Throughout Scotland during the 17th Century, the Reformed Church made severe censures against “Penny Brydals”.
On the 9th April 1646 the Kirksession of St Cuthberts (Edinburgh) ordained that under a penalty of ten pounds, couples should not invite to their weddings more than twenty four persons.
In 1647 the Presbyteries of Haddington and Dunbar denounced bridal feasts as “seminaries of all profanation”, then restricting the attendance at each wedding to twenty persons.
At Dumfries in July 1657 the Town Council ruled that “not more than 24 persons assemble at a wedding and that the expenses do not exceed 8 pounds, and that under the payne of twenty pounds - whereof the one half is to be payt by the bridegroom and the other half by the inkiepar whar the brydle is kept.”
On the 27th October 1640 “Mr Johne Martiall (Minister of Duncross, in the Synod of Moray) being founde to have maid a marriage on the Thursday, and that ye same personnes keipit a pennie brydiall on ye nixt Sabbothe day, having a minstrell playing to ye church and frome ye same befoir them, is sharplie and gravlie rebuked in ye face of ye Synod.”
The Synod of Moray passed Acts against penny bridals in 1640, 1657 and 1684. Clearly they were having difficulty in repressing these “abuses”.
25th February 1640. Acts of the Synod of Moray
“In respect of ye gryt disorders that have fallen out in diverse parts off ye land by drunkennes and tuilzeing (fighting) at penny brydalls. Thairfor it is ordained that thair be no pennie brydalls maid on ye Sabbothe”
Pipers in particular seemed to be subjected to the severest censures of the Kirk. The Kirk Session of Ashkirk in the Borders ordained that “For piping at brydels, Adam Moffat, pyper, on the next Sabbath to stand at the kirk door with ane pair of scheittis (sheets) about him, beirfutt and beirlegitt, and after the pepill wes in, to go to the place of repentance, and to continue Sabbathlie, induring their wills.”
The kirk session of Cambusnethan enacted “that there sould be no pypers at brydells, and whosoever sould have a pyper playing at their brydell on their marriage day, sall lose their consigned money and be furder punished as the Session thinks fitt.”
At St Andrews on 1st September 1658: “Diverse Brethren complained that Johne Mure, pyper, is occassion of much disorder in ther congregations by his pypeing at brythells and unseasonable drinkings. The said Johne compeiring, the Presbyterie discharged him to play at any brythells, or at drunken lawings, with certification if he be found to contavene he will be proceided against with the highest censures of the Kirk.”
Despite all these punishments and laws against them, penny weddings continued to be the occasion of merrymaking among the humbler classes although much frowned upon by their spiritual guides. the custom was for each guest to contribute his share to the expenses of the marriage feast (hence penny bridal) and the wedded couple providing drink and music.
Occasionally weddings were the scene of debauch but more often the folks of that day took their pleasures sadly if not soberly. Their cheif delight being to consume vast quantities of “cauldron yill” or home brewed ale, and that only infrequently. The following is a satirical description of a Scottish wedding by an Englishman Thomas Kirke, dating from 1679.