Being Married in London during the Year 1700
or the Single Life is for Me.
If you are a high-born lady wishing to marry your stable boy, an uncle wishing to marry his niece, or a young couple wanting to marry without consent, you would go to the alleyways known as the Rules of the Fleet near Fleet Bridge, not far from the river Thames. All types of “plyers” would encourage you to come into their “marriage house” for the ceremony. Most of the clienteles were craftsmen, innkeepers and the lower classes.
One-ninth of England’s population lived in London during 1700.
Weddings were legal only between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and noon.
A contract for marriage was official when the man provided the woman with a ring or presented her with half of a coin.
Males over the age of 14 and females over the age of 12 could marry with the consent of their guardian. Both sexes could marry without consent at the age of 21.
A single woman had many of the same rights of a man. She could own property, leave a will, sue or be sued, but once married, her husband own her lock, stock and barrel. Should she commit adultery, her husband could sue the man for trespassing on his “property.”
Popular sex manuals of the time were Aristotle’s Masterpiece and Aretine’s Postures. The man’s sexual organ was at times referred to as his “yard.” (Funny! In his dreams!) A midwifery book by a Mrs. Jane Sharp claimed the wife would not conceive if there was “no desire nor delight . . .”
A 5 shilling tax was paid on licenses and certificates of marriage. Thus, the reason cheaper marriage houses married 1/3 of the London population.
A Fleet marriage to a stranger help legitimized a child and prevented the woman from being publicly whipped.
Neither a license nor posting of Banns was required in a Fleet marriage.
If a woman got heavily into debt, she could marry a prisoner and the debt would be considered cleared. (You can’t arrest the husband for the debt when he’s already in prison, duh!)
Brides wore bright colors, preferably blue. Blue was associated with the Virgin Mary.
Some brides wore gloves to bed. A symbol of their virginity.
Bundling was common. A board was placed on the bed between a couple. Many women used bundling as a way to catch a husband.
One-tenth of the English brides were pregnant before they married.
Knickers (underwear) had yet to be invented.
Condoms was made from sheep intestines and tied onto the “yard” by a ribbon. They were very expensive.
If a man murdered his wife, he was hanged for the offense. If a woman murdered her husband, the wife was burned alive.
Bachelors and widowers, over age 25, were taxed 1 shilling a year.
Due to the high mortality, late marriages, early death, the average maximum length of marriages was 17 to 20 years. A quarter of marriages were second marriages.
A divorce could cost you more than 20 pounds sterling.
London shopkeepers earned about 45 pounds sterling (roughly $72.00) a year and a housemaid 5 pounds sterling (roughly $8.00) a year.
This is one of the History Tidbits I sent in to Southern Magic's newsletter a few years ago. Thought I would share.