Love and Marriage – Georgian Style

lwlpr07752 Here's songs of love & maids forsaken
‘Here’s songs of love & maids forsaken.’ Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library.

Samuel Johnson described a second marriage as a:

triumph of hope over experience

So what about a first marriage, how did you find a soul mate? Well, at the start of the Georgian era marriage, especially if you happened to be wealthy, was very much akin to an arranged marriage, with landed and gentry families arranging the marriage of their children to other wealthy families in order to build their empire and to keep the money in the family. Children were sometimes betrothed during their childhood and love took virtually no part in marriage. The situation was very different for working class people who were free to marry for love. Things began to change as a result of couples running away to Gretna Green and the like who wanted to marry for love, and by doing so they managed to cheat their parents out of such a financial union. The result of these runaway marriages being the 1753 Marriage Act which standardized marriages in England for the first time, meaning that couples under the age of 21-years had to seek parental permission. This, however, meant that couples under that age continued to runaway to Scotland.

British School; The Elopement; Paintings Collection;
British School; The Elopement; Paintings Collection

What if you couldn’t manage a first marriage, let alone a second one – where did you look? Well, there was always the ‘lonely hearts’ column. Today we have online and speed dating, back in Georgian times both men and women who were seeking love used the newspapers to look for a suitable partner, so we thought it might be fun to take a look at the advertisements placed for those seeking a suitable spouse.

The World Friday, March 21, 1788
The World Friday, March 21, 1788

So, what did men look for in a wife? Well in this case only tall women need apply! He really should have defined ‘tall’!

Public Advertiser 8th June 1774


A gentleman, lately arrived in England, and who is void of acquaintance, wishes to enter into the State of Matrimony. A fortune is not his object. He should be glad, were a lady about twenty-one years of age, rather tall than otherwise, of an affable and lively temper. Any one answering these particulars would have a carriage at her command and every other indulgence might tend to her happiness.

In the Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser 14th November 1776, this gentleman basically tells would be ‘timewasters’ to ‘jog on’!

To the fair candidates for Matrimony

A young gentleman, genteelly settled and possessed of three thousand pounds real and 400l per annum wishes to meet with an agreeable partner for life whose will and fortune is independent of others control; her fortune a thousand pounds; no objection to more; the beauty of the mind which is lasting will be preferred to the charms of the face; and favours are requested for Mr. Price to be left at the Penny Post House, Charles Street, Oxford Road.

NB Those insignificant jades whose characters won’t bear inquiry and in consequence are ashamed to appear to their appointment are desired not to trouble the author to no purpose.

Clater, Thomas; The Proposal; Stockport Heritage Services;
Clater, Thomas; The Proposal; Stockport Heritage Services

Seemingly the lonely hearts advertisements were not restricted to men – women also placed adverts such as this one in the Morning Post and Daily Advertiser, 12th October 1775.

A young gentlewoman that has met with some disappointments in life, has never been from home, and in expectation of some fortune, but chooseth to see genteel life, has a good education, and speaks French would be glad to superintend a single Nobleman or Gentleman’s house; no objection to age, town or country, or to go abroad, on terms agreed on at an interview.

NB Prefers a genteel independence to matrimony.

© The Trustees of the British Museum
© The Trustees of the British Museum

At the other end of the spectrum we discovered quite a number of people who marriage multiple times. One woman, Lydia Hall who according to ‘The World’ died in 1787, had been:

Tried at the Old Bailey nine times and was seven times marriage; three of her spouses were long ago executed and two of them transported.

In 1797, according to The Morning Herald of 30th December:

Thomas Lonfield Esq. who died at Bath last week was married six times, and by each of his wives received a large fortune: having no children, he has left the principal part of his immense possessions to his widow.

Courtesy of Lewis Walpole

Featured Image

Hogarth, William; After; The Fitzwilliam Museum