Marriage in Elizabethan England

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What to expect if you were of marrying age: It is generally considered foolish to marry for love, although love may occur in marriage. Your parents and friends are better equipped than you are to look out for your best interests, being mature and experienced in the world. Besides, you are the property of your parents until you are married. Then, if you are a woman, you become property of your husband. Let them negotiate and recommend and you're much more likely to be happy in marriage. Just because a marriage is arranged doesn't mean you've never met the other person. Except among the lofty nobility, most people arrange their children's marriages with the children of neighbors and friends. With parental permission, boys are legal to marry at 14, girls at 12, though it is not recommended so early. One comes of age at 21. In non-noble families, the most common age for marriage is 25-26 for men, about 23 for women. This is because it's best to wait until you can afford a home and children. Also, most apprenticeships don't end until the mid 20s. The lower on the social scale you are, the more likely you are to have a choice in the matter. Exemplary (and disastrous) love matches: Robert Dudley and Amy Robsart; Lord Darnley and Mary Queen of Scots Marriage is a contract that begins with a betrothal. At a betrothal, the two people join hands. He gives her a ring to be worn on the right hand. It changes to the left at the wedding. They seal the contract with a kiss, and signatures.

A marriage contract includes provision both for the bride's dowry and for a jointure, or settlement, in cash and property by the husband's family, which guarantees her welfare should her husband die first. If he breaks the marriage contract without good cause, he has to give back any tokens or gifts received. Betrothals can be terminated by mutual consent. In certain circumstances, one can withdraw unilaterally if the other is:

guilty of heresy or apostasy (conversion or re-conversion to the Catholic faith) guilty of infidelity seriously disfigured proved to be previously (and still) married or contracted to marry guilty of enmity or wickedness or drunkenness if a long separation has occurred between them

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A proper wedding is based on three things: consent, exchange of tokens (such as the ring) and consummation. It can be annulled only if it is not consummated. It is luckiest to have the wedding before noon.

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