Marriages were made generally between members of the same social class. Liaisons could be made between lords and peasants, but not marriages.
If there was inequality of class the norm was for the man to be of the higher class. Women in these circumstances often brought property or money into the marriage.
In the lower classes economic factors played a major part in determining the age of marriage. In this period the average age was the mid twenties. Normally the man was older about 26 years old and the woman about 24.
Death was the main cause of marriages ending. The average lasted about 17 to 19 years.
Many re-marriages took place, but quite a substantial proportion of the population never married. Women spinsters were also most likely to be virgins, usually lived with their parents and were very unlikely to live separately. Two notable exceptions were the ladies of L1angollan for years in an apparently homosexual friendship. Today the concept of spinsterhood is outdated. Many women live single independent lives, but possibly very few are lifelong celibates or virgins. There has been a sea change in the attitude to celibacy since the widespread option of effective birth control. But that is not all because in previous centuries a semi mystical quality attached to virginity and the reputation of a wanton had to be avoided.
Most 18th Century marriages would have been placid and not have been accompanied by the shocks described in this chapter. It is always the abnormal which is remarked and recorded. Marriage was a serious business and in the accounts which follow we see the huge emotional upheavals which followed when attempts were made to deviate from the accepted social code. The clandestine marriage of Betty Morris and the runaway marriage of Caroline Thurslow both caused rifts which lasted for years in their respective families.
One gets the impression that it was not just social pressure which prolonged the exile of the two women, but extraordinary emotion. Perhaps it is significant that in both cases there was a very close father-daughter relationship.
At the opposite end of the spectrum where marriage was desired for more practical reasons matchmakers were used to arrange marriages. These individuals performed in a simple way the functions of bringing people together which today are undertaken by marriage bureaux.
A rigid social code prevented the marriage of people from different classes of society. It was perhaps inevitable that strictness should have been enforced in preventing romantic entanglements between music teachers and their pupils. The situation was inherently dangerous. The pupils were young girls with neither emotional nor sexual experience; they were mostly at the age of looking for romance and love. The music teacher was a young but more experienced man who was educated, often handsome but not of the same social class. From the point of view of the parents their daughter had to be educated in the graces painting, singing and playing a keyboard instrument; but kept from any entanglement until of an age for marriage and marriage to an eligible gentleman of good fortune, estate and similar or better social status.
Lesclos’ “Les Liasons Dangereuses” describes such a scenario. The schoolgirl is brought back from her boarding school to complete her education. The music master is the first male she meets. She is as a ripe peach ready to fall into his hands. Her mother has a rich old man ready and waiting to marry her and chaos ensues.
Presumably the Jeffery family thought this was happening when Richard Stevens fell in love with Anna-Maria. They were not so very high in Society, but Stevens as a talented and well-educated child of an ordinary family was below them.
The case moves our hearts because Stevens love was so great that it survived every discouragement for more than a decade; because in the end after much suffering his faithfulness and love won him his bride; because it was almost too late as she was already past forty when the family relented and yet their love survived and was crowned with a child.
However we begin at the beginning of the century with the story of Bettey Morris.