Category: 19th Century Marriage And Family

The Perils of May-December Marriages in the Nineteenth Century

The Arranged Marriage by Vasili Pukirev, 1861.
The Arranged Marriage by Vasili Pukirev, 1861.

While researching for another article, I happened upon an 1840s book which espouses harsh—and quite unintentionally hilarious—views on age disparities in marriage.  This book, titled The Midwife’s Guide, is actually a Victorian edition of the 17th century sex and midwifery manual known as Aristotle’s Masterpiece.  Written by an unknown author purporting to be Aristotle, it was the most widely read sex manual in 19th century England.  Only a fraction of the text is devoted to May-December marriages, but those brief pages leave one in no doubt of how the author feels about matches of unequal years.  He begins by writing:

“When greedy parents, for the sake of riches, will match a daughter that is scarcely seventeen, to an old miser that is above threescore; can anyone imagine that such a conjunction can ever yield satisfaction, where the inclinations are as opposite as the months of June and January.”

[…]Continue Reading

Midwives, Abortion, and the Offences Against the Person Act of 1861

The Convalescence by Gustave Léonard de Jonghe, (1829-1893).
The Convalescence by Gustave Léonard de Jonghe, (1829-1893).

Under the Offences Against the Person Act of 1861, any pregnant woman who acted with intent to “procure her own miscarriage” was guilty of a felony and could, if convicted, be sentenced to “penal servitude for life.”  This same law that punished women who attempted to rid themselves of an unwanted pregnancy also punished the nurses and midwives who were frequently engaged to assist them.  In most cases, it was impossible to enforce the law.  However, when a woman died as a result of complications following an abortion, the person who had performed the procedure could be charged with murder and even sentenced to death.[…]Continue Reading

Valentine's Day in the 19th Century: Lost Connections & Lonely Hearts

Valentine's Day Card, 1864.(Image via Victoria & Albert Museum)
Valentine’s Day Card, 1864.
(Image via Victoria & Albert Museum)

February 14th is Valentine’s Day.  To celebrate the holiday 19th century style, I’ve collected a few Valentine’s Day news items from Regency England, Victorian England, and even 1890s Texas.  Some remind me a bit of modern day “lost connections” or “lonely hearts” adverts (hence the title of this post), others are simply humorous historical Valentine’s Day messages or, predictably, not so humorous Victorian Valentine’s Day news.[…]Continue Reading

Alternative Courtship: Matrimonial Advertisements in the 19th Century

The Lovers by William Powell Frith, 1855.

For many single ladies and gentlemen of the 19th century, placing a matrimonial advertisement in a local newspaper was considered a viable alternative to traditional courtship.  It was especially popular with those who were new to an area or those who had no family or social groups through which they might otherwise obtain an introduction to a suitable partner.  Naturally, there were those traditionalists who frowned upon this method of acquiring a spouse.  It was viewed as undignified, indelicate, and dangerous.  Even so, matrimonial advertisements were utilized by men and women of every age and every class throughout the Regency and Victorian eras. […]Continue Reading

The Scandalous Regency Era Criminal Conversation Case of Aston v. Elliot

Symptoms of Life in London, or Love, Law, and Physic by George Cruikshank,, 1821.(image via Wellcome Library.)
Symptoms of Life in London, or Love, Law, and Physic by George Cruikshank,, 1821.
(Image via Wellcome Library.)

In January of 1818, on the second page of a small Irish newspaper, was a brief article with the sensational headline: “Projected Divorce in High Life.”  This case, which would soon become notorious in both England and France, was not, in fact, a divorce.  It was an action for criminal conversation – a tort, long extinct, in which an aggrieved husband could make a claim for damages against the lover of his adulterous spouse.  These sorts of cases were always deliciously scandalous, and none more so than that of Aston v. Elliot – a case which involved noblemen, prostitutes, syphilis, a veteran of Waterloo, and some of the highest ranking members of the beau monde.[…]Continue Reading

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