It seems like getting married and not regretting it even slightly for the rest of your life has always been a challenge for young couples. This is why a custom was invented in Medieval England that gives credit to couples that managed to remain in the marriage without any regrets for a year and a day.
Besides the public celebration of their love, the couples were also rewarded with a big piece of bacon. Historical records connected with the ritual shows us that the reward was given on very rare occasions, probably because couples which fulfil the conditions of this “challenge” are rare.
Most of the information that we have about this custom come from two places: Whichnoure (Wychnor Hall), Staffordshire and Little Dunmow in Essex, where the tradition survived for several centuries.
In Staffordshire, this custom is connected with the manor of Whichnoure near Lichfield which the Earl of Lancaster gave to Sir Philip de Somerville in 1366, during the ruling of Edward III.
The manor was granted for a small fee and under one condition: the Earl of Lancaster demanded that the new owner should always keep a big piece of bacon hanged in his hall at the manor, in case a couple that swore they wouldn’t regret their marriage for a year and a day demanded it.
To ensure the validity of their claim, the couple was required to bring two neighbors as witnesses and swore an oath. This is the oath that the couple needed to swear:
“Hear ye, Sir Philip de Somervile, lord of Whichenoure, maintainer and giver of this Bacon, that I, (husband), syth I wedded (wife), my wyfe, and syth I had her in my kepyng and at wylle, by a Yere and a Day after our Marryage, I would not have changed for none other, farer ne fowler, richer ne powrer, ne for none other descended of gretter lynage, sleeping ne waking, at noo time; and if the said (wife) were sole, and I sole, I would take her to be my wyfe before all the wymen of the worlde, of what condytions soevere they be, good or evyle, as helpe me God, and his Seyntys, and this flesh, and all fleshes.”
If a couple managed to prove their faithfulness and dedication to each other, they were given the prize and escorted from the hall with a great ceremony accompanied by musicians. Back in those days, the flitch of bacon was a valuable prize, but still, it hasn’t been claimed a lot.
When Horace Walpole visited the Whichnoure manor in 1760, he noted that the bacon prize had not been claimed for over 30 years. There was no fresh bacon in the hall. Instead, they kept a wooden carving of bacon flitch as a symbolical way to respect the conditions upon which the manor was granted.
The Flitch of Bacon custom at Little Dunmow Priory in Essex is more famous and better-documented. According to the records, the custom was started in the 13th century by the family of Robert Fitzwalter who was the Baron of Little Dunmow.