The Cambridge bride

Victorian bride

For hundreds of years, one of the stranger traditions of the university of Cambridge was its way of welcoming its new brides. University wives were few in number until the 1880s, as until then only professors, college masters or other holder of official university posts were permitted to marry. So it was deemed a special occasion, and each new bride was formally received in an elaborate ritual.

For one night only she was treated as a queen. A grand dinner was held in her honour, hosted by the vice-chancellor or senior college master, and attended by important university members and their wives. The bride had to put on her wedding dress again, even if she had got married months or years before. She took her place at the head of the procession at the side of the most important man of the evening, who according to the rules of precedence was not her husband, but the vice-chancellor or master.

During the evening the new Cambridge bride was expected to lead the conversation and observe the correct etiquette, such as knowing when to signal for the other ladies to leave the table with her. Worst of all, she was expected to invite all these imposing guests to her own house for dinner soon afterwards, and play the part of a gracious hostess.

Sources: Mary Reed Bobbitt, With Dearest Love to All: The Life and Letters of Lady Jebb (Faber, 1960), Florence Ada Keynes, Gathering Up the Threads (Cambridge: W. Heffer & sons, 1950)

Please reference as follows: Ann Kennedy Smith, ‘The Cambridge bride’, (August 16, 2016), day/month/year)

2 thoughts on “The Cambridge bride

  1. joulesbarham says:

    I was married in Cambridge as a recent graduate from a college hostel at Selwyn college! The porters contacted Radio Cambridge that morning and I was named “Bride of the Week” ( it was December 1983 so there was not much competition…). I did not have to invite anyone to our tiny flat afterwards, thank goodness!

    Liked by 1 person

    • akennedysmith says:

      Thanks for your comment & that’s a lovely story. Coincidentally I am going to Selwyn this week to talk about K Lyttelton – there’s going to be a room named in her honour in September (the alumnae weekend I think). Will post any further news when I get it! Ann


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