Historical Handfasting as a Plot Point in “A Dance with Mr. Darcy” + Excerpt + Giveaway

Although Darcy and Elizabeth do not come to their Happily Ever After in A Dance with Mr. Darcy through handfasting, it is a subject of discussion. They are in Scotland, and handfasting was a more common practice there. But what was handfasting?

hf3 Historically, marriage toward the latter part of the medieval period in Scotland could be executed by the exchange of consent between a man and a woman. This was what we say in the modern setting, i.e., “I Edward take you Margaret to be my wife.” During the medieval times, witnesses were not necessary to make the marriage valid. Basically, this marriage by consent held true from the early 1200s to the Reformation. This was a practice of canon law, essentially the Roman Catholic Church, not civil law. Oddly, this practice went against the earlier precepts of parental consent and the marriage only being binding after it was consummated. However, the Catholic church argued that these “clandestine” marriages, as they were termed, were as legal and as binding as were those performed by a priest.

Some of these practices changed with the Council of Trent (1563). Roman Catholic law then insisted upon a priest performing the marriage for it to be legal. However, Scottish Reformation did not get around to “reforming” the marriage laws as quickly as did other Protestant countries. Both the Protestant Kirk and Scottish civil law did not change. Consent between the couple remained as the basis for a legal joining. That being said, the Protestant Kirk did not approve of “clandestine” marriages, any more than did the Catholic contingent. Many Scottish Protestants attacked the practice, calling it a form of “fornication” and declaring it illegal.

So, how does this apply to “handfasting”? In late medieval Scotland (and northern England), “handfasting” was a term for “betrothal.” In A. E. Anton’s “‘Handfasting’ in Scotland” (The Scottish Historical Review, October 1958), we learn:

“Among the people who came to inhabit Northumbria and the Lothians, as well as among other Germanic peoples, the nuptials were completed in two distinct phases. There was first the betrothal ceremony and later the giving-away of the wife to the husband. The betrothal ceremony was called the beweddung in Anglo-Saxon because in it the future husband gave weds or sureties to the woman’s relatives, initially for payment to them of a suitable price for his bride but later for payment to her of suitable dower and morning-gift. The parties plighted their troth and the contract was sealed, like any other contract, by a hand-shake. This joining of hands was called a handfæstung in Anglo-Saxon, and the same word is found in different forms in the German, Swedish and Danish languages. In each it means a pledge by the giving of the hand.

42de8778344bbcd5a555f3be0709922f “… The joining of the hands became a feature of betrothals in Scotland and in England during the medieval period. A Scottish protocol narrates that on 24 July 1556, the Vicar of Aberdour ‘ministrat and execut the office anent the handfasting betwix Robert Lawder younger of the Bass and Jane Hepburn docter to Patrick Errl Botwell in thir vordis following: “I Robert Lawder tak thow Jane Hepburne to my spousit wyf as the law of the Haly Kirk schawis and thereto I plycht thow my trewht and syklyk I the said Jane Hepburne takis you Robert Lawder to my spousit husband as the law of the Haly Kirk schaws and therto I plycht to thow my trewth,” and execut the residew of the said maner of handfasting conforme to the consuetud usit and wont in syk casis’ What this ‘consuetude’ was may be gathered from a protocol on the sponsalia of David Boswell of Auchinleck and Janet Hamilton, daughter of the Earl of Arran. After the consents had been exchanged ‘the curate with the consent of both parties with their hands joined betrothed the said David and Janet who took oath as is the custom of the Church’. In fact, the ceremony of joining hands became so closely associated with betrothals in medieval times that in Scotland, and apparently the north of England, the ordinary term for a betrothal was a handfasting. The use of the term in this sense persisted in Elgin as late as 1635.”

One catch in all this is the idea that if a couple had sex after becoming handfasted, they were no longer betrothed, but rather legally married. Handfasting could result in marriage if the couple made their consents to marry or if the pair enjoy conjugal relationships. If they did not exchange consents and did not have marital relationships, they were not married (simply betrothed, which means the betrothal could still be broken).


For more on Handfasting, visit Sharon L. Krossa on Medieval Scotland   

“Handfasting History” 

“History of Marriage in Great Britain and Ireland”  via Wikipedia

* * *

Enjoy this scene from A Dance with Mr. Darcy: A Pride and Prejudice Vagary

A Dance With Mr Darcy copyThe reason fairy tales end with a wedding is no one wishes to view what happens next.

Five years earlier, Darcy had raced to Hertfordshire to soothe Elizabeth Bennet’s qualms after Lady Catherine’s venomous attack, but a devastating carriage accident left him near death for months and cost him his chance at happiness with the lady. Now, they meet again upon the Scottish side of the border, but can they forgive all that has transpired in those years? They are widow and widower; however, that does not mean they can take up where they left off. They are damaged people, and healing is not an easy path. To know happiness they must fall in love with the same person all over again. 


Although he did not think it possible for anyone to alter Elizabeth’s decision, Darcy was thankful to have his sister in residence at Alpin Hall, for Georgiana made a concerted effort to keep his mind off the misery that awaited him at Pemberley when he returned to Derbyshire. Despite his cousin’s objections, she had sent Fitzwilliam riding for Newcastle in search of information on Mr. Wickham’s disappearance.

“It has been five years, Georgiana,” the colonel protested. “I can learn more by addressing letters to the scoundrel’s former commanding officers.”

“You will do both,” she insisted. “Those in London overseeing the war’s end will simply examine their files on Mr. Wickham, while those remaining in Newcastle area will possess a more personal story to share, and you must be there to learn their tales. No one can deny such an imposing figure as my husband,” she added with a genuine smile.

Fitzwilliam sighed good-naturedly. “It is a good thing, Mrs. Fitzwilliam, that your husband holds you in affection.”

“It is an excellent thing, sir,” she responded with a blush to her cheeks. Darcy watched the pair with envy lodging in his heart. He would never know such contentment. Even if he could learn Wickham’s fate, it would not ensure that Elizabeth would reconsider his proposal.

In Fitzwilliam’s absence, Georgiana accompanied him as Darcy called in upon Daven Hall each day to learn more of the estate. While he examined the books and the various structures upon the property, his sister met with the housekeeper and toured the various rooms to note necessary repairs and required refurbishing. He was grateful for Georgiana’s presence. It was good to be with family. His hours alone at Pemberley had only added to his compounded sorrow.

“Dance with me, William,” his sister pleaded one evening, as she rose from the bench before the pianoforte. She had entertained him after supper with a variety of musical pieces. He always knew such pride when she performed, for he recalled the exact date when Georgiana claimed confidence in her performance. It was the evening at Pemberley when Elizabeth and her relations joined him and the Bingleys. Elizabeth encouraged Georgiana’s playing and remained by his sister’s side throughout the evening.

“I believe my dancing days are over,” he replied.

“Nonsense.” Georgiana caught his hand and attempted to tug him to his feet. “Perhaps you can no longer hop about in a reel or do a quickstep in a country dance, but surely you can manage a minuet or a waltz. Now, stand for me, William.”

“Georgiana, this is ridiculous,” he protested, but he permitted her to pull him upward.

Once he stood stiffly before her, she placed a hand upon his shoulder and waited for his hand to claim her waist. “Should I hum a tune?”

“I will likely send us tumbling to the floor,” he grumbled as he positioned his hand at her side.

Georgiana giggled. “It has been too many years since we took a tumble together.”  She nudged him into a slow step forward while continuing her tale. “I loved it when you would come home from school on holiday, for you would spend hours entertaining me. Do you recall how often I soiled my dress attempting to keep up with you and Fitzwilliam and Lindale or you and George Wickham? I was often quite clumsy and would tumble down the hill, but you always took the blame and Father’s punishments.”

“You were but a babe and always so thin. I could not permit you to know an evening without your supper,” he said in serious tones.

Georgiana’s cheeks dimpled with an impish smile. “You would sneak into the schoolroom and teach me something of how to swing a cricket bat or how to block a thrust from an opponent’s sword.”

“We destroyed a good many of your parasols. Your governess was never happy when you and I were about a new adventure,” he repeated in tenderness.

“Then you would sprawl upon the floor while I showed you my dolls or the new letters I had learned or a drawing. You would praise my efforts,” she said in contentment. “You were always so patient with me. I could not have asked for a better brother.”

Darcy halted their progress to place a kiss upon her forehead. It was only then that he realized they had made a full turn and then some about the room. “You have played me with your compliments,” he said in a tease. “You still have the means to divert me.”

She rose on her toes to place a gentle kiss upon his cheek. “I wish you to know happiness, William, but first you must again believe in your dream.”

Darcy attempted to keep the frown from his features. “I do not know whether I dare. Her husband passed two months after I married Amelia. If I had waited—had rejected Lady Matlock’s manipulations—if I had made it my business to learn more of Elizabeth’s life, things could now be different. She admitted to loving me, Georgiana; yet, she still sent me away. How can I keep hope alive when so much has changed between us? Sometimes, love is not enough.”

“Love is always enough,” Georgiana countered. “It must be, for the world would turn in upon its head without love. You must simply trust that Mrs. McCaffney knows your heart. The lady is the complementary part of your soul. She will support you upon your journey in the same manner as I supported your steps in our waltz.”

Now for the GIVEAWAY. I have two eBook copies of A Dance with Mr. Darcy available. To enter leave a comment below. The giveaway will end on Friday, March 24, at midnight EDST. 


About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
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36 Responses to Historical Handfasting as a Plot Point in “A Dance with Mr. Darcy” + Excerpt + Giveaway

  1. Vesper says:

    Good to see that Georgiana and the Colonel are happy

    • Good morning, Vesper. I am not too much on the idea of first cousins marrying, but I always thought that Georgiana needed a strong hand and a soft touch to be happy, and he needed to be reminded every day that their was beauty and life all around him. Who better than Georgiana, a woman with a tender heart and a love of music?

  2. JanisB says:

    What a lovely poignant moment. But oh to think of Darcy as physically broken. I suspect this may be a heart-breaking read. My favourite kind ;-).

  3. Glynis says:

    I see that Georgiana married the Colonel. I think he would be good for her as she had really only been in the company of older men, namely her father and her brother so I’m sure they would be happy. But poor Elizabeth and Darcy 😥 I wonder why she sent him away while admitting she loves him? Hopefully he can convince her to marry him and they can have their happy ever after. I would love to win a copy of this book so fingers crossed. I love the cover by the way.

  4. Gerri Bowen says:

    I look forward to reading this and discovering not only how damaged they are, but how they heal themselves and come together again.

  5. BeckyC says:

    Oh my. I can’t wait to read this one. I love variations with more Colonel Fitzwilliam and am happy to see Georgiana happily married. I am intrigued by you D&E plot and look forward to what Wickham is about these days. So excited for your release. Congratulations, Regina! Thank you for the giveaway.

  6. Ginna says:

    I appreciate the information about handfasting. I suppose it is still part of the marriage ceremony, where the officiant takes the couple’s hands and places them together.
    Thanks also for the excerpt. I am curious about where this scene occurs in the book. I am very intrigued about the sentence, “She admitted to loving me, Georgiana; yet, she still sent me away” and wonder what that was about. I look forward to finding out!

    • I have another piece on “mythical” handfasting, Ginna, that will appear next week. The mythical version is what we see in many romance novels, where the man and woman have their wrists tied together. They agree to marry for one year and then have the option to separate. One of those who purported the tales of Thomas Pennant in his “Tour of Scotland” was Sir Walter Scott.

  7. Anji says:

    Wow, both married and both widowed? I don’t think I’ve come across that in a variation before – one or the other, yes, but not both. Some readers don’t like the thought of either Darcy or Elizabeth having been married before but I’m not one of them. I think it adds an extra something to their relationship – either finding love for a second time or banishing awful memories from a bad previous experience.

    Sounds as if Darcy is still suffering from his injuries. Must have been a really bad accident if he was seriously ill for months. The scene you’ve shared with us is just lovely. Thank you.

    • When Darcy does not return after Lady Catherine’s rebukes to Elizabeth, Lizzy has no choice but to marry the only man to offer for her. Even with Lydia’s marriage, shame still taints her sisters. Certain men of merit would assume if Lydia is of low morals, so are her sisters, and they would not extend a hand to the Bennet daughters.
      Darcy is seriously injured and kept under laudanum for many months. When he recovers enough to understand what has occurred, he learns from Charles Bingley that both Elizabeth and Jane have married elsewhere.

  8. AniraP says:

    I am generally not a huge fan of prior marriages but as long as there is a HEA I’ll put it on my to read list

  9. Lynn Bischoff says:

    So looking forward to reading this story. It sounds so intriguing and I always enjoy your books.

  10. Anna says:

    Loved the excerpt, and the post about handfasting was very interesting. Thanks for the giveaway!

  11. Beatrice says:

    As is everyone else, I am delighted that Georgiana and Col Fitzwilliiam found happiness. Not so pleased to discover not only Lizzy and Darcy were separated but ALSO Charles Bingley and Jane, who otherwise would have been able to tell Lizzy about Darcy’s condition. I would love to win a copy of this.
    I did not know about the handfasting; thank you for your detailed information on this custom. What is not clear to me is whether or not the hands were actually tied together. Were they?

    • Jane proves to be just as happy with another man who has a small estate like her father’s. Wait until you read what Lydia says of Bingley’s wishy-washy manner.
      There will be another post on handfasting next week. It is deals with the “legend” of handfasting we find in Regency romances (and even in Sir Walter Scott).

  12. Beatrice says:

    By the way, those who cannot wait until tomorrow for the draw can buy this today on Amazon. The Kindle version is only $2.75. AND there are more pages you can read by clicking on “Look Inside” – the first TWO WHOLE CHAPTERS and the start of the third!
    I’m buying it now. I dare you to resist doing so, too.
    Is this book part of a series? Or is it stand-alone?

  13. Miriam Bresticker says:

    This seems like an interesting variation and I like the excerpts I’ve read. Would be thrilled to win a copy.

    • There is a giveaway on March 21, 22, 24, 24 (on Darcyholic Diversions), 27 (on Austen Authors), 28, and 31 (on Every Savage Can Dance). Keep coming back to enter. Each day is a separate giveaway.

      • Ginna says:

        “a giveaway on March 21, 22, 24, 24 (on Darcyholic Diversions)” ??
        As of today, it doesn’t seem to be on there. The last post I see is March 17, about Colette Saucier.

      • Thanks for the good eye, Ginna. Let me check with Barbara. I sent her the post on March 21. I have been out of the house most of the morning.

  14. mbresticker says:

    WordPress may or may not have saved my original comment, I apologize if this ends up being a duplicate. This seems like an unusual, interesting variation and I like the excerpts I’ve read. Would be thrilled to win a copy.

  15. Lúthien84 says:

    I am always glad to learn some historical facts that I am not aware of. Thank you for enlightening me, Regina. The excerpt is intriguing and suspenseful… would love to know the whole story.

  16. anadarcy says:

    Very interesting the information about the handfasting, I had no idea. Thanks!

    Thank you as well for the excerpt it is lovely and it is very nice to read about Georgiana being so clever 🙂

Comments are closed.