremony presided over by a member of clergy, and included a requirement that the wedding be recorded in the marriage register. Afterwards, the bride was the one to get a copy of all the legal documents, since it was more critical to her social and legal standing that she be able to prove she was really married.
We actually did see pretty much the exact ceremony they likely would have used, which was from The Book of Common Prayer, first published in the 1500s. Sanditon did skip Reverend Hankins reading the banns (basically announcing the wedding the three Sundays before it takes place to give people time to unearth any “Jane Eyre” style secret attic wives) and the Heywood patriarch isn’t there to give parental consent since Alison isn’t yet 21. Technically, our friends probably couldn’t have gotten married in Sanditon in the first place, since neither of them live there full time (you had to tie the knot at somebody’s home parish). But other than that, the show got most of this right.
Finally, let’s talk about that party! While it would be pretty unusual to have a large crowd at the wedding itself beyond the required witnesses, it was fairly normal to have more friends and family waiting outside to cheer the couple on (like we saw on the show), and then partake of the wedding breakfast that followed. They would almost definitely have had cake (though given their commitment to the sugar boycott, probably sweetened with honey instead of sugar) and entertainment, like dancing, or finding out that a dear friend is making a terrible romantic mistake (and I said I wasn’t going to talk about that… oops). All in all, this Sanditon wedding isn’t too far off the mark, and what it loses in absolute accuracy it makes up for with a lot of fun.
Looking for more of the history behind Sanditon season 2? Check out our other coverage on our Sanditon hub here.