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Marriage and the market in eighteenth-century England


  • Anne Laurence

    (Open University)


"My paper touches upon several debates all of which have rather fallen out of sight in the past few years. The first is the debate inspired by Lawrence Stone on the affective family and companionate marriage; the second is the role of dowries and marriage settlements in the making of marriages; and the third is the supposed rise of the love match. In the case of Stone there was a series of furious rebuttals of various kinds then the storm and fury dissipated and everyone just got on with doing more empirical research on marriage and betrothal: I’d particularly mention the work of Diane O’Hara for the late sixteenth century and of Joanne Bailey for the eighteenth century. In the case of dowries, settlements and marriage Lloyd Bonfield and Eileen Spring went at it hammer and tongs in the late ‘80s and Amy Erickson’s book on women and property (1993) saw off a lot of what had, up until then, been speculation. The literature on the supposed love match has spanned a much broader range, taking in writing in cultural studies and English literature and theory. The eighteenth century is often identified as the timing of this change, though the fathers of this discussion (Stone, John Gillis and Alan Macfarlane) differ as to the details. What this paper is concerned with is the evident differences between the financial information available about prospective brides and grooms in eighteenth century England. The amount of money a prospective bride from a prosperous landed, city or mercantile family had was public knowledge as was the amount of money a recently-married woman brought with her, while the only evident worth of a groom was the amount he was prepared to settle on his wife should he predecease her. It may be that negotiations between the bride’s family and the groom about the dowry and dower revealed more to the bride’s family about the groom’s financial standing, but there’s little public evidence of this."

Suggested Citation

  • Anne Laurence, 2015. "Marriage and the market in eighteenth-century England," Working Papers 15022, Economic History Society.
  • Handle: RePEc:ehs:wpaper:15022

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    JEL classification:

    • N00 - Economic History - - General - - - General


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