January 27, 1911
According to tradition, an annual fair was held at a spot where the
Black and White Esk meet, and which, was remarkable for its peculiar
marriage associations. At this fair all the unmarried of either sex
assembled, and each chose a companion with whom they had to live until
the next fair. This ceremony was known as "hand-fasting" or
"hand-in-fist." The man took his chosen companion home, and each enjoyed
the privileges of the married state all the year; and they attended the
next season's fair, and if mutually pleased with their choice they were
held to be properly joined together in matrimony for life. But if either
of the two who had lived together during the time of probation was
dissatisfied, they separated and were free to provide themselves with
another partner. From the neighbouring monasteries priests were sent to
look after those couples who had been "handfasted," and to join together
those who were pleased with their bargain.
This singular custom was known to have been taken advantage of by many
persons of rank. We may quote Lindsay, the Scottish historian, to prove
this. In his account of the reign of James II., he says that, "James,
sixth Earl of Murray, had a son by Isabel Innes, daughter of the Laird
of Innes, Alexander Dunbar, a man of singular wit and courage. This
Isabel was bul 'hand-fasted' to him, and deceased before the marriage."
All children born during the year of trial, in event of a separation
following, were taken care of by the father, and ranked with his lawful
children, next to his heirs.
This apprenticeship in matrimony reflected no disgrace on the lady
concerned, and if her character was otherwise good she was entitled to
an equal match as though nothing had occurred.
"Hand-fasting" was deemed a great irregularity by the Reformers, and
they used every means in their power to abolish it. In the year 1562 the
Kirk-Session of Aberdeen decreed that all "hand-fasted" persons should
marry at once, so the custom must have been general throughout Scotland;
but, it ceased to exist shortly after the Reformation.