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Title: Women and marriage in the eighteenth century : evidence from the London church courts, 1730-1780
Author: Smith, Heather
ISNI:       0000 0001 3439 0172
Awarding Body: University of Bristol
Current Institution: University of Bristol
Date of Award: 2000
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This thesis examines the meaning of marriage for women in the eighteenth century by considering what actually constituted 'marriage' from both a legal and a social perspective. The thesis argues that evidence from the church court records suggest an overall continuity in social standards and practice in relation to marriage, despite the introduction of the Hardwicke Marriage Act in 1753. Whilst the Act played an important role in redefining the standards by which men and women were legally able to resolve their domestic disputes, it did not have a corresponding impact (at the same time) on social practice. For this reason, this thesis asserts that the standards represented in court after 1753 should only be read as evidence of a specific legal culture of marriage, and problematises the consequence of interpreting court evidence as an indicator of social change. The thesis draws together the evidence of premarital disputes, adultery, domestic violence and testamentary causes to examine attitudes towards marriage over the course of the eighteenth century. It finds that the first half of the century was characterised by disputes relating to the legal definitions of marriage, but later cases focused more on personal behaviour. Thus, the Hardwicke Act reformed ecclesiastical authority, but at the same time the courts began to rely more on personal interpretations of unacceptable behaviour. This suggests that although the judicial process played an important role in reforming litigants' expectations of their marital rights, it was also forced to address the changing experiences of an urban population. The influence of kin and other community members are seen as particularly important in shaping this process. They regulated and imposed standards (through opinions based on factors such as space, dress, gendered behaviour and reputation) that were malleable and open to interpretation. This produced a whole range of norms that, combined with legal conventions, defined in court the varied experience of matrimony for women.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available