Marriage And Courtship Essay, Research Paper
During the 18th century, marriage and courtship was changing and new laws and regulations were being formed. Many of the traditions and ceremonies of the 18th century are still being used in the 21st century. Traditions such as wedding vows, marriage in churches, and the wedding ring all began in the 1700 s and are still prevalent today. The laws of the 1700 s laid the foundation for future centuries. When two individuals agreed to get married they had to determine what kind of marriage they would be having. There were three kinds of marriages during the 1700 s: Clandestine, common-law, and fleet marriages. The most common and controversial marriage, however, was Clandestine. It is fascinating to understand the development of marriage and courtship in 18th century.
During the 18th century the major movement regarding marriage and courtship was the change from church to state regulations. In the early 1700 s, the church governed marriage laws and customs; as problems arose, such as legality and promiscuousness, legislators began to pass laws and restrictions on marriages. The shift from common law to clandestine marriages took place in the middle of the 1700 s (Outhwaite, 1995). The majority of the laws that were passed protected the wants and interests of the wealthy. The lower social classes were not included in the new laws. People felt that lower class individuals should not get married. England s population began to grow rapidly and the upper class feared that the lower class would take over England. It is important to note that women and men were not seen as equals. Women were perceived as simpletons, inferior to men, and their sole purpose was to meet the needs of the husbands (Lasch, 1997).
In the 1700 s it was rare for anyone to be forced into marriage. Lower class young men always had the choice of picking the partner themselves. Most children of lower class were away from home, in service or working, therefore away from parental influence. Young men of higher classes had to choose a partner who would not degrade the family name. Choosing a wife had become an easier task because by the time the young men and women were ready to declare marriage, one, if not both parents had been deceased. Parents were often deceased by the time their children got married, this occurred because of the old marriage age which was 25-26 for women and men 27-28 for men (Cressy, 1997).
England courtship was known for being very long, usually lasting anywhere from nine months to two years. Courtship was very long because men wanted to be sure that they had found the perfect mate. Divorce was extremely difficult to get, in order to obtain a divorce the couple must first request permission to part, often these wishes were not granted. Divorce was also extremely expensive, only the higher classes were able to afford them. Instead of the typical divorce, private separations were used. Private separation was a written agreement between the man and the women stating that they no longer wanted to be together. In the written statement, it would explain where the woman would live and how much money and assets the man would leave her. Men of upper class who were unhappy would often abandon the wife. When a man abandoned his wife, he left her with no money and the woman would have to rely on her family for income support. When a man and woman of lower class wanted to separate they would use something called wife sale (Stone, 1990). The husband and wife would have to agree that there was no salvaging the marriage. The wife would be auctioned off to the highest bidder. If there was going to be a wife sale the husband would try to find a mate for his wife before the auction began, this was to insure the woman that the new husband would not be abusive (Bermudez, 1997).
Young men and woman met each other during work, at dances, alehouses and during church. Often the gatherings of young men and women were done without the influence of parents; however, friends would try and find mates for each other. Courtship was followed by certain rules. When courting a woman fondling and kissing was acceptable, sexual intercourse was not. In the 1700 s sexual intercourse was used as a way to trap young women into marriage. According to the cannon law of engagements to engage in sexual intercourse was as strong as getting married. Intercourse was as binding as marriage itself. Men would talk young women into having sex by declaring that they wanted to marry the woman (Outhwaite, 1995). Telling a female that you wanted to marry her, followed by sexual relations was called a pre-contract. In the early 18th century pre-contracts were considered valid declares of courtship and marriage. Pre-contracts became a problem for men because they could later invalidate a future marriage (Adair, 1996). If two people had sex without getting married the woman would have the option, years later, to declare that there was a pre-contract. The declaration of a pre-contracts would have to be proved by the woman, if proven, the man would be forced into marrying her and would have to leave his present wife. The exchange of binding promises and the physical union of sex were basic elements of marriages in the early 1700 s (Macfarlane, 1986).
In 1653 the civil marriage act was passed. The civil marriage act was the first step in changing the laws of marriage. The jurisdiction from church courts to state justice of the peace was in effect. It was required to have parental consent to all marriages in which one of the people were under the age of twenty-one. The 1653 act imposed heavy penalties for the abduction or fraudulent marriages of minors. After the restoration the civil marriage act became void. Almost one hundred years later this act would be used as a foundation for the act of 1753 (Adair, 1996).
In the 18th century there was three kinds of marriages: common law, clandestine and fleet. Common- law marriages were an arrangement in which two individuals formed a sexual partnership and cohabited with no ceremony of legitimacy. Common- law marriages were often the marriages of the lower class. There was no ceremony, no declaration of banns and no rings in the common-law marriage. Common-law marriages brought upon the act of bastard children. Since the couple did not have an official ceremony, marriages that were not held in a parish or registered by the church, were proclaimed void by society. When the husband and wife gave birth from a common-law marriage, it was perceived that the child was born out of wedlock. A child born out of wedlock was shunned from society (Plucket, 1956).
Fleet marriages were marriages of men who were in prison. Inmates who were Clergymen that were in jail for debt or small theft charges were given permission to work and raise money. The inmates were placed in jobs in the surrounding blocks of the Fleet Street Prison. Fleet marriages became very popular with the men who were in jail. The marriages would be held in one of two places. The ministers who would perform the weddings often allowed the ceremony to occur in ministers own home. Most of the fleet weddings were held through the bars of the prison cell on Fleet Street. Many members of society felt that the ministers who held the ceremony were those who were not true voices of god. Some people believed that performing the fleet marriages would be sin done by the ministers and therefore should not be true marriages.
The aristocracy was fearful of the Fleet marriages and fought to have them stopped. Men and women of the upper class thought that the children of the wealthy would fall in love with, and elope with a prison mate, ruining the family name by being bonded to a person of low class. When the aristocracy and the church realized that they were unable to prevent these marriages they went to the law for help (Brown, 1981).
Clandestine marriages were the most common marriages before 1753, they were also the most controversial. Clandestine marriages were valid binding marriages that did not follow the rules and laws of the cannon law. No banns were read and there was no marriage license. Clandestine marriages were never preformed in churches; they were preformed in taverns, prisons and brothels. The three most common reasons why people chose to use clandestine marriages were, if a woman was pregnant, if they were of low class or if a minister refused to wed them because they did not attend church regularly (Adair, 1996)).
Banns were public announcements requesting permission form the church and the community to marry. If a person felt that the two individuals should not be married this was the time for them to speak up. Banns were also used to let people know that if they wanted to court the soon-to-be married woman they had a three week time period to confront the woman. If a couple decided not to marry after announcing that they were going to, the man would have to come to the church and make a public apology, confessing his carelessness for betraying God. Communities attempted to block many of the banns of the lower class. Upper class citizens wanted to stop the banns from happening if they felt that one of the two getting married would be a disgrace to the church. Often banns were stopped if the members of the church thought the new family would become a burden to the parish (Cressey, 1997).
Cannon law states that the posting of banns had to be done three weeks prior to the intended wedding date. The ceremony had to take place within the parish that either the husband or wife attended. Weddings had to be done between the hours of eight a.m. and twelve p.m. (Stone, 1990).
Lord Chancellor Hardwicke was the first person that was ready to make a change in the wedding laws and regulations. Hardwicke s received a lot of respect from society because of his career goals. Hardwicke s career consisted of several decades as an attorney general, chief justice and finally Lord Chancellor. Hardwicke was the chief architect of the Marriage act of 1753.In 1741 Lord Chancellor Hardwicke began to outline his ideas to end the clandestine marriages. When planning the act of 1753, Hardwicke referred back to the Marriage Act of 1653, thus stating that his act was for the preventing of future clandestine marriages in England. The bill intended to void any marriages that were not preformed by a clergyman in a church or chapel during the hours that are stated by cannon law. Verbal and written marriages and pre-contracts would be considered void, unless the pre contracts were done in the presence of two witnesses. All marriages must be registered in the parish. Public announcement would also become mandatory. If nay marriage did not follow the rules of the marriage act and were caught the marriage would become void and the two individuals would be banished for fourteen years. (Outhwaite,1995) Many people saw this act as a means of arranging alliances between great families. This law protects the rights of the wealthy by doing away with clandestine and fleet marriages, both, which were the marriages of the lower classes. The act was designed to restrict undesirable marriages between social classes and prevent the poor from marrying and reproducing themselves.
The wedding itself had to follow the service that was liad out in the Book of Common Prayer. It was common for the bridal party to come to the wedding ceremony intoxicated. All of the woman in the wedding and attending the wedding would wear fresh flowers. In the 18th century wedding attire consisted of new clothes to symbolize the new beginning that would occur. Tinkets and ornaments were also worn the day of the wedding and given to friends as mementoes of the wedding. Only widowed women and married women were to wear gloves to the ceremony. In the beginning of the century weddings began on the church porch, on the threshold of God s building. The man always stood to the right of the woman. The reason that the man always stood on the left side was because it is said that the woman was formed out of the rib on the left side of Adam. The woman was given away by her father. If the father were deceased a male adult would give her away. The act of giving the woman away was a symbol of the transfer of authority from one man to another. Wedding vows were repeated and said to each other in the beginning of the service (Cressy, 1997).
The mans vows were said first:
I (name) take thee (name) to have and to hold from this day forth, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health till death us part. If the holy church will have it ordain I plight thee my troth (Cressy, 1997).
The woman s vows differed slightly I (name), take (name), to my wedding husband, to have and to hold, from this day forth, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health to be bonier and buxom, (courteous and kind) in bed and at board till death us do part (Cressy, 1997).
The man would then take the ring in his right hand with three fingers and place it on the thumb and say for the father and then he would place the ring on the second finger and say :the son then the third finger and say the holy spirit and the last finger he would say amen . The reason that the ring would be placed on the fourth finger is because there is a vein in that finger that runs straight to the heart. Once a couple was married they would prepare to have a family. Within the first year the woman would have had one child. The woman would give birth to a new child every tow years until the husband died or until the woman could no longer give birth. The woman usually hit menopause around the age of forty-three ( Cressy, 1997).
Marriage and courtship in the 18th century was very interesting. Some of the customs and laws that are used in the 21st century started in the 1700 s. There are many reasons that people got married, but none were ever for love. Society in the 21st century should be glad that not all of the beliefs from the 18th century are still in use.