Forced Marriage in Regency England

HighlightingHistromfleet-1024x295 Highlighting History

Highlighting the facts behind historical romance with Jude Knight and thoughts on marriage in the Regency era.

1140 was a watershed year in the Western understanding of the institution of marriage. In that year, the Benedictine monk Gratian published his canon law textbook, Decretum Gratiani, ruling that the consent of the couple was essential for a marriage to be valid.

Up until then, the bride’s or groom’s presence at the wedding was enough. The Decretum ruled that they had to say out loud that they consented to the marriage, or the marriage could be challenged and annulled (that is, the marriage was declared to have never actually taken place).

Of course, the church’s ruling did not make much of a difference to the reality for most English couples. Marriage continued to be about securing an economic or political advantage. This was true at the time of Gratian. It continued to be true for at least 800 years.

Particularly in the higher reaches of society, marriage continued to be ‘a family arranged event for exchanging a daughter into a family for gain’. [Jennifer Phegley, Courtship and Marriage in Victorian England]

Douglas_Volk_After_the_Reception_1887_Minneapolis_Institute_of_Arts-217x300 Highlighting History An unmarried Regency woman lived under the control of her father or a guardian appointed in her father’s will. In the working and crafting classes, she would probably have skills that gave her some financial independence, and therefore some negotiating power over decisions regarding her marriage. Women of the upper classes were not permitted to work, and not taught the skills that would give them such freedom.

An unscrupulous or determined family had all the power they needed to ensure consent. Indeed, escaping such a family could be reason enough to accept a marriage that had been arranged. Of course, once our young lady had done so, she passed into the control of her husband, poor girl.

A prospective husband could also coerce consent by compromising the intended bride, or even follow the time-honoured, if illegal, practice of bridal kidnapping. Of course, the law said that consent given under duress was not valid, but it also held that a bride could give her consent once she was ‘safe’. Once a lady had been kept by a man for several nights, what choice did she have left?

Marriage for love was not highly regarded

Marrying for family advantage was the norm for most of English history. It’s fair to say that, in the upper classes, in the Regency, marrying for love would have been considered frivolous, selfish, and outright dangerous. Mere physical attraction and associated infatuation was no foundation for a long-term relationship. No. Better to marry first and come to love one another afterwards.

And if love did not come, then a man could find it elsewhere, with a mistress or a lover. A woman, too, once she had produced the requisite heirs. Fidelity in marriage was one of those nice virtues that was all very well for the lower sort, but hardly practical for peers and their families.

It was not until the Victorian era, and the successful marriage of a queen and her consort, that marrying for love became socially acceptable in high society.

About the Book: Paradise Triptych

Paradise-Triptych-covers-1-188x300 Highlighting History Long ago, when they were young, James and Eleanor were deeply in love. But their families tore them apart and they went on to marry other people.

Paradise Regained

James Winderfield yearns to end a long journey in the arms of his loving family. But his father’s agents offer the exiled prodigal forgiveness and a place in Society — if he abandons his foreign-born wife and children to return to England.

With her husband away, Mahzad faces revolt, invasion and betrayal in the mountain kingdom they built together. A queen without her king, she will not allow their dream and their family to be destroyed.

But the greatest threats to their marriage and their lives together is the widening distance between them. To win Paradise, they must face the truths in their hearts.

Paradise Lost

In 1812, James Winderfield, the suitor Eleanor’s father rejected in favour of the Duke of Haverford has returned to England. He has been away for thirty-two years, and has returned a widower, and the father of ten children.
As the year passes, various events prompt Eleanor to turn to her box of keepsakes, which recall the momentous events of her life.
Paradise Lost is a series of vignettes grounded in 1812, in which Eleanor relives those memories.

Paradise At Last

Now Haverford is deceased and nothing stands between the Duchess of Haverford and the Duke of Winshire. Except that James has not forgiven Eleanor for putting the dynasty of the Haverfords ahead of his niece’s happiness.
Can two star-crossed lovers find their happiness at last? Or will their own pride or the villain who wants to destroy the Haverfords stand in their way?

Paradise Triptych contains two novella and a set of memoirs: Paradise Regained (already published), Paradise Lost (available free to my newsletter subscribers) and Paradise At Last (new for this collection).

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