Marriage vows are promises each partner in a couple makes to the other during a wedding ceremony.
In the time of the Roman Empire (17 BC - 476 AD) the lower classes (proletarians) had "free" marriages. The bride's father would deliver her to the groom, and the two agreed that they were wed, and would keep the vow of marriage by mutual consent. Wealthy Romans, though, would sign documents listing property rights to publicly declare that their union was legalized and not a common law marriage. This was the beginning of the official recording of marriage.
The oldest traditional wedding vows can be traced back to the manuals of the medieval church. In England, there were manuals of the dioceses of Salisbury (Sarum) and York. The compilers of the first Book of Common Prayer, published in 1549, based its marriage service mainly on the Sarum manual. Upon agreement to marry, the Church of England usually offered couples a choice. The couple could promise each other to "love and cherish" or, alternatively, the groom promises to "love, cherish, and worship", and the bride to "love, cherish, and obey".
Couples wedding in the Roman Catholic Church essentially make the same pledge to one another. According to the Rite of Marriage (#25) the customary text in English is:
I, ____, take you, ____, to be my (husband/wife). I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.
In the United States, Catholic wedding vows may also take the following form:
I, ____, take you, ____, to be my lawfully wedded(husband/wife), to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.
The priest will then say aloud "You have declared your consent before the Church. May the Lord in his goodness strengthen your consent and fill you both with his blessings. What God has joined, men must not divide. Amen."
The law in England authorises marriages to be legal if properly carried out and registered in the Church of England and some other religious bodies (e.g. Jewish, Quakers): other men and women who wish to marry can be married by a local official authorised to do so (civil ceremony). Circumstances may result in the same partners having both ceremonies at different times, though this is rare. The vows, presence of witnesses, and civil registration are absolute requirements under the law.
Civil ceremonies often allow couples to choose their own marriage vows, although many civil marriage vows are adapted from the traditional vows, taken from the Book of Common Prayer, "To have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part."
They were first published in English in the prayer book of 1549, based on earlier Latin texts (the Sarum and York Rituals of the medieval period). An older version of the final phrase is " until death us depart" where "depart" means "separate". "Until death us depart" had to be changed due to changes in the usage of "depart" in the Prayer Book of 1662. In the 1928 prayer book (not authorised) and in editions of the 1662 prayer book printed thereafter "obey" was retained (in the 1928 book an alternative version omitted this). The 1928 revised form of Matrimony was quite widely adopted, though the form of 1662 was also widely used, though less so after the introduction of the Alternative Service Book.
The original wedding vows, as printed in The Book of Common Prayer, are:
Groom: I,____, take thee,_____, to my wedded Wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better 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.
Bride: I,_____, take thee,_____, to my wedded Husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish, and to obey, till death us do part, according to God's holy ordinance; and thereto I give thee my troth.
Then, as the groom places the ring on the bride's finger, he says the following:
With this Ring I thee wed, with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
In the Alternative Service Book (1980) two versions of the vows are included: the bride and groom must select one of the versions only. Version A:
I,N, take you, N, to be my wife (or husband), to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, 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 law, and this is my solemn vow.
Version B is identical except for the clause "to love and to cherish" where the groom says "to love, cherish, and worship" and the bride says "to love, cherish, and obey".
Since 2000 the service in Common Worship the normal vows are as follows:
I,N, take you, N, to be my wife (or husband), to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, 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 law, in the presence of God I make this vow.
However, the bride and groom may choose to replace the clause "to love and to cherish" with "to love, cherish, and obey" when the bride makes her vows.
On September 12, 1922, the Episcopal Church voted to remove the word "obey" from the bride's section of wedding vows. Other churches of the Anglican Communion each have their own authorized prayer books which in general follow the vows described above though the details and languages used do vary.
Man: Friends, in the fear of the Lord, and before this assembly, I take my friend AB to be my wife, promising, through divine assistance, to be unto her a loving and faithful husband, until it shall please the Lord by death to separate us.
Woman: Friends, in the fear of the Lord, and before this assembly, I take my friend CD to be my husband, promising, through divine assistance, to be unto him a loving and faithful wife, until it shall please the Lord by death to separate us.
The procedure is restated in a minute of London Yearly Meeting of 1754, and the declarations remained the same until the twentieth century. In July 1922, the Committee on the Marriage Declaration was set up, and this reported to London Yearly Meeting in 1923, and after reference to a further committee the final phrase was changed to as long as we both on earth shall live; although the option of until it shall please the Lord by death to separate us remained as an alternative.
The current declarations allowed in Britain Yearly Meeting is:
Friends, I take this my friend [name] to be my spouse, promising, through divine assistance, to be unto him/her a loving and faithful spouse, so long as we both on earth shall live.
The following alternatives are currently allowed:
- The declaration may be prefaced by In the presence of God
- The declaration may be prefaced by In the fear of the Lord and in the presence of this assembly
- The word spouse may be replaced by wife or husband as appropriate or by partner in marriage
- The phrase through divine assistance may be replaced by the words with God’s help
- The phrase so long as we both on earth shall live may be replaced by the words until it shall please the Lord by death to separate us
- The declaration may be made in Welsh in "places where the Welsh tongue is used"
England and Wales
Whilst couples may add to these, under the Marriage Act 1949, all civil marriage in England and Wales, and marriage by an authorised person (this includes religious marriage not carried out by the Anglican church, Jewish or Society of Friends (Quakers)), must include the following declaration and contracting words:
I do solemnly declare that I know not of any lawful impediment why I ………… may not be joined in matrimony to …………
I call upon these persons here present to witness that I ………… do take thee ………… to be my lawfully wedded wife/husband.
The Marriage Ceremony (Prescribed Words) Act 1996 allowed an alternative declaration of either:
I declare that I know of no legal reason why I ………… may not be joined in marriage to …………
Registrar/Minister: Are you ………… free lawfully to marry …………
Man/Woman: I am.
and an alternative of the contracting words of:
I ………… take you/thee ………… to be my wedded wife/husband.
- Daniel, Evan (1901) The Prayer-Book: its history, language and contents. London: Wells Gardner, Darton & Co., p. 491
- The betrothal in the Sarum manual: "I N. take the N. to my weddyd wyf to have and to holde fro thys day forwarde, for beter for wers, for richere for porere; in sykenesse and in hele [health]; tyl dethe us departe; if holy chyrche it wol ordeyne; and thereto I plycht the my trouthe". (In the woman's pledge, "hele" is followed by "to be bonere and buxum"; "bonere" means "gracious" or "gentle", "buxum" means "obedient")
Daniel, Evan (1901) The Prayer-Book: its history, language and contents. London: Wells Gardner, Darton & Co., pp. 493-94.
- "All Heart Weddings - The History of Wedding Vows". All Heart Weddings. Retrieved 26 April 2013.
- "Catholic wedding vows". Our Sunday Visitor. Retrieved 10 February 2012.
- "Catechismo della Chiesa Cattolica; pt. 2, sez. 2, cap. 3, art. 7: Il sacramento del matrimonio" (in Italian). Retrieved 2011-04-09.
- : Solemnization of Matrimony, Book of Common Prayer
- The Alternative Service Book 1980, together with the Liturgical Psalter. Colchester: William Clowes, 1980; pp. 290-91
- Common Worship Pastoral Services' Church House Publishing; P 108 & P 150
- Hull, William I. (1970). William Penn and the Dutch Quaker migration to Pennsylvania. (Repr. d. Ausg. Swarthmore, 1935. ed.). Baltimore: Genealogical Pub. Co. p. 206. ISBN 0806304324.
- Carnall, Geoffrey (2010). Gandhi's interpreter : a life of Horace Alexander. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. p. 54. ISBN 9780748640454.
- Britain Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) (2014). "16". Quaker Faith and Practice: The book of Christian discipline of the Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain (5th edition ed.).
- UK Parliament. Interpretation Act 1978 as amended (see also enacted form), from legislation.gov.uk.
- Daniel, Evan (1948) The Prayer-Book; its history, language and contents; 26th ed. Redhill: Wells Gardner; pp. 491–96: The form of solemnization of matrimony
- Warner, Diane (2006), Diane Warner's Complete Book of Wedding Vows: Hundreds of Ways to Say "I Do", Career Press, ISBN 978-1-56414-816-2
- Macfarlane, Michael (1999), Wedding Vows: finding the perfect words, Sterling Publishing Company, ISBN 978-0-8069-0639-3