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Monday, August 13, 2012

Arranged Marriages, a time--honored tradition we're happy to be without

The idea that we'd let our parents or guardians arranged our marriages leaves the modern day man and woman laughing--or possibly cringing. Yet this was a common place custom throughout history in nearly every country of the world.  I'm sure a few of those marriages ended up as love matches, others grew into merely a mutual amiability born of a determination to make the most of a difficult situation. Others were supremely miserable.

Such arrangements are a favorite for the romance reader and author alike, inspiring countless historical romance novels about love springing from an arranged marriage. Such was the case for my very first published Regency Romance novel, The Stranger She Married.
Which begs the question; why were arranged marriages so common?
I can't speak for other countries, but in England, the institution of marriage appears to be more a union of rank and property rather than of love. Though many popular ballads and plays of the era praised true love, in reality, practicability ruled more heavily than affairs of the heart. During the Regency era, all women, even ladies of the gentry and aristocracy, possessed very little independence. They were, in essence, property of their parents until they married, at which time they became property of their husbands. Therefore, parents cautiously settled their daughters in what they deemed were 'good matches.' They valued security over love because in a time when divorce was almost unheard of--and viewed as scandalous--marriage was a lifetime commitment, for better or worse. Parents searched for a men who would keep their daughter fed and cared for. They could only hoped that love, or at the very least, regard, would bloom later.

The Victorian era introduced the idea of romantic love and marriage among the upper classes (Think of Queen Victoria; hers was a love match).

Prior to that, while it did happen and people dreamed of it, and it happened in all of Austen's novels, it really wasn't what everyone expected.  Love sometimes happened with the wrong person which ruined families financially. Men understood that marriage was a duty.  Love itself, if it came, was a bonus.  In fact, most men had mistresses because marriage wasn't usually a romantic relationship--it was more of a business relationship.

The mistress often became an aristocratic man's ideal of 'lust and love.'  Heaven forbid a man fall into love with another man's mistress.  Such a sin often meant death to that man because it was an intimate relationship, one where men chose a woman to pleasure him, as opposed to duty being his deciding factor.  It wasn't just about the sex with these mistresses, it was finding a woman who was everything his wife wasn't.  Yeah. It makes me shudder, too. But that's how it was, according to many sources including THE FAMILY, SEX, AND MARRIAGE in ENGLAND 1500-1800 by Lawrence Stone.

One such example was the 1774 marriage between the 17-year-old daughter of the Earl of Spencer, Georgiana, and the Duke of Devonshire, a 26-year-old man of supreme wealth, power, and influence.  On the surface, the union must have appeared an excellent match. The Duke desired a young wife of high rank to provide him with heirs. Georgiana's status would be elevated to the coveted status of duchess. According to reports, the young couple met a few times, all well chaperoned, before they were wedded. Reportedly, Georgiana tried to love her untouchable husband, but he returned to the arms of his mistress. Their infamously unhappy marriage proved that money and status could not guarantee love or  happiness.

In the true story inspired Hollywood's 2008 film The Duchess, the wedding gown costume worn by actress Keira Knightly was stunning. There's a picture of it here. Gorgeous, isn't it?

Amanda Vickery's book A GENTLEMAN'S DAUGHTER argues that many people married for affection. I hope she's right. Regardless, arranged marriages were common, especially among the gentry and aristocracy in England, often with the couple only having met a few times, or not at all, prior to the wedding.
An arranged marriage born of necessity is the premise of my first published Regency historical romance novel, The Stranger She Married, book one of The Rogue Hearts Series, available in digital and print.  Their marriage, thought fraught with danger, turns out to become a great love story.

After all, I'm all about the happily ever after :-)


Shelley said...

Beautiful picture from P & P. Some of my college students from other cultures, however, swear that the percentage of successful marriages is just as high (or low), regardless of arranged or chosen by "love"....

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