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Instead, widows returned to the control of their own families, who now had to reassume their support or scramble to arrange a second dowry sufficient to attract another marriage proposal.

Marriage customs varied somewhat from one city to another; this account is based primarily on the many descriptions of weddings that survive from Florence, but it reflects general practices elsewhere in Italy.

A likely match was identified many years before a wedding, perhaps suggested by a broker or influential family connection.

Negotiations between two families were sometimes sealed until the bride reached puberty and a suitable dowry could be amassed.

Women as young as fourteen were often married to men in their thirties, partly to ensure the bride’s virginity. Young men were more or less free to visit prostitutes, who were semi-sanctioned in certain outlying districts.

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Brides, especially in Florence, were typically much younger than grooms.

Grooms, too, were expected to provide gifts; among the wealthy, these often included gems and luxurious clothes for the bride to wear during the wedding festivities (see “Wedding preparations for Caterina Strozzi”).

Gifts, which served as much to advertise the groom’s status as to please his new wife (and her family), remained his property.

In Rome, but not in Florence, the bridal couple normally stopped in church to attend a mass along the way.

Roman brides proceeded astride a white horse, wearing belts their fathers had put around their waists to emphasize their chastity.

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