History, Nottingham Trent University
My research examines marriage in the Seventeenth Century, and in particular how the lived experience of real couples corresponded with the prescribed ideals found in conduct literature. These books gave advice for both husbands and wives on how to behave within a marriage, what to expect, and what was expected of them. Conduct books put forward conflicting ideals of marriage: for example, the proposed need for companionship and love appeared in tension with calls for wifely obedience. Through local case studies of personal evidence from seventeenth century marriages in the East Midlands, this thesis will examine how the ideals put forward in conduct literature translated into real experience and how far these inconsistencies were resolved.
Through this research I will address three key themes within the current historiography of early modern marriage. The primary focus on lived experiences of married couples will offer a deeper and richer account of early modern marriage. The study will also assess whether it is possible to detect the influence of ideals expounded in conduct literature within personal experiences of marriage. Building on these, the third theme is the impact of prevailing gender hierarchies on marital relationships. It has been suggested that during this time that couples showed outward compliance to patriarchal headship whilst maintaining a less constrained private behaviour. This suggestion offers the potential to explore individual marriages in more detail to uncover how emotional attachment was expressed between husbands and wives, whether overtly or implied.
This project extends my MA dissertation which examined the way in which conduct literature outlined ideals of marriage, assessing how they interpreted the vows of love, honour and obedience. Through this research it was found that often these discrete vows conflicted with each other, a tension which was not resolved in the genre as a whole. This project builds on my expertise in conduct literature and moves the research forwards to assess whether these conflicted ideals were reflected in lived experience and to what extent they were resolved, promising to deepen our understanding of emotional experiences of seventeenth century English married life.
Recent approaches have suggested that making careful use of personally generated source material such as correspondence is a particularly effective way to uncover the intimate detail of marital relations. By assessing untapped local collections of correspondence, and by considering marriage from the perspective of the chief actors as well as theorists this study will therefore make a timely contribution to current understandings of the historical development of marriage.
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