O young Lochinvar is come out of the west,
Through all the wide border his steed was the best,
And save his good broadsword he weapons had none,
He rode all unarm’d and he rode all alone.
The traditional time for weddings is over for this year. No doubt, scores of happy couples exchanged vows in broad daylight in public.
How times have changed.
In feudal times, most weddings took place at night and in secret. There was good reason.
Couples seldom married for love in those days. Rather, they wed because their families wanted to gain something — land, position or peace.
But this didn’t mean young men and women never fell in love with someone they couldn’t marry, so probably most couples endured loveless marriages while carrying on clandestine affairs.
However, many times a bride’s true love arrived at the wedding and abducted her.
So, not only were weddings kept secret, but the bridegroom also had to worry about retaining his bride. To ensure safety, he was accompanied by a “best swordsman” — an accomplished warrior whose role was to guard both him and his bride.
This best man usually enlisted a few other armed men as back-ups. Today, we call these extra males “ushers,” and their role has nothing to do with fighting.
In addition to a best man and an armed escort, the groom had another source of assistance. Behind the altars of most churches, there was stored a cache of such weapons as spears and lances in case the groom needed to ward off a bride-snatcher. There were also torch sockets to aid in night pursuit.
The best man was common in many cultures dating back to about AD 1000. In British tradition, we first hear of best men in the early 1600s.
In 1808, Scottish novelist and poet, Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), wrote about the abduction of a bride on her wedding day. In the poem, Lochinvar, the hero (Lochinvar) shows up at a wedding and rides off with the bride.
Scott writes: “There was racing and chasing on Cannobie Lee,/But the lost bride of Netherby ne’er did they see./So daring in love and so dauntless in war,/Have ye e’er heard of gallant like young Lochinvar?”
Because Lochinvar is not the bridegroom, he has no best man or other warriors. In Scott’s words: “He rode all unarm’d, and he rode all alone.” Scott adds, “There never was knight like the young Lochinvar.”
Probably no best man today has a clue about the original role of a best man. But then, he doesn’t have to deal with a knight like the young Lochinvar either.
Best is from the Old Teutonic batist. It entered Old English as betst. In both languages, it means, “most good.” Bridegroom, from the Old English brydguma, means, “a man about to be, or recently, married.” Bride, from the Old Teutonic brudiz, became bryd in Old English. Both words mean, “to cook.” The original meaning of groom in Middle English was, “boy; male child.” The origin is unknown.