Wedding Traditions Explained: Why Do We Propose On One Knee?

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Why do we propose on one knee? It’s a good question, and one that we’ve been thinking about for a while. When we think of a proposal we imagine a ring, an excited woman and a man on one knee holding the ring box. This image is so engrained in our culture it must have been happening for hundreds, if not thousands of years, right?

Actually, no. In this Wedding Traditions Explained post we’re talking about where getting down on one knee actually came from.

Knight In Shining Armour

Back in the days of knights and kings, knights would kneel in front of their lords to show obedience, loyalty and respect. As part of the knighting ceremony you were expected to kneel, a tradition which has remained in Britain today.

There are accounts of knights and men of high rank kneeling before noblewomen who were perceived to be of higher class than them. This was to show their courtly love and devotion, and often included other proclamations such as letters, poetry and art works. However, this would rarely have resulted in a proposal as the higher class noblewomen were married young.


The reality of historical proposals was that they were very much a deal made between two families. Carrying on the family line and making sure your partner would neither disrespect nor humiliate your name in the process was important. This meant that parents would often match up their children for practical reasons, and romance or even proposals between the two didn’t come into it at all.
Why Do We Propose On One Knee Bride and groom wedding bands and engagement rings how to choose your wedding photographer


Another theory behind proposing on one knee is religion. In most religious ceremonies worshippers kneel before their god. As religion and weddings are intrinsically linked, it is thought that kneeling before your prospective wife was the logical thing to do.

Fairy Tale Scene

The reality is that nobody can be sure where the tradition of proposing on one knee came from. What is apparent is that is as engrained into our culture as having a ring. It’s in fairy tales, films and literature that we’re surrounded with all our lives, and is a moment that every girl should wish for. (But if you don’t – we don’t blame you.)

Avoiding Tradition

If you’re not the sort of person who wants their partner to be down on one knee while they propose, we completely understand. Modern relationships mean you’ve probably discussed getting married already, and don’t need them to be on one knee to know that they will be loyal and respect you. We’re seeing more couples where the woman has proposed, and some where there was no proposal at all – just an agreement to start wedding planning!

Whatever your feelings on traditional proposals are, the marriage is really the important moment.

Want more from our Wedding Traditions Explained series? Take a look at Why We Wear A White Dress.