Today I’m continuing the official launch of Courtship and Marriage in Jane Austen’s world! You can find it on Amazon and Barnes and Noble now. It will be available at all the major booksellers and in paperback very soon.
I’ll be giving away another copy of the book with this post, so leave a comment for a chance to win.
Thank you so much for all the wonderful questions. You guys really outdid yourselves–so many questions that this’ll have to be a two part post! Now for some more answers!
- Were there any instances when the man took the wife’s surname? And what were some marriage customs that became ‘outdated’ and left behind beginning in the Regency period?
I am not familiar with men taking their wives’ surnames, however, it is possible I suppose. Arranged marriages were very much out of fashion by the regency era. Elaborate weddings were also ‘outdated’ in the regency.
- Despite the strict rules of propriety that supposedly governed the behavior of engaged couples, I’ve read statistics that claim somewhere between 30% to 50% of brides were pregnant at the time of their marriage. (I realize statistics gleaned from the Internet can be totally inaccurate.) With the constant demand for being chaperoned, just how did these eager couples pull this off? Did the period of time from engagement to marriage vary with class distinctions?
The big issue here is that courting couples were heavily chaperoned, engaged couples were not. A bethrothal was looked upon as a legal contract, the wedding that formalized it was less significant. So after the bethrothal it was common for couples to anticipate their vows. This was one of the major reasons that short engagements were prefered all around. It was not uncommon for them to be as brief as fifteen days–the absolute minimum time it too for the reading of the banns.
- If a betrothed couple decide they aren’t compatible even after courtship and eventually a proposal was offered and accepted, what stigmas were placed on the bride and groom? Today the change is so easy, but back in Regency time it sure was not.
A engagement was far more serious then than it is today. It was a contract, almost a marriage, and one could be taken to court over breach of promise. Since premarital sex was very likely during an engagement, a woman’s reputation could suffer some serious harm if the engagement was broken. Breaking a contracted agreement would reflect badly on a man’s honor.
- Was there a usual/expected length of time for courtships and engagements, respectively.
Courtship time was quite variable, it could be extremely short, but young people were counseled to take time to know their potential partner. Engagements though were short as possible.
- What was the practice for wedding gowns for the various classes? I would imagine Georgiana could afford much more elaborate gowns for a wedding than the Bennet sisters. And what colors were worn? White gowns for brides was not the practice although I don’t know when that practice came in. And books talk about bridesmaids, but was that practice? I know they had to have witnesses so who stood in for that position? Was it a relative or a friend, older or near the same age? Were wedding always in the mornings with breakfasts to follow? I can’t remember any other time of day being used in stories I have read.
Brides married in their ‘best dress’, only royalty could afford to have a dress they only wore once. After the wedding, the bride would wear her dress until it wore out.
White was a fashionable, luxury color because of the maintenance it required. So wealthy brides wore white. Less well-off brides wore darker colors that would wear well over time.
Weddings required two witnesses. Frequently these would be a bridesmaid and a groomsman. Multiple bridesmaids were uncommon. They also wore a good or best dress for the wedding, possibly with new trims for the occasion. Bridesmaids were typically unmarried sisters.
Weddings, unless by special license were by law, always held between 8AM and noon. Wedding breakfasts were common, but not required.
- If a marriage took place at Gretna Green in Scotland, was it(or why was it)recognized in England as legal?
There was debate about whether a wedding in Scotland was legal in England.
- How is that one’s income was common knowledge among one’s acquaintances? For example,as soon as Bingley moved into the neighborhood, he was declared to have an income of 5000 a year. And the inheritance of women was also known. We’re people less reticent about discussing their incomes than we are today?
Usually servants would be spreading that information around. It was a matter of rank and prestige among servants to be working for the wealthiest, highest ranking employer.
- And how were weddings usually celebrated (by the different classes)?
For the most part, weddings were not the huge deal that they are today. Few people attended the ceremony. A meal, reception or party might be held afterward, according to the preferences and affluence of the couple. It was not unheard of for a couple to leave immediately after the wedding and not even attend the wedding breakfast.
- In which cases could the wife retain control of her fortune?
The short answer, almost never.
If a woman had a very large fortune, land or other asset, her property might be placed in a trust prior to her marriage. A trustee would manage the property for her and through that trustee she would have access to it. Women were discouraged from doing this as it implied distrust of the husband. Only the wealthiest women even had access to such a thing.
- I would like to know at what age it was thought proper to get married and if there were differences due to the social status.
Though, with parental permission, people might marry in the early teens, middle class individuals waiting until the mid to late twenties.
- I’m interested in the process of drawing up a settlement before the wedding – was it done for all the women (except perhaps the very poorest), or only the Gentry and aristocracy? How much was considered “enough” for a widow to live on? Who looked after the money? How was it ensured that the husband didn’t touch this money? And what happened to it, if the woman died before her husband (childbirth, disease, etc.)? Was this money always inherited by the daughters (like the Bennet girls all get 1000 upon Mrs. Bennet’s death)?
What was ‘enough’ to live on depended on one’s social class and expectations. A middle class family could live comfortably on 250 pounds a year. A widow’s jointure was established in the marriage articles, as would how much money there would be for daughters’ dowries and younger sons’ portions. Unless the woman had a separate estate, all monies belonged to her husband, so nothing but his honor prevented him from spending the money as he willed. It all became his at marriage, so little changed if the woman predeceased him.