Proxy marriage is a wedding in which at least one of the lucky couple is absent, with a proxy filling in instead. It was fairly common amongst the nobility in the middle ages to engage in this practice. One intriguing instance that I have read is that between Philip II of Spain and Elizabeth of France, with the Duke of Alba acting as a proxy for the former. The process included a consummation in which Elizabeth and the Duke of Alba went to bed with one leg naked each and touched these legs against each other.

When and where did this practice originate? In the original case, what problem was it intended to solve? How long did it take for the practice to receive official or widespread recognition?

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    That's not quite the "proxy consumation" process I pictured. Shame. :-)
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jun 22, 2012 at 13:52
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    @T.E.D. in another contemporary (1600) wedding,that of Maria de Medici with Henri IV of France, the proxy wedding was celebrated in Florence. One of the canvases of Rubens' Maria de Medici cycle depicts the event. The proxy was Maria's uncle the Grand Duke Ferdinand of Tuscany and he dutifully put his (naked?) leg on top of his niece's leg to symbolically consume the union. I guess it was not practical for Henry to go all the way to Florence and the Medici were too proud ... Commented Jun 24, 2012 at 17:14
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    ... to not mark such an event (the union of the only heir of the Medici dynasty which had given 3 popes and one queen of France already) with the lavish ceremonies they organised on the occasion. I can't answer the OP's question but it seems to me that the alliances between powerful, and inevitably geographically remote, dynasties would have entailed lengthy (and costly) travels and that was simply not practical especially in turbulent periods (another example is Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette). Commented Jun 24, 2012 at 17:27
  • But did they ever meet and consummate marriage in "normal" way?
    – Voitcus
    Commented Jun 25, 2013 at 7:23
  • @Voitcus: Eventually. (In most cases.) If one of them didn't die first.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Sep 11, 2013 at 18:51

1 Answer 1


I am answering this question using the material in the link posted by the OP. The interpretations are mine.

Proxy marriage originated in Europe in the Middle Ages. It was meant for 1) "power couples," such as kings and queens, or very high-ranking nobles, 2) who wanted to ally, but lived in widely separated geographical locales, and 3) who did not have convenient means of transportation.

First, it does not seem to have been usual during Greek or Roman times (if it existed at all). In the days of those empires, the power was centralized in the "capital" e.g. Rome or Athens, meaning that "power couples" consisted of marriages between the "boy and girl" next door.

It was in the Europe of the Middle Ages, after the collapse of the Roman empire led to the creation of numerous and widespread power centers, that kings and queens felt the need to go outside the country to find a suitable match. Given the "patchwork" of Europe's feudal holdings and states, the country next door might not be a good ally, but rather an enemy, and a spouse with common interests (or enemies) might be someone from two or three countries over. This would be a determination made by the diplomats, with the sovereigns assenting. Possibly one or both would be too preoccupied with war or other matters to visit the other, so they would make the marriage (and resulting alliance) by proxy.

In modern times, we have two-career "power couples," but air, land, and ship transportation is so much better that they don't have the "commuting" problems of the European nobles. If anything, proxy marriage in America is for the LOWER classes, particularly where the man is engaged in the military, or some other "wandering" profession, and has trouble connecting with his intended bride.

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