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Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: May ::
Re: Marriage Patterns
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0875  Wednesday, 19 May 1999.

From:           David Kathman <
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Date:           Tuesday, 18 May 1999 08:55:44 -0500
Subject: 10.0869 Re: Marriage Patterns
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0869 Re: Marriage Patterns

Melissa Aaron wrote:

>>Dana Shilling writes:
>>
>>>A very common pre-modern marriage pattern was multiple marriages, each
>>>lasting about 7 years (also the pre-divorce duration of the average
>>>contemporary marriage!). Typically, a girl's first marriage would be to
>>>a much older man, with her subsequent spouses getting progressively
>>>YOUNGER-i.e., a widow with a good inheritance might marry a tradesman,
>>>then after his death, marry the likeliest of the apprentices. Or, a man
>>>would remarry after death of one or more wives in childbirth or of
>>>disease.
>>
>>Can you document this as a "very common pre-modern marriage patern"?  It
>>strikes me as being a summation of the career of the Wyf of Bathe...
>
>The devil, as always, is in the details.  It's my understanding that the
>average age of a working-class woman at first marriage was about what it
>is in modern-day America--24 or 25.  However, if I'm remembering my
>Deloney right, a very good way to rise in the world was to marry your
>master's widow.  Jack of Newbury's first wife is his master's widow, who
>seems a bit older-his second wife is younger, and incidentally,
>better-born, too.  So while I would not generalize that a woman's
>successive spouses would necessarily get younger and younger-after all,
>she could just as easily marry a journeyman and set up shop together,
>and in that case they'd have to wait until they had enough money-the
>scenario delineated above is certainly possible.

Phillip Henslowe married his master's widow when he was 24 (and it was
her daughter who later married Edward Alleyn, making Henslowe Alleyn's
step-father-in-law despite being only 11 years older).  Richard Field,
Shakespeare's Stratford contemporary and the printer of Venus and Adonis
and Lucrece, also married his master's widow, at the age of 26.

As for young brides in that era, Rebecca Edwards married the Queen's Man
actor William Knell at age 14, was widowed at age 15 when Knell was
killed by his fellow Queen's Man John Towne, and remarried, to future
Chamberlain's/King's Man John Heminges, at age 16.  (They went on to
have 15 children together.)

Dave Kathman

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