Prior to the invention of the moveable-type printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in 1447, weddings in England were typically announced by means of a Town crier: a man who would walk through the streets announcing in a loud voice the news of the day. Traditionally, anyone within earshot became part of the celebration.
In the Middle Ages, illiteracy was widespread, so the practice of sending written wedding invitations emerged among the nobility. Families of means would commission monks, skilled in the art of Calligraphy, to hand-craft their notices.
Such documents often carried the Coat of arms, or personal crest, of the individual and were sealed with wax.
From 1600 onward
Despite the emergence of the printing press, the ordinary printing techniques of the time, in which ink was simply stamped onto the paper using lead type, produced too poor a result for stylish invitations. However, the tradition of announcing weddings in the newspaper did become established at this time.
In 1642, the invention of metal-plate engraving (or Mezzotint) by Ludwig von Siegen brought higher-quality wedding invitations within the reach of the emerging middle class. Engraving, as the name implies, requires an artisan to "hand write" the text in reverse onto a metal plate using a carving tool, and the plate was then used to print the invitation. The resulting engraved invitations were protected from smudging by a sheet of tissue paper placed on top, which is a tradition that remains to this day.
At the time, the wording of wedding invitations was more elaborate than today; typically, the name of each guest was individually printed on the invitation.