Swords at a wedding? What could possibly go wrong?
It’s normal to go through a range of emotions while conducting a wedding. Of course the emotions are far greater for the bride and groom, but it’s hard not to get swept up in the event. Even though I attended around 2000 weddings, every one was different, and each affected me in a different way. One emotion I didn’t ever expect to experience, though, was fear.
I had no prior warning that this would be an unusual wedding. It was the third venue of three weddings I was conducting that day and I was feeling tired, but up for it. My previous two weddings had gone well and I was looking forward to making it a hat-trick of great weddings and then going home for a beer.
The groom was a weather-beaten, solidly built chap and wore the regimental dress of the Northumberland Hussars. In years gone by the Hussars were a cavalry regiment, but nowadays they provide reconnaissance support to tank squadrons. I can’t remember every detail of the uniform now, but I seem to remember white gloves, silver cap badges and a white and red feather in that cap. The item of dress that stood out the most was their swords, though. There were six Hussars plus the groom, and they all wore long sabres at their waist.
I questioned the groom before the ceremony and he confirmed that no changes were to be made to the ceremony. The couple had made very few changes to our suggested order of ceremony, so there were to be no surprises, or so I thought.
The ceremony began with a spectacular entrance by the bride. As the music started the men took their positions by the door, minus the groom of course, and unsheathed their swords. Three stood at each side and they held their sabres aloft, creating a small archway for the bride to walk through. Once the bride had reached the front of the room, the Hussars lowered and then re-sheathed their weapons.
I thought that that was end of the pageantry, but I was wrong.
The rest of the ceremony proceeded as usual until I reached the objections. I always leave a pause here and glance around the room. Sometimes there is deadly silence. Often the bride or groom will give the evil eye to their guests, daring them to object. Occaissionally a guest will cough pointedly, or a child will cry out and everyone laughs to break the tension.
At this wedding an almighty metallic clattering started up from the back of the room. I almost jumped out of my skin as the noise was so incongruous to the proceedings. Then it got louder. And louder. It was terrifying.
I cast my eyes about wondering what the din was, as did every guest.
The Hussars were standing in between the guests and the doors. They had loosened their swords in their scabbards and were wiggling them back and forth to create the menacing racket. They were quite literally rattling their sabres.
As abruptly as the noise started it stopped. The guests looked about, wide eyed. I took a deep breath and continued with the ceremony.
As the ceremony finished I congratulated the bride and groom. The groom was laughing. ‘The look on your face!’ he said.
‘What was all that about?’ I asked.
‘It’s a tradition that goes back years. They were just letting everyone know that their weapons were loosed and that no-one dare object.’
‘It worked,’ I said.
I had several beers when I got home that night.
Thanks to Tor-Sven Berge for the sword image via Flickr