Thursday, February 1, 2018
Courtship and Marriage Customs in the Georgian Era
Yesterday we looked at vintage wedding rings from England’s Georgian era. These handcrafted rings offer a variety of styles influenced by world events and more over 100 plus years (1714 to 1837). Today, these vintage rings offer classic craftsmanship with a romantic feel from yesteryear if you are lucky enough to find one, but courtship and marriage in the Georgian era often had nothing to do with romance or even love.
Don’t get me wrong, love was one reason a couple might have gotten married, but often marriage was a matter of convenience, like making a deal, for reasons like producing heirs, combining finances and families, or to get out of poverty or escape a life of loneliness. Author Jane Austen sums it up the reality of the times in her 1813 novel Pride and Prejudice when she wrote “Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance.”
It may surprise some to know that the age of consent for courtship for girls was age 12 and for boys was age 14. However, even if they were betrothed at such a young age, minors under the age of 21 needed parental consent to marry.
The Georgian era is known for rigid class prejudice and this played into choosing who you could marry. Choosing someone from the same class made things easier to marry. For instance, if the woman’s family didn’t have a adequate dowry she wouldn’t be likely to see male suitors from “good families” showing interest in pursuing her. However, a socially acceptable double standard allowed well-to-do men to keep a lower-class mistress without criticism, but if they married that same woman they faced condemnation and could even be shunned.
Sex Before Marriage
Back then, sex before marriage wasn’t illegal, but if the girl became pregnant, she would be pressed to name the father under the Bastardy Act, and such couples could be forced to wed. However, young men who served as apprentices were often committed to their role for seven years from age 14, and were not allowed to “commit Fornication, nor contract Matrimony.”
Most couples didn’t get married until they reached their early 20s, once the man finished his apprenticeship and became financially stable. No matter the age, choosing the right companion was a huge decision because marriage was a lifelong commitment with "till death us do part" of their wedding vows taken seriously.
Superstitions Related to Marriage
Some people depended on superstitions to help find a spouse. One practice was to take place on St. Agnes’ Eve. In this case, the woman took a row of pins and stuck them in her sleeve one at a time, and with each pin she was to say the Lord’s Prayer. With this done, she expected to dream of man she would marry. Another superstition held at this time included the bad luck of walking under a ladder believing it could prevent you from being married that year!