One Ring To Bind Them?

 

It will probably not have escaped most people’s attention that Prince William has decided not to wear a wedding band when he marries Kate Middleton in just over three weeks from now. His reason for not wearing a wedding ring has not been made public and I feel that it is only proper that a decision that was made privately by the bride and groom should remain just that.

His status as our future king has however, resulted in the matter becoming a hot topic for discussion. I have heard at least two debates on the BBC in the past week on the rights and wrongs of wearing wedding rings, for both partners. Those putting forward the feminist viewpoint would argue that it has historically been women alone who wore a wedding ring in order to denote their status as the man’s property and that this thinking is now well past it’s sell-by-date. Therefore, if Kate is going to wear a wedding ring William should too. Additionally, it was suggested that a man should wear a ring as it prevents adultery because everyone will know that he is already married. In William’s case I don’t think there will be many women on the planet who could use his lack of wedding ring as justification for ignorance of his marital status should they wish to embark on an affair with him. And in most men’s cases if they are determined to be unfaithful a piece of precious metal on their finger will not be enough to stop them.

This whole debate has however, piqued my interest in the ideology behind wedding rings and why we wear them in the first place. I do wear a wedding ring but don’t think that I ever gave much thought to the reasons behind my wearing it until now. I, like most people, was vaguely aware that the circle symbolising unending love was a wonderfully romantic notion and that by wearing it I would be reminded daily of my unending love for my wife. But the truth is that one becomes used to wearing the ring and the symbolism behind it hardly ever enters one’s head. Aside from the symbolic aspect I don’t think that it ever occurred to me to not wear a ring. The act of choosing the rings was for me and my wife just one of the many pleasurable tasks associated with the planning of a wedding. The biggest issue for us was whether or not they should be made of Welsh gold because I was born in Wales.

The history behind wedding rings is a surpisingly long and fascinating one. It dates back to ancient Egypt (approximately 4800 years ago) where archaeologists have uncovered evidence of the use of shaped twigs or hemp etc; as a ring for the bride. The idea of the circle representing undying love also dates back to this time. The Ancient Romans also adhered to the practice of placing a ring on the bride’s finger. There was however, no romantic notion behind this as the women then became the husband’s property and had no say in the matter! It seems that in the Middle and Far East men would place a “puzzle ring” on the bride’s finger. This ring was cleverly or perhaps cynically designed to fall apart if removed and could only be put back together if one knew the correct arrangement. Women have therefore, for thousands of years, been seen as the property of males and the rings used to symbolise this status. Even in the UK women were still seen as the property of their father and then their husband until the late 19th Century. It was not until the amendement to the Married Women’s Property Act in 1884 that British women finally achieved legal status as inedependent and separate people.

The practice of male wedding bands did not begin until the Second World War when it became fashionable for men serving overseas to wear it in order to remind them of their loved ones back home. This use of male wedding rings then increased in popularity during the Korean War a few years later.

This does then, raise some interesting points. Throughout history the wedding ring has seemingly been used as a symbol of ownership of the wife by the husband and to ensure fidelity of the wife when the husband is absent. Far from being a purely positive and romantic practice it is one steeped mainly in subjugation, cynicism and mistrust. If one were to seek to ensure a husband’s fidelity today then perhaps a male puzzle ring would be an effective security measure. But, what starry eyed couple would genuinely wish to embark on their married life together with the cynical exchanging of monkey puzzle jewellery?

Additionally, do we even consider why the ring is placed on the fourth finger of the left hand? Once again this stems from Ancient Egyptian and Roman belief that a vein (the Vena Amoris) leads directly from this finger to the heart. Again, this means that even the location of the rings is based on ancient and scientifcally disproved superstition.

It is intriguing therefore, that whilst the female wedding band has been used down through the millenia to denote ownership and guard against infedility the male ring, in it’s very brief history, has, in reality, a very positive ideology behind it.

So what does this mean for us today? Is Prince William right to forgo a wedding band? I don’t think that he is either right or wrong. He has, in agreement with his future wife, made a personal choice to go against recent tradition and current popular thinking (possibly, simply because he doesn’t like wearing jewellery) and I fully respect him for that. It does appear, anecdotally at least, that the numbers of men opting to wear a wedding ring are on the decline. This suggests that it may prove to be a shortlived fashion which may well be hastened by the publicity surrounding the Royal Wedding. It is unlikely however, that the 5,000 year old practice of wedding rings for brides even in the light of disproved superstition and female emancipation will fall from popularity anytime soon.

Speaking personally, now I know the history behind it and have had the opportunity to consider the matter this husband will be keeping his ring firmly on the third finger of his left hand.

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