By indexer
102 days ago

The Dunmow Flitch Trials

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Great Dunmow is a village is Essex (half way between Bishop’s Stortford and Braintree) that owes its fame to a custom that has been running unbroken since the 12th century and which is mentioned in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Married couples are put on trial to prove the strength of their marriage and, should they convince a judge and jury, win the prize of a side (or “flitch”) of bacon.

Dunmow and its flitch

The custom is supposed to have started when the lord of the manor and his wife went in disguise to the prior of the local monastery and asked him to bless their marriage, which had lasted for a year and a day. The prior rewarded their selfless devotion to each other with a prize of a flitch of bacon, and, ever since that time, that has been the prize on offer to married couples who, during their marriage of at least a year and a day, have never “wished themselves unmarried again”.

Of course, just saying that you are an utterly devoted couple proves nothing. You have to show the proof by “standing trial”, producing the evidence, and being willing to be cross-examined by barristers in front of a judge and jury, and that is what the Dunmow Flitch Trials are all about.

How the trials are held

The trials only take place in the July of a leap year, hence only during a single month once every four years. Five couples are selected in advance from all those who apply and each couple is tried separately.

These days, the proceedings are conducted in a light-hearted manner, but the trials are real enough in that the judge and barristers are often genuine legal personnel who conduct the trials in full regalia. A jury is sworn in, but these are 18-year-olds from local schools who represent pre-marital purity (one hopes!), with the maidens in white dresses and the bachelors wearing dark suits and ties.

The trials are held in a marquee and there is much processing about and speechifying by officials dressed in medieval costume and wearing hats adorned with flowers. Pride of place in the “courtroom” goes to the flitch, which hangs on a frame surrounded by greenery.

The flitches are donated by local butchers, who, naturally enough, would prefer not to have to give away valuable produce and so instruct their legal counsel to find chinks in the armour of the couples who claim never to have regretted their decision to marry. Lots of references are doubtless made to appreciative glances at pretty neighbours, burnt dinners and toilet seats being left up!

When a couple win their trial (which is the usual jury verdict), they are carried aloft in the “Flitch chair” by eight “humble folk” to Great Dunmow’s main square where they repeat the “Flitch oath” to the effect that they have never “offended each other in deed or in word”, “in bed or at board”.

A couple that is unsuccessful has to walk behind the empty Flitch chair and endure the mockery of the villagers. However, they do get a joint of gammon as a runners-up prize!

As for the flitch itself? These days the butchers generously cut it up for the winners to make it easier to carry home.

As mentioned above, this event is conducted with a friendly and humorous attitude and it is all regarded as a bit of fun, although it does require the couples involved to be somewhat broad-minded in publicly revealing aspects of their private lives. However, it has been known for couples, presumably with an addiction to bacon, to take things too seriously. On one occasion in times past a couple, having been awarded the flitch, was overheard arguing about what to do with it. The flitch was promptly confiscated and distributed among the other claimants!
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dorageorg Lovely, dear!😃
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svetle76 nice
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