|"The Judicious Lover" 18th century after Hubert Gravelot|
In the early 18th century, whether you married for love or money was often a matter of socioeconomic class. As in ladies’ fashions, the higher your social status, the lower your ability to do as you pleased. For the upper class, marriage was an arrangement made by parents seeking to cement the foundations of their wealth and power in the community. Any notions of romance were seen as secondary and, in truth, detrimental to such pairings. It was a thoughtful business decision set apart from the mercurial passions of the young people. Love, as such, was something one might grow into as the couple lived out their respectable, marriage contract. (Or…attained outside the bonds of marriage.) Young women, especially, had little to say in the matter and knew, once they were married, any small amount of independence they currently enjoyed was put to an end as their husbands would have complete legal control over them. If a young man’s attention was independently drawn to a particular lady, he would first have to receive the permission of his own father who, if he approved of the potential match, would send a formal request to the young lady’s father. The two patriarchs would meet and discuss the financial arrangements and if a
|"Conversation in a Park" (1768) Thomas Gainsborough|
|"Haymaker and Sleeping Girl" (1785) Thomas Gainsborough|
Now of course, if you were born into a lower rung of the societal ladder, your choices for courtship and marriage were much broader since wealth and status were not part of theequation. That did not mean, however, families felt no responsibility for their children's welfare. The practice of “bundling” in which a courting couple were allowed to sleep in the same bed, fully clothed with a bundling board or bolster between them in the young lady’s family home, served a dual purpose. In many lower income families, everyone slept in the same room, and it was a means in which not only the young lovers could get to know each other better but also as a way of proving the identity of the unborn baby’s father if things progressed, as they so often would, despite the physical barriers.
In this more relaxed attitude toward courtship and marriage, there were varied forms of marriage agreements in the early 1700s, not all dependent upon a minister or magistrate. One of the more prevalent means was “handfasting” or “spousal” in which the young couple, with or without witnesses, simply held hands and promised love and loyalty, declaring themselves married. These personal ceremonies were held anywhere the couple chose and in Colonial America
|"Young Girl Listening to Conversation Between Two Lovers"|
(1789) by Michel Garnier
the ceremony. For spousals that were sincere, the couple often gave each other the gift of a half a broken silver sixpence which each kept until death did them part. Another custom was called “spousal de futuro,” which was an announcement of engagement, but if a baby was conceived in the interim, the status was automatically elevated to “spousal.”
|"The Joys of Motherhood" (1752) by Jean-Honore Fragonard|
Remember this old chant from your childhood? “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes (insert name of choice) with a baby carriage.” As you can see, in the early 18th century, the order of events could take any number of variations and, come to think of it, that’s not so different from today, after all!
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