The Forty-Year-Old Victorian Bride

The Wedding Dress by Thomas Kennington, 1889.

By the end of the Victorian era, some women were beginning to recognize the advantages of marrying a little later in life, after one had gained a modicum of maturity and life experience. In fact, according to a report in the April 19, 1901 edition of the Islington Gazette, “a spinster bride of forty is becoming more and more frequent, especially in high society.” The Gazette attributes this as much to cosmetics as to changing societal norms, stating that:

“For some reason the look of youthful freshness can be retained in a perfectly marvelous fashion by women of to-day. Complexions are soft and fine at forty, and are sometimes even more so than when the owner was twenty-five…And what gives a more youthful look than soft and lovely colouring and a fine texture of the skin?”

Youthful skin notwithstanding, a forty-year-old bride was not as common as the Islington Gazette would have one believe. In reality, most high society Victorian brides in England and America fell somewhere between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five, with the marriage age gradually growing later as the century progressed.

Beetham’s Glycerin and Cucumber advert, 1890.
( Courtesy of History World at www.historyworld.co.uk)

An article in an 1890 edition of the Daily Telegraph & Courier reports on the results of a survey conducted in “a serial publication” which asked its readers what they considered to be the best age at which a girl should marry. The question elicited hundreds of responses from “ladies of varied hymeneal experiences.” As the article relates:

“…the large majority [are] of opinion that girls who postpone their assumption of the duties and responsibilities of wifehood until they complete their fifth lustrum have a far better chance of attaining the maximum of matrimonial felicity than those who take their tickets in the lottery of wedlock at a yet earlier age.”

The fifth lustrum was equal to twenty-five years (a lustrum being 5 years). It seems a sensible age, to be sure, but was waiting to marry until the age of twenty-five as popular in practice as it was in theory? According to the Daily Telegraph & Courier:

“As far as female eligibility for matrimony at one age rather than another is concerned, eighteen certainly bears away the bell from twenty-five, according to nuptial statistics. More English and American girls are married before than after attaining years of discretion.”

The Arranged Marriage by Vasili Pukirev, 1861.

The same article goes on to explain that, in other countries, many ladies were even younger than eighteen on their wedding day, stating:

“In France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Austria, Roumania, and Greece nothing is more common than that girls should be led to the altar shortly after celebrating their sixteenth birthday, and by men, as a rule, of at least twice their age, with whom they have scarcely exchanged a confidential word or a semblance of affection during their brief spell of betrothal.”

In reality, Victorian brides of eighteen were in little danger of being overtaken by brides of forty, no matter how soft and supple their skin. But it is certainly worth noting that women were beginning to recognize the benefits of marrying later in life. Even if “later” was only so far as the age of twenty-five.

Mimi Matthews is the USA Today bestselling author of The Matrimonial Advertisement, The Pug Who Bit Napoleon, and A Victorian Lady’s Guide to Fashion and Beauty. She researches and writes on all aspects of nineteenth century history—from animals, art, and etiquette to fashion, beauty, feminism, and law.

Sources

Daily Telegraph & Courier (London, England) 26 May 1890.

The Etiquette of Love, Courtship, and Marriage. Halifax: Milner and Sowerby, 1859.

Islington Gazette (London, England), 19 April 1901.

Mitchell, Sally. Daily Life in Victorian England. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1996.

AVAILABLE NOW 

The Matrimonial Advertisement
Parish Orphans of Devon, Book 1

England, 1859. When ex-army captain Justin Thornhill places an advertisement for a wife, the mysterious lady who appears on his doorstep isn’t quite what he was expecting. 
Find out more or Read an Excerpt

Order Today

ebook: $3.99 / paperback: $16.99 / audiobook: $21.99

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Apple | GooglePlay

Praise for The Matrimonial Advertisement

“For this impressive Victorian romance, Matthews crafts a tale that sparkles with chemistry and impresses with strong character development… an excellent series launch that will appeal to fans of Loretta Chase and Stephanie Laurens.” -Publishers Weekly

“Matthews’ series opener is a guilty pleasure, brimming with beautiful people, damsels in distress, and an abundance of testosterone…It’s a well-written and engaging story that’s more than just a romance.” -Kirkus Reviews

“Matthews has a knack for creating slow-building chemistry and an intriguing plot with a social history twist.” -Library Journal

“An intriguing plot and a haunting setting leaves the reader immersed in this impressive series launch.” -Barnes & Noble (20 Favorite Indie Books of 2018)

“I savored every word of this wonderful historical romance and didn’t want it to end.” -Jane Porter, NYT and USA Today bestselling author

“A heart-rending Gothic love story…The hero has the dark past of Mr. Rochester and the tightly leashed emotion of Mr. Darcy, but is a true romantic hero in every sense of the word. The historical atmosphere is top-notch, as is the writing. I loved it!” -Caroline Linden, USA Today bestselling author

“A highly enjoyable Victorian-sensation style romance…I enjoyed every minute of this warm, charming book.” -KJ Charles, editor and RITA-nominated author


© 2015-2021 Mimi Matthews

For exclusive information on upcoming book releases, giveaways, and other special treats, subscribe to Mimi’s newsletter THE PENNY NOT SO DREADFUL.

You can also connect with Mimi on Facebook and Twitter.


Subscribe
Notify of
guest
Privacy Policy Consent
8 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Ellen Borowka
Ellen Borowka
2 years ago

How sad to describe a forty year woman as a spinster. While I love history and the dress of past times… I’m so glad to live in this time period.

Sarah Waldock
Sarah Waldock
2 years ago

And I married at 17! and everyone said it wouldn’t last. I have the last laugh as after being married 33 years, we’ve outdone most of the naysayers. I don’t think it’s the age that counts so much as the maturity and readiness …. I wish as good a marriage to my daughter-in-law who was in her early 30s when she became our dear daughter.

Wendy
Wendy
2 years ago

Very interesting, Mimi! I feel like there is unfortunately still much undue pressure to marry, even by a certain age today (even though that age is quite variable depending on who you ask.) But the point being that we still haven’t really let go of this idea that there are certain “life boxes” that need to be checked off in order for you (and more likely others) to consider your life a “success”. I have a novel idea — marry for LOVE and nothing else. If that means getting married at 18, 25, 37, 59 or 81? Who cares? As… Read more »

Anne
Anne
2 years ago

Fascinating post!In that wedding painting it seems the gentlemen are all wondering if the young woman can get though the ceremony without “bolting”! One of the points to marrying later back then I would think,would be to practice a kind of birth control. Looking forward to your new book Mimi! Not only cause it’s yours, but I love unexpected couples, thrown together by fate and then ….well, one must wait for the book!

Our website uses cookies which may collect information about your visit to improve our website (anonymous analytics), to show you media (video and audio), targeted advertising, and social media feeds. Please see our Cookie Policy page for further details or agree by clicking the 'Accept' button.

Cookie settings

Below you can choose which kind of cookies you allow on this website. Click on the "Save cookie settings" button to apply your choice.

FunctionalOur website uses functional cookies. These cookies are necessary to let our website work.

AnalyticalOur website uses analytical cookies to make it possible to analyze our website and optimize for the purpose of a.o. the usability.

Social mediaOur website places social media cookies to show you 3rd party content like YouTube and FaceBook. These cookies may track your personal data.

AdvertisingOur website places advertising cookies to show you 3rd party advertisements based on your interests. These cookies may track your personal data.

OtherOur website places 3rd party cookies from other 3rd party services which aren't Analytical, Social media or Advertising.