Marriage in Seventeenth-Century England: the Woman’s Story

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Marriage in Seventeenth-Century England:
The Woman’s Story
Alice Brabcová
University of West Bohemia, Plzeň

The seventeenth century represents a fascinating period of English history, drawing the attention of whole generations of historians. This turbulent age saw three major events that had a deep impact on England’ s political as well as social life—the English Revolution, the
Restoration of the Stuarts in 1660 and the Glorious Revolution in 1688. Amidst the turmoil of the events, people’s everyday lives unfolded. While it was men’s preoccupation to keep the country’s political and economic affairs going, women had an indispensable, though far less public, part to play. This paper aims at providing an outline of the
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Generally speaking, the poorer a girl was, the greater freedom she had in choosing her future husband. But even the children of the poor were expected to ask their parents for their blessing, though money had a small part to play here.
There were several criteria which decided whether a match was ‘appropriate’.
Contemporary moralists recommend that the couple should be of similar age, background, financial circumstances and religious beliefs. Concord in manners and interests was beneficial as well. The husband and wife should like and respect each other—even love each other—but they should beware of mere sexual fascination and look for inner qualities. The widespread opinion was that love came after the wedding. An example of such a marriage was the relationship of the Puritan leader Oliver Cromwell with his wife Elizabeth. Though the two people married out of prudence, not love, in the course of time they developed a deep and enduring bond; thus, in one of her letters, Elizabeth writes to her husband, ‘Truly my life is but half a life in your absence’ (Carlyle 1888: 247).
The key quality in a woman was an ability to run the household efficiently. This was frequently the chief consideration for a man in his choice of a wife, especially in poorer families. A ‘helpmate’ was a term that the Puritans liked to use when referring to a good wife.
Does this mean, however, that romantic love played no

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