Following my post about the historical relevance of my use of Christian names and not using pet names during intimate scenes, I was asked to elaborate on a few other topics that are often glazed over without any real explanation in historical romance books. In this post, I’ll cover a few in regards to arranged marriages, love and courtships.
Arranged marriages have been around for centuries. Many couples, famous and not-so-famous, that are presented in history texts often are united by an arranged marriage.
So what was their to gain by this practice?
Everything. For some families, it was social connections. If the daughter of one family married the son of another family that had a higher social standing, the bride’s family would be elevated (somewhat) by default because the bride would not scorn or ignore her former family, but rather include them in her world as much as possible. Likewise, if the situation was reversed it would work the same to a certain degree. However, it was rare that the situation was reversed and the man was the one of the lower station. The reason is that the bride’s family wanted to make sure their daughter would be well provided for in the manner in which she was accustomed to living. A man of a lower standing–unless his family had a significant amount of wealth that the bride’s family lacked–would not provide for the bride the same opportunity she could have otherwise had, socially speaking anyway.
Land and money was also to gain. Whether an aristocratic or common union, land and money played large roles. Sometimes owners of neighboring farms would betroth their children–mainly at the advantage of the bride’s father’s peace of mind and to the monetary gain of the groom. This was done in situations where a daughter *could* inherit land (I use this loosely as it would technically revert to her husband). Thus, it was to the advantage of the bride’s father because he knew his daughter would still be taken care of and somewhere along the line, the land would stay in his family. The groom, too, was at an advantage because his property and wealth doubled. Another example of this could be neighbors that had more than one son. The oldest might inherit the father’s land, but the youngest could marry the neighbor’s daughter and would gain his future which he otherwise wouldn’t have, while the daughter was still taken care of. (I’ve personally done a lot of genealogy on both my side and my husband’s and have found places where this very thing has happened.)
Money works the same way. Or can even be a bartering tool between a “cash wealthy” father and “land wealthy” father. Sometimes, a sizable sum along with a betrothal agreement goes a long way in securing a match that benefits both families.
Love and Marriages in the Regency:
This is a bit tricky. Arranged marriages weren’t quite as common in the Regency as some think or as they were before this time in England. The Regency period changed a lot of things, and one of which was how marriages came about. In fact, marriage for “love” was more common than some like to think. To say there were what we’d consider “love matches” today was common isn’t true, either. Many people married for what they’d consider love back then, but not real love or what we’d consider love now. Places like Almack’s or local assemblies and private balls were obviously to help encourage matches–but only between certain classes. Meaning, ladies and gentlemen were encouraged to marry who they found suitable, but not outside of their station and only on the acceptance of their families.
So why then do we authors say love is the exception not the rule? Because it sounds romantic?
Maybe a little, but actually because it actually does have a significant dose of truth to it. Though, ladies and gentlemen were encouraged to find spouses they themselves found suitable, they had a series of hoops to jump through and sometimes found out the pot of gold at the end was not what they’d thought it was. Marrying for “love” was all well and good as long as the marriage was seen as beneficial to both families. The man was often expected to present the bride’s father with proof that he could provide for her the way her father had–or better. If he couldn’t, then there was no match. Likewise, if the groom’s family disapproved of the bride due to her low birth or family’s reputation, it wasn’t unheard of for him to be disowned. An older son who had a title to inherit could only be “cut” so much–but a younger son could easily be disinherited and faced with a life of poverty and disgrace.
How was it that a love match could possibly be bad?
You should ask the Duke of Wellington about that. He’s not the only one, but he’s the most well-known for making a love match that turned sour. His marriage was actually a bit before the Regency–1806–but he’d met her when they were younger and formed a fondness toward her that didn’t evaporate despite her father’s rejection of his suit (he was a 3rd son at the time and she, Catherine “Kitty” Pankenham, a daughter of a baron). After he built up a military career, her parents agreed to the marriage. The only problem was that 10 years had passed and she’d gone from being young and vivacious to a decade older, pale, and sickly-looking. Not only did he find her ugly (and even said so), but he found her to be a bore and irritating because she was easily jealous and it irritated him, which begs the question, why didn’t he know this already?
Whether during the Regency era or any other historical era, courtships vary drastically from what they are today. Today we call the other on the phone, send texts, and spend hours on end each day getting to know them. Not so prior to the 1900s. I know I’m guilty of bending and breaking this as is almost every other writer of Regency books I’ve ever read, but the reality is, chaperones were crucial to keep everything absolutely proper before marriage. Proper young ladies of virtue did not speak to a gentlemen without a third-party present. Sure, there were occasions when they might have been somewhat alone: on the balcony for a few minutes during a ball–but they could still be seen by the guests inside, a short walk through the park–but only with a maid or some other third-party trailing behind, or even left in an open room momentarily while the chaperone spoke to a servant in the hall or some other urgent matter, but as a general rule, unchaperoned picnics or private meetings wouldn’t have happened without a lady’s reputation being ruined or a marriage.
Because of this, conversations had to be very “light and airy”: “Isn’t the weather lovely?” “Oh, yes it is, I particularly like that fluffy cloud over there.” Just inane nonsense. But without any sort of intimate touching or “taboo” topics such as anything that could be considered intimate “allowed” this was how their courtships were conducted. To this end, “love matches” were made more on physical attraction, rather than on agreeable personalities–which is why some couples were vasty disappointed when they married for love only to end up despising their spouse when they actually got to know them.
Other things that weren’t allowed in a historical courtship that we see today are:
~Touching of any kind with the exception of formal dancing or accepting an escort
~Exchanging letters and/or gifts
~Ladies calling upon gentlemen
~Discussion of or allusion to body parts in general, sexual references, or words of lust or desire
~Discussion of emotions and feelings wasn’t permitted–leaving those engaging in the conversation to interpret how the other felt about them based on facial expressions
Sighing, blushing, blinking, frowning, smiling, etc DO have a role in historical romances. Of course, many of us modern day writers bend many of the courtship rules in order to fit our story–otherwise our audience, which is comprised of readers living in the here and now would lose interest–but it’s also up to us to find a balance of mixing today with yesterday and one of my favorite ways of doing that is with facial expressions as to me, they speak volumes of a person’s thoughts and emotional reaction to what’s going on in the room.
All right, that’s enough history from me today. There are a few other historical topics I was asked to post on that I’ll try to get to in a few weeks.