Hand Fasted Homicide was my original title for Bagpipes, Brides, and Homicides. The argument against it was that readers wouldn’t know what hand fasting was. As it turns out, even people who think they understand the term have a few misconceptions.
When I decided (well, okay, the character of Liss’s mother decided) to use the annual Scottish Festival held near my fictional town of Moosetookalook, Maine as the venue for Liss’s wedding, it gave me the perfect excuse to do some research into Scottish wedding customs. Here’s what I discovered about hand fasting.
First, although most people think hand fasting was a sort of trial marriage that lasted for a year and a day, that interpretation only dates to the 18th century. In the old days, hand fasting was just another word for a formal betrothal, meaning that the marriage became permanent upon an exchange of vows in the present (rather than the future) tense. The year and a day story comes from an Englishman named Thomas Pennant who toured Scotland in 1772 and published an account of the journey in 1790. He got a few other things wrong, too. Then, in 1820, Sir Walter Scott used Pennant’s interpretation in writing a supernatural historical romance set in the sixteenth century. The rest, as they say, is history.
I found numerous samples of modern hand fasting ceremonies online and also one in Renaissance Magazine (Issue #30). Most of these include the use of a broom, a sword, and an anvil and also involve—literally!—tying the hands of the bride and groom together with silken cords or ribbons. The anvil goes back to the days when a blacksmith could perform the wedding ceremony in Scotland (the reason English couples were always eloping to Gretna Green). If the bride and groom jump over a broom, that’s supposed to bring good luck to the marriage. And, according to one sample ceremony online, during a proper hand fasting the groom drops to his knees and offers the wedding ring to the bride on the tip of his sword, symbolizing his promise to protect her. As Liss says in Bagpipes, Brides, and Homicides, “I’d be lucky not to cut off a fingertip trying to get the ring off the blade.” Next, the bride holds onto the ring, takes the sword, and touches the blade to the groom’s left shoulder, then his right shoulder, and then to the top of the head. Afterward, assuming he’s still in one piece, she returns the sword and gives the ring back to him so that he can place it on her finger. The bride presents his ring to him inside a chalice. The groom takes the ring out and hangs onto it while he pours wine into the chalice, which the bride is holding for him. Then he drinks a toast to her before he hands the chalice back. Finally, he returns the ring so that she can put it on his finger.
Liss refuses to include any of that in her wedding. Gorgeous Renaissance gown, yes. But the rest of it just isn’t Liss’s cup of tea. She tells her mother there will be no anvils, brooms, or swords, but of since the Medieval Scottish Conclave is part of the Western Maine Highland Games and since Violet MacCrimmon doesn’t give up easily, you can guess that matters aren’t settled that easily.
If you’d like more information on the history of hand fasting, the best site I found during my research is at http://www.medievalscotland.org/history/handfasting.shtml
AND NOW, FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT:
As regular readers here know, I also write non-mystery historical novels under the name Kate Emerson. The latest, The King’s Damsel, came out on August 7th. It’s the story of the “unknown lady” rumored to be one of King Henry VIII’s mistresses in 1534, during his marriage to Anne Boleyn. Since her name really is unknown to history, I had a wonderful time inventing her life story for this project. The book is a trade paperback from Simon and Schuster’s Gallery Books and is also available as an ebook. You can find more details at http://www.KateEmersonHistoricals.com.