Why do we have a ‘best man’ at weddings?
Even in today’s gender-equal society, it’s still usually the future bride who makes most of the wedding arrangements for the forthcoming big day. However, one of the major decisions still usually made by the would-be groom is the selection of the best man. The usual choice of best man is the groom’s best friend or sometimes it might be a brother. Whoever it is, to be asked to be the ‘best man’ role is considered a real honour.
The best man obviously has to be someone who has the full confidence of the groom. The role usually involves taking on some of the most important pre and post-nuptial tasks on the big day. Traditionally, the best man is also expected to organise the stag (bachelor) party, safe keep the wedding ring(s), act as a legal witness, and deliver a witty speech. He is also usually tasked with proposing the very first toast to the new couple.
Kidnapping the Bride
Ever wondered how the tradition of the best man came about? And, why he’s called the “best” man? The tradition of the best man is said to date back to at least the 3rd century, originating from the Goth community of Germany. During this time it was customary for a man to marry a girl from his own community. If there was no girl in the village that took his fancy he would look to a neighbouring village for a potential wife. If the suitor’s advances were turned down by either the girl or her family it became common practice for him to kidnap the girl in order to marry her.
The kidnap would usually be a two-man act. Thus, the best man was essentially recruited by the groom to help in his dastardly deed. He was then usually tasked with guarding the captive bride-to-be. He was also expected to ward off the bride’s family from attempting to snatch her back. Similarly, he was also tasked with defending the girl against any other would-be suitors.
Duties on the Wedding Day
The bride’s parents would not be allowed to attend the wedding unless they were prepared to accept their daughter’s captor as her new husband. Thus, during the wedding ceremony, the best man would act as a guard. Traditionally, he would stand on the right-hand side of the groom with his sword at the ready. His role was to make sure the occasion went ahead at all costs. It also included making sure that the bride-to-be herself did not abscond. The best man’s duties often continued well into the night. He could also expect to stand as a sentry at the door of the newlyweds’ bedroom to make sure they were not disturbed.
The practice of kidnapping a bride became common throughout Europe, including Britain. In England, it was not until the introduction of the 1753 Marriage Act that the activity ceased altogether. It was only from 1753 onwards, that England saw the best man’s duties begin to change.
Just a Thought!
At any wedding, the best man’s speech is always one of the most eagerly anticipated events. Good, bad, or indifferent, it will often be a topic of conversation well after the event. So if you’ve just been asked to be the best man – no pressure! But, at least you can leave your sword at home.
Header image credit: Natalia Kabliuk/Shutterstock.com
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