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Home / What Courting In Regency England Was Actually Like

What Courting In Regency England Was Actually Like

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As the novels of Jane Austen make clear, regency era social customs left little room for error. Finding a partner involved a strict adherence to courting etiquette, and wooing the right or wrong person could make or break fortunes and reputations. So today we're going to take a look at what courting in regency England was actually like. to the Weird History website. After that, leave a comment and let us know what other romantic topics you would like to hear about.

OK, time to put on the latest chamber music from Lord Marvin of Gaye. Strictly speaking, the regency era in Great Britain lasted from 1811 to 1820, but in truth, it was part of the larger social and cultural era of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The period had a reputation for steamy passion, as evidenced by several decades of romance novel artwork. But it was also an era of politeness and gentility. Couldn't simply bump into someone at the club and ask for their digits, and not just because nobody had phones yet.

Strict rules govern how high society couples should interact with one another, and courtship was a serious business. For the fashionable ladies and gentlemen of the regency, the best time to begin a courtship was during the so-called season, when the most important people in the land came to London for court and Parliament and to bump the uglies. Being something of a marriage market, the season allowed the sons and daughters of the privileged classes to mingle during a seemingly endless parade of assemblies, dinners, and parties. It also served a practical purpose by ensuring that the members of the upper classes met the right people and found the right matches to keep money and power in the right hands. Regency folks were encouraged to marry within their class.

This meant that members of high society tended to take wealthy spouses. You don't want to screw that up by falling in love with a poor person. London's social season of exclusive parties and balls was an exercise in controlling the pool of suitors. Elite young men and women could dance and flirt safe in the knowledge that they were meeting suitable potential spouses without any dirty poors slipping into the mix. Adhering to class distinctions didn't just apply to the elite.

Even nontitled and middle class minglin' singles were expected to find class appropriate matches. For instance, in Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Darcy is significantly wealthier than Elizabeth Bennet's family, but both are members of the Gentry. When Darcy's aristocratic aunt Lady Catherine de Bourgh argues that Elizabeth's social standing is too far beneath her nephews, the young lady replies rightly, he is a gentleman, I am a gentleman's daughter. So far, we are equal. This was basically the regency equivalent of telling Lady Catherine to jog on, but it also exemplifies the dating rules of the time.

People weren't only looking for spouses with the biggest bank account. Finding harmony and compatibility in a marriage was also important, because the belief was that couples who had things in common would have a more stable marriage. Wonder if matching Lord Byron tattoos counted as a shared interest. On the matter of finding the right partner, one manual for young women advised sobriety, prudence, and good nature, a virtuous disposition, and a prospect of being above the reach of want ought never to be dispensed with when choosing a husband. Where the man is defective in any of these, the woman is to be pitied.

200 years later, advice columns are still warning against defective men. But there was also room for love in a regency marriage. One regency era father, for example, wrote to his daughter's potential fiancee that he believed happiness consists only in reciprocal affection. In other words, you better both like each other or else this whole thing is going to suck. However, this is 19th century London we're talking about. Money was not irrelevant.

Financial matters often factored into whether or not a potential partner was suitable, stable, and worthy of marriage. According to historian Amanda Vickery, even perfectly matched couples had to wait through tedious financial negotiations by their legal guardians before they could tie the knot. Kind of like organizing a trade in the NFL. Young women who wished to find a suitable husband were expected to display their accomplishments, which were usually talents designed to show off their femininity and virtue. Top tier accomplishments included the ability to sing, dance, play an instrument, and hold interesting conversation.

Kind of sounds like a theater major, except for the interesting conversation part. These accomplishments were markers of class. A young lady needed to be from a family with the means to hire a dancing masters or music instructors and provide her with enough time to polish those skills. Instead of sliding into each other's DMs, regency couples sent each other letters. Love letters represented a serious stage in courtship when couples could declare their intentions and express their emotions in the written record.

This practice also allowed couples to get to know each other better and start to share their visions for the future. According to historian Sally Holloway, to correspond was to build a commitment before matrimony. Men strove to impress their would be wives when writing them, though etiquette dictated that courtship correspondence should be tasteful and rated G. Unless you're James Joyce. As historian Amanda Vickery explains, it was a moment when the balance of power in the relationship shifted slightly in the woman's favor. Men coaxed and petitioned while women sat in judgment. All he could do was cross his fingers and hope she wouldn't swipe left.

In the stratified world of the regency, social hierarchies were reinforced through the use of formal titles and last names. To refer to someone by their first name was an intimate privilege reserved for family members or the closest of friends. Madonna and Cher would have blown people's minds. Regency era couples would have to speak to each other using the correct formal forms of address during the entire courting process. This is why Pride and Prejudice's Elizabeth Bennett always refers to the object of her affections as Mr.

Darcy rather than Fitzwilliam, or Fitzy, or Fitzkry, or Juicy Man Slab. It wasn't until couples became officially engaged that they could refer to each other by their first names, but only when out of the public eye. Speaking of the public eye, couples were forbidden to see each other in private without a chaperone, the idea being that constant surveillance would protect the young lady's reputation. After all, the stakes of these courtships were high, and women were expected to abide by different moral codes than men. According to historian Amanda Vickery, chastity, modesty, and obedience were the preeminent female virtues.

Her sexual virtue had to appear unimpeachable, or she would be ruined on the marriage market. Regency ladies and gentlemen were bombarded with advice about who would be a suitable person to court and marry. That part of dating hasn't changed much. But suitability wasn't just about class or temperament. It was also about family ties. For instance, in-laws were off limits, meaning if your partner croaked, a common occurrence in the 19th century, you could not marry one of their siblings.

And while the idea of remarrying back into the same family is still somewhat taboo today, its forbidden status during regency era courtship seems a little strange when you consider that marriage between cousins was A-OK. Why were they so cool about kissing cousins? Well, marriage between cousins checked a lot of the right boxes, even if it sprung a permanent leak in the family gene pool. For example, a cousin likely grew up with a similar worldview, and their family background wouldn't contain any surprises. Most importantly, marriage between cousins in the aristocracy ensured generational wealth stayed in the family. Of course, marrying your brother-in-law would probably check a lot of those boxes without the whole blood relative thing.

But what would the Knightleys think? For a high profile example of married cousins, we need to look no further than Winston Churchill's regency era great grandparents, the sixth Duke and Duchess of Marlborough. They were first cousins before they got married in 1819, and after they got married, they were still first cousins. While we're on the subject of uncomfortable rules, the age of consent during the regency period was a little on the young side, to put it mildly. Bridegrooms could be just 14 years old when they tied the knot, and brides could be potentially as young as 12. Luckily, 14 and 12 do not necessarily represent the average age when most people got married in this period.

Most regency era brides and bridegrooms, especially those among the so-called lower class, were in their 20s when they tied the knot. Not horribly different than today. While all of these rules were well-intended, they had at least one unforeseen consequence. There was a lot of secret marriages and a good deal of bigamy. In an attempt to curb those practices throughout the kingdom, Lord Hardwicke pushed through the Marriage Act of 1753 which went into effect a year later.

The law required all weddings in England to go through the Church of England and proclaim of the marriage three Sundays in a row before the ceremony could happen. It also required underage brides and bridegrooms, those younger than 21, to have their parents' permission to marry. However, there was a loophole. The act didn't apply to Scotland. So many English couples simply eloped there.

It was basically Vegas with less slot machines. Plus you could get married in a kilt. That's pretty neat. Of course, just because there were strict rules governing courtship didn't mean people always followed them. Women were expected to be celibate before marriage, but plenty of unmarried women became pregnant.

It was such a problem the legislature had to step in and pass the Bastardy Act of 1733, which stated single pregnant women had to identify the man who had impregnated them. Not to be confused with the bastardly act of last Saturday, which is why you probably don't want to go back to Dave and Buster's. Unmarried mothers in the early 19th century did not have a lot of great options, especially given that society worked pretty hard to shame them for their situation. Many women chose to leave their children at London's Foundling Hospital, which took in children whose parents couldn't support them. As if finding a match wasn't already complicated enough, elite Britons in the regency era tended to read one another's courtships with great interest, because marriages tended to move a whole lot of money around.

After all, when a couple was officially courting, it was understood to be a public acknowledgment of their intentions. Sort of like the national anthem signaling that it's time to play ball. Like modern celebrities, the elite were especially vulnerable to this. Unmarried men and women who were seen in public together could be the subject of gossip, scathing letters, and scandal sheets. High society noticed courtships and often jump to conclusions whenever unmarried aristocratic men and women were together.

According to historian Hannah Greig, people would notice a couple together and assume that they were engaged to be married. Consequently, marriage wasn't just a private contract, it was also about your public image. And like today, you always had to be mindful of what Lord Perez Hilton might say about you. So what do you think? Does regency courtship sound romantic or anything but? Let us know in the comments below. And while you're at it, check out some of these other articles from our Weird History.


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