Noble Nuptials: An Elizabethan Wedding Alphabet
by Helen Kemp Zax

Middle-Grade Winner, Katherine Paterson Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Literature


Archbishop awaits at the altar.
Aristocrats and attendants alike:
All are agog!



Bustling along the byway—
bridesmaids bearing bouquets of blossoms,
Barons and their Baronesses,
bitty babes and boisterous boys.

Bells of brass beckon—
Bong! Bong!
Bong! Bong! Bong! Bong!

Bearded bridegroom in bright breeches,
betrothed bride in blush, with bit of blue—
both bewildered.
Both are breathless.



Courtiers chatter in the churchyard
as crickets chirp chirp chirp.

Crowds of clergy, countesses, children
crush into the close chapel
for the couple’s ceremony:


Then the couple cries,

“Come cheer us!
To our country-house! Come, courtiers!
For champagne, cloves, and cinnamon.
Come celebrate. Carouse!”


With the dowry delivered,
the delighted Duke
(in dark-red doublet)

“Those diamonds, those drawings, those dwellings!
And my Duchess is darling. She dazzles!
She’s delightsome! How delicious!
Do let’s dance and drink till dusk.”


England’s Queen Elizabeth enters—

in eye-catching emeralds,
in elegant ear-pickles.

Everyone (even the Earl’s English bulldog) exults!


After much fanfare,
the Duke
(in fine form)
and the Duchess
(in farthingale, fresh flowers, and frills)

flatter and flaunt:

“Faerie Queene! Fortunate Familiars!
In fellowship, feed upon these fashionable foods:

Fancy Fowl & Freshwater Fish
Flame-roasted Filets & Flanks (from Formerly Four-footed Fauna)
Farm-fresh Foodstuffs & Flakey Flour-filled Fare
Flavorsome Figs & Fabulous Fruits
Fanciful Frostings & Fluffiest Fluffs


Fine French Fermentations in Flutes.

Fantastic Friends—now feast!


Genteel grownups, gowned and girdled,
gather near the Great-house Gallery
to dance Gavottes, Gaillards.
Queen Elizabeth gets going—
gilded garments all a-glow—
Queen glides between her guards.


In the high-ceilinged Hall,
horns harken
the handsome, hand-stitched-wall-hanging
that heralds
the Host and Hostess’s hospitality:


When Helios again horsebacks across the Heavens,

Hunting with Hounds for Hart and Hare – Half-past 7
Hawking with Hunting Hawks – Hand on 8
Horsemanship with Her Majesty – Half-past 12
Honeyed Hikes beyond the Hedgerows – On the hour
Haunting the Hummingbird-Hawkmoths that Hover by the Honeysuckle – Hand on 2
Hurling and Hammer-throwing – Hourly
Horseshoes and Hopscotch – Hour upon hour


Invitee (William Shakespeare!)
–idling in an inner-chamber—
inks an inspired idyll
the ivory-faced Duchess
her infatuated Duke.


Jesters, jugglers, jousters,
jingling jewels of jet,
jiggling jellies, juicy jams—

Oh, joy! Oh, joy! Oh, joy!


Knights kneel to the kingless Queen


the keeper of the kennel kicks back with a kidney-pie


the kitchen-maid kneads with her knuckles


the Duke and Duchess—
keen to kiss in the knot-garden—
keep company with kinsmen.


To the lilting lines of lutes—

Lords and Ladies lift long limbs and laud
the lucky Duke and his long-locked Duchess:

“Long life! Long life! Long life!”


Whilst madrigal music melts on a musk-rose mist,
a mischievous, miniature master
meanders the maddening maze.

He moves






until . . .

Mama! MAMA!

. . . he is mislaid.


The nineteen-year-old newlywed
nudges her niece and nods at her Duke—
“Now ’tis Nell nevermore,” the noble-lady natters.
“My newfound name (since my noonday nuptials):

The Duchess of Nonesuch.


One and all ooh and ah
over the opal-encrusted ornament—
an oval oil-painting of the overstuffed Duke—
his opulent offering to his Duchess.


Picked-over peacock parts
perch on plumed platters


prospering peacocks
parade palace promenades.


The queenly Queen


in questionable quantities.


In rubies, ruff, and ribbons,
the red-lipped, red-cheeked, red-haired,
reigning Royal—



Squires sing and somersault!


the Duke and Duchess

sample sweetest spun-sugar
’neath the shadow-draped, setting sun.


Tudors trill and tumble!


the Duke and Duchess

tiptoe off together . . .

with twenty Tudors trailing.


Unmerry urchin

“Upsa-daisy!” urges
an understanding underservant.

Unsoothed urchin


the Duke and Duchess

unbutton and unlace—

then upstairs under . . .


Varicolored velvets,
vivid velveteens, velours—

the Duke and Duchess vow
in velvety, veiled voices:

“You’re my virtuous Valentine.”


viol’s vibrato,
vanilla, and venison

verily vanish—

along with the Viscountess
who vaults the verdigris Venus
after dancing the Volta,
vexing the Viscount.


Women in worrisome whalebone,
well-played wordsmith William,
and wildly weary well-wishers
wash down wedding-cake
with warm wine.


the Duke and Duchess



x x x
x x x

x x x x x x

x x x


yard-dogs yap
and yeomen yarn
of yesteryear.


the Duke and Duchess

y    a     w     n







the Duke and Duchess







Agog: Extremely interested and excited.

Altar: A table in a church that is the center of a religious ceremony.

Archbishops: The most powerful leaders of the Church of England. An archbishop would perform the wedding ceremonies of royalty and nobility.

Aristocrats: Members of the upper class of Elizabethan society seen as superior to common people in rank and wealth.

Attendants: People who perform tasks for others like a bridesmaid at a wedding, or people who are present at ceremonies or events.

Baron/Baroness: The lowest rank of nobility in Elizabethan England.

Betroth: A promise to marry. Aristocratic parents arranged marriages to increase the wealth and status of couples, who often did not meet until their wedding day. The Crying of the Banns publicized marriages to allow people to object to the union.

Bit of blue: Brides often wore a garter of blue, the color of purity and eternal love.

Breeches: Short pants worn by Elizabethan men that ended just above or below the knee.

Bride: A noble bride wore a dress covered in ribbons, flowers, and lace. She carried a bouquet filled with sweet-smelling herbs and flowers to scent the air around her.

Bridegroom: A noble bridegroom, usually bearded, wore a fancy doublet, breeches, hose, a codpiece, and a neck ruff made from expensive fabrics like velvet, satin, or corduroy and dyed in vibrant colors that were costly to make.

Bridesmaids: Women who helped the bride prepare on her wedding day, made the bride’s garland, and led the noisy wedding procession to the church.

Carouse: To take part in a wild celebration or party.

Chalice: A drinking cup that was used as part of the marriage ceremony.

Circles-of-gold: Rings that might be exchanged during the wedding ceremony. Often rings had poesy—phrases like “With Everlasting Love”—written on the band.

Clergy: Men ordained to perform the religious functions of the church.

Cloves and cinnamon: Some of the costly imported spices used by the rich to flavor food.

Contract: Marriage was a religious sacrament as well as a contract under the law.

Courtier: A person who was a member of the royal court.

Doublet: A close-fitting jacket buttoned at the front, worn for formal occasions. The color, style, and choice of materials for Elizabethan clothing were set by law.

Dowry: The money, land, and goods a woman brought to a marriage.

Duchess/Duke: Nobleman and woman who ranked directly beneath the king and queen.

Earl/Countess: Nobleman and woman who ranked beneath a marquis and marchioness.

Ear-pickles: A name for earrings, often made of gold and gems, that were worn by both sexes.

Elizabeth I: Queen of England from 1558 until 1603 and the last Tudor monarch. Queen Elizabeth never married; therefore, there was no king during her reign.

Faerie Queene: A name for Queen Elizabeth, who appeared fairy-like because of the thick, white makeup made of lead that she wore to cover smallpox scars and wrinkles. Aristocratic women copied her style and wore ivory-colored makeup as well.

Familiars: Close friends and associates.

Fanfare: The lively sounding of trumpets.

Fare: Food.

Farthingale: Large hoops worn beneath skirts of aristocratic women, made of whalebone or wire in the shape of a wheel. Farthingales made moving quite difficult.

Fauna: Animals common to a region.

Fellowship: Friendship.

Fermentations: Wines made from juice after yeast is added.

Filet: A piece of meat without a bone.

Flank: A cut of meat.

Flaunt: Show off.

Flute: A tall, thin, delicate wine glass.

Fowl: A bird of any kind.

Fresh flowers: The bride wore and carried blossoms, including a ring of flowers—often roses and rosemary—that she then wore like a crown after the wedding ceremony.

Gaillard: A lively dance that Queen Elizabeth, who loved to exercise, did each morning.

Gallery: A long hall on the upper floor in a manor often used for exercise or entertaining.

Gavotte: A popular dance that gave partners the chance to steal a kiss.

Genteel: Anything having to do with the aristocracy or upper class.

Girdle: A piece of clothing that circles the waist, worn by both men and women.

Great-house: A large home or mansion.

Hall: A room off the large inner court on the ground floor of an Elizabethan manor.

Hammer-throwing: An outdoor game in which a large sphere attached to a pole is thrown.

Harken: Listen or pay attention.

Hart: England’s largest deer, often hunted on horseback with dogs used for tracking.

Hawking: The hunting of game birds, like pheasants, with falcons.

Hedgerow: A row of trees or shrubs.

Helios: In Greek mythology, the god of the sun.

Herald: To announce.

Her Majesty: The title by which subjects call their queen.

Hummingbird-hawkmoth: An insect often mistaken for a hummingbird.

Hurling: A fast field game in which teams move a ball down the field with a bat to score.

Idyll: A piece of poetry or prose that may have a romantic theme.

Infatuated: In love. In arranged marriages, it would be improbably lucky for a bride and bridegroom, like the Duke and Duchess, to fall in love on their wedding day.

Jester: Fool or clown who entertained members of the court.

Jet: A black, precious stone.

Jouster: Men—often knights—who fight or compete in tournaments on horseback.

Kinsman: A male relative.

Knead: To work something into a ball—often dough—with hands.

Knight: Rank beneath a baron and baroness. The title of knight was given to a man who distinguished himself in battle in front of his king or queen.

Knot-garden: Garden beds made into rectangular designs using intertwined hedges that were planted so their patterns could be seen from above through windows.

Lady: A woman of a high social position.

Long life: The tradition of toasting newlyweds by wishing that they live a long time.

Long-locked: Having long, flowing hair, often adorned with flowers for a wedding.

Lord: A man of high social position.

Lute: A popular stringed instrument with a large body in the shape of a pear.

Madrigal: A short poem about love that was set to music.

Meander: Wander along a winding path.

Musk-rose: A type of rose that blooms in summer in England.

Natter: To chatter.

Noble: A high-ranking person or a person born into privilege.

Nonesuch: A person without equal.

Noonday: Midday. In Elizabethan times, it was considered lucky to marry before noon.

Nuptials: Concerning marriage or the wedding ceremony.

Oil-painting: Miniatures of the bride and groom exchanged before or after the wedding.

Opal: A precious gem that sparkles with iridescent colors.

Opulent: Luxurious sign of great wealth.

Peacocks: Showy birds with fanlike, shimmering tails. These birds often wandered the grounds of the upper class and were also eaten as delicacies.

Plumes: The feathers of a bird.

Promenade: A place for walking leisurely.

Quaff: To drink. Because water was often unsafe to drink, Elizabethans—including Queen Elizabeth I—drank large amounts of ale and wine.

Reign: The period during which a king or queen rules a country.

Royalty: People descended from kings.

Ruff: An elaborate, circular, standing collar with starched, pleated frills. By the time of Queen Elizabeth I, ruffs were so large they were often held up with gauze wings.

Shakespeare, William: The most famous playwright of the era, widely believed to be the greatest writer in the English language.

Squire: A member of the English gentry who ranks below a knight and above a gentleman.

Trill: A sound made by vibrating the tip of the tongue against the teeth.

Tudor: The royal dynasty from 1485 to 1603, when Queen Elizabeth’s reign ended. When she died childless, the monarchy passed to the Stuarts. The Tudor reign coincided with the Renaissance, a period when the arts, science, and exploration flourished.

Urchin: A mischievous, often annoying, youngster.

Velour/velveteen: Soft fabrics that resemble velvet.

Venison: Deer meat.

Venus: In Roman mythology, the goddess of love and beauty.

Verdigris: A greenish-blue coating found on some metals left out in the air over time.

Verily: Truly.

Viol: A stringed instrument during the 1500 and 1600s played with a bow. A viol, an instrument like a violin, usually had six strings instead of four.

Virtuous: Filled with good qualities.

Viscount/Viscountess: Nobleman and woman ranking below an earl and countess.

Volta: A dance in which couples embraced closely and men lifted their partners in the air.

Vow: A promise made with great seriousness.

Whalebone: The bone from a whale used in undergarments worn by women.

Whilst: A form of the word “while,” used most often in England.

Wordsmith: A talented writer.

Yeoman: A lord’s servant who ranked between a squire and a boy page.

Yesteryear: Time that has passed.

Zephyr: A soft breeze.


Cover Image: Artist unknown. “Portrait of a Woman.” Oil on wood. England, ca. 1600. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.jordan release date | Patike