In the modern world, marriage proposals are vibrant events filled with love and laughter, that not only leave a mark on the soon to be married couple, but also on those around them. That being said, many of us aren’t aware of the roots of various proposal and marriage related traditions. So today, we at The I Do Club are here to take you on a trip down history and see just what has led to the emergence of marriage proposals as we know them today.
Would you be surprised if we told you that the idea of kneeling actually isn’t a part of the history of marriage proposals? Largely a modern invention, the exact origins of the standard proposals we see these days aren’t clear. The engagements that we see throughout history were typically in the nature of business arrangements and did not include any kneeling before your partner. In fact, paintings of noble engagements often depict both parties either as standing or seated, without any kneeling.
However, one possible origin that has been identified of the modern “kneeling down on one knee” has been traced to the middle ages during the time of courtly love, which was based on the principle that the man was like a servant to the woman, whom he idealized beyond all reality and performed his servitude by kneeling, both spiritually and figuratively.
Now, even though courtly love isn’t a popular practice in most western countries anymore, it’s still a fun element to keep in mind!
If we asked you to guess the time period (according to the first reliable record) of the first engagement ring, what would your answer be?
Everyone who answered the Roman period gets a point!
Much like today, an engagement ring was a signal of unavailability. In the Roman period, engaged women were usually given two rings – a gold ring to wear in public and an iron ring to wear at home while doing household chores!
Another fun fact: the first record of an engagement ring with diamonds being given to a woman dates all the way back to 1477, but it’s not the common solitaire ring that we’re used to nowadays. This particular ring was a gift from Archduke Maximilian of Austria to his lover, the 20-year-old Mary of Burgundy. The ring in question has been famously described by Harry Winston, a prominent jeweller, as “a delicate band adorned with diamonds in the shape of her (Mary’s) first initial”.
Signing the dotted line
For most of human history, the modern-day marriage proposals didn’t exist. Throughout the Middle Ages as well as Renaissance, marriage itself was more of a legal or financial agreement than a romantic pairing. Under this legal pairing, people often chose spouses for the benefit that their children would reap in the future. Usually what happened was that the groom or his parents would meet with the parents of the bride and negotiate with them on various aspects, such as, the bride’s dowry and other economic matters. In most cases, the couple wouldn’t even meet before taking their vows. Thankfully, this tradition evolved with the help of Archduke Maximilian, who not only offered the first diamond engagement ring as seen previously, but also paved the way for love-based marriages instead of purely contractual ones.
How an ad campaign changed everything
Yes, you heard us right! It was in the late 1800s that the De Beers Diamond Jewellery company struck the rich streams of diamonds in Africa and that’s when the tradition of diamond engagement rings took over the public. De Beers’ hit a master stroke in the 1930s and ’40s, when the company employed an incredibly successful advertising campaign with a very strategic slogan – “A diamond is forever” which sought to tell the American population that diamonds were rare, expensive and supposedly, the only worthy item to support a marriage proposal. What the company did was to create a status and reputation for the diamond engagement ring and to this day, this ad campaign goes down in history as one of the most successful advertisements of all time. In fact, the tagline is still in use! Another example of how advertising has the power to shape new traditions.
Women proposing in leap year
It’s actually Irish folklore from where the practice of women proposing men for marriage started! A few centuries ago, an Irish nun, St. Brigid, asked an Irish patron saint, St. Patrick, for women’s permission to propose and after a series of discussions, the saint agreed to allow females the right to propose, but only on one day in every four years, i.e., February 29.
Today, however, we’re seeing more and more women feeling comfortable with the idea of proposing to their partner, even if it’s not on February 29th. The dating site Match.com had found that 95% of men would be up for women making the first move, like going in for a kiss or asking for a phone number and a similar shift in attitude has also been observed when it comes to proposals. Further, in a survey conducted by Glamour, results revealed that 70% of men would be thrilled if their lady proposed to them. So, the former man-only validity of marriage proposals is being rightly questioned and we’re all here for it!
Our world is full of diverse cultures, each with their special traditions and rituals. Most of these traditions have their roots set deep in history while yet others are relatively modern. However, with the changing belief systems of people from all across the globe, some of these notable traditions are rapidly taking on newer forms, thereby being more adaptive to the present-day world. We, at The I Do Club, are grateful to be creating and evolving the way marriage proposals are carried out, thereby contributing our bit in shaping the future of the field!