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Literally making fast the hands by tying them together with cord, it symbolises unity and commitment in pre-Christian marriage ritual and is probably the origin of the phrase 'tying the knot'. The practice lasted into the Christian era and was used by some parts of the church up to the Middle Ages. It was still legal in Scotland until the early 20th century (1939) although illegal in England since 1753.

Originally, it was a form of trial marriage often for up to a year and a day. A sort of early 'try before you buy'. The arrangement could be made permanent if both parties agreed, or they could walk away without consequence.