Monday 30 September 2013

Bonny and Buxom

Just a repost today, as I went to a wedding at the weekend, and am still deep in finishing The Book.

In Medieval wedding services the wife would promise the following:

I take thee, John, to be my wedded husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer and poorer, in sickness and health, to be bonny and buxom, in bed and at board, till death do us part, and thereto I plight thee my troth.

Now, this seems to our modern eyes to be a strange sort of promise. How could a wife guarantee that she would be buxom? Were thin women unable to marry in church? However, the word buxom has changed in meaning over the years. The first citation of buxom in the OED comes from the twelfth century and is defined as: Obedient; pliant; compliant, tractable. The sense then changed to happy, then to healthy, and thence to plump.

Meanwhile bonny comes from the French bon and the Latin bonus, both of which mean good. So a bonny and buxom wife was a good and obedient one, which is why it was eventually replaced by loving, honouring and obeying. There's even a sixteenth century reference to being "bonnaire and buxome to the Pope".

Anyway, this form of the service is still occasionally used. There's a story about it here.



  1. Freemen of the City of Norwich still promise to be "buxom to the mayor". Although now that women have won the right to inherit the freedom, there may be a few who are buxom in both senses. Not me I'm afraid.

  2. PLEASE - is there a reference for being "Bonnaire and buxom to the Pope"? I'd so love to quote it!!!

    1. Your whim is my command. 1581 J. Bell tr. W. Haddon & J. Foxe Against Jerome Osorius 287 b, The Consuls should..sweare faythfully to become bonnaire and buxome to the Pope.

  3. Just in passing "bonny" means plump in Nottingham dialect rather than pretty.