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; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-elopement-31757
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

MATRIMONY

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; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-proposal-89501
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.

lwlpr12041
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole

 

Feature image: Hogarth, William; After; The Fitzwilliam Museum

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Valentine’s Day in the Georgian Era

AN00322790_001
Courtesy of the British Museum

There were many different customs and traditions surrounding Valentine’s Day, one of which baffled the unsentimental writer of this letter to the newspaper.

Derby Mercury – 7th March 1782

Sir,

Amongst many customs useful and ridiculous which have been handed down to us from our Ancestors, I lately observed one of drawing Valentines, on the Evening preceding Valentine’s Day, which was much in this Manner, the Boys collected all the names of females (unmarried) they could remember, and wrote them separately upon little tickets or bits of paper, which were put into a hat and shaked about for some time, when each of them drew one of these out, and the next day sent a kind of poetical epistle to the girl who was his Valentine or Lot.  I confess the meaning of this is extremely strange to me at present, as I cannot see any thing in it useful or entertaining.  I should therefore be greatly obliged, if any Correspondent of your’s would favour me with a reason for this superstitious ceremony.

I am, Sir,

Your humble Servant,

The INSPECTOR.

Valentine's - Love in a Village
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

February the 14th was a popular and romantic day for a wedding whether they were unusual, unsuccessful or happy.

Read’s Weekly Journal – 16th February 1751

Thursday one Mrs. Mann, aged upwards of 60, who keeps a Cook and Chandler’s Shop in Shoreditch, was married to a Soldier quartered in that Neighbourhood, aged about 22.  Being asked by a Neighbour how she could think of Marriage at those Years?  She replied it was Valentine’s Day, and she was resolved to be coupled.  The old Gentlewoman had, by her Frugality and Industry, collected upwards of 200 l. which she freely bestowed on her new Lover.

Valentine's - Lovers of all sorts
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

Morning Herald – 4th March 1784

It may be worth remarking, that on last Valentine’s Day, a couple were married in St. Peter’s Church, Derby, who had between them seven thumbs, viz. the woman three, and the man four.

Valentine's - smick smack 1812
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

Hereford Journal – 26th July 1787

WINCHESTER, JULY 21.  At our assizes a cause was tried between Sarah Stephens, of Newport, in the Isle of Wight, aged 24, plaintiff, and Mr. Spencer of the same place, aged 65, defendant.  This cause occasioned much diversion in the court.  The happy pair had agreed, it seems, to unite in the soft and pleasing bands of Hymen on Valentine’s day last; a day conceived by them to be most propitious to love and the union of lovers; but unfortunately the demon of discord interfered.  The old gentleman’s age and unwieldy figure, contrasted with the youth and genteel appearance of the lady, afforded an ample field for wit and humour, and the laugh went much against the unfortunate gentleman.  But what was still more against him, the Jury gave a verdict in favour of the lady for 400 l. damages, with costs of suit.

Valentine's - The Best Shelter
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

The Bury and Norwich Post – 25th February 1807

On Valentine’s Day set out from Stamford, in Lincolnshire, on a matrimonial trip to Gretna Green, Mr. Charles Wales, printer, lately of Bury St. Edmund’s, with Miss Eliza Booth, second daughter of Mr. Booth, wine and spirit merchant, of the former place. – The far-famed Hymen of the Northern border having indissolubly entangled the happy pair in his silken bonds, they returned to Stamford on Sunday last, and their nuptial bliss was consummated with the blessing of the lady’s opulent friends!

Gretna Green, or, the red-hot marriage, c.1795. Lewis Walpole Library
Gretna Green, or, the red-hot marriage, c.1795. Lewis Walpole Library

In 1797 a booklet had been published titled ‘The Young Man’s Valentine Writer’ which listed romantic verses which could be copied out by those with little poetic skill and sent to their sweethearts. Later printers began to mass-produce printed verses and cards. While these lacked the personal touch of a handwritten note it did mean that they could easily and cheaply be sent anonymously via the postal service. Valentine’s Day proved to be a busy one for early 19th century postmen.

The Love Letter by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, 1770. Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Love Letter by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, 1770. Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Ipswich Journal – 23rd February 1805

On Valentine’s Day the General Two-penny Post Office received 80,000 letters – an increase from last year of 20,000.  The amount of 80,000 letters is 686£ 13s 4d.

Valentine's - Edward & Eliza
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

The Morning Post – 15th February 1815

Yesterday being Valentine’s day, the whole artillery of love was put into requisition.  The Postmen were converted into Cupids, and instead of letters upon business, carried epistles full of flames, darts, chains, and amorous declarations.

We end with a Valentine’s Day poem addressed to the lucky Miss F____ of Winchester by an anonymous admirer who used the Hampshire Chronicle newspaper rather than the post to proclaim his love.

Hampshire Chronicle – 21st February 1791

 

VALENTINE’S DAY.

LINES addressed to Miss F____, of WINCHESTER.

I only sing one blooming fair to gain;

Adieu, ye muses, if she will not hear.  HAMMOND

BEAUTY from fancy often takes its arms,

And every common form some breast may move;

Some in an air, a look, a shape, find charms,

To justify their choice or boast their love: –

But, had the great Apelles seen that face,

When the beauteous Cyprian goddess drew,

He had neglected all the female race,

Thrown his first Venus by, and copy’d – YOU.

Feb. 14., 1791