History 367 Society and Ideas in Shakespeare’s England



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Families 02

  • One thinker who granted fathers the right to execute wives/ children was Sir Robert Filmer (1588-1653).

  • Modern debate on whether family changed 1500-1700; ideas that family life changed as a result of economic problems, or the Reformation, or puritanism.

  • High infant mortality: a quarter to a third of people died before the age of 15, mostly in infancy.

Families 03

  • Many children, and women, died in childbirth.

  • Marriages ended as frequently then as now; but with the death of a spouse, not with:

  • Divorce: which was illegal after as well as before the Reformation;

  • But annulment was possible (and sometimes called divorce); e.g. the Essex Divorce Case of 1613.

An Unhappy Couple: Robert Devereux, 3rd Earl of Essex, and Frances Howard; divorced 1613

Families 04

  • Despite high infant mortality, lack of contraception meant there were many children; it was a young population, with about 40% children.

  • Most people lived not in extended but in nuclear families.

  • Relatives outside immediate family all called cousins; cousinage generally unimportant; exceptions: nobility; lawyers; merchants hangmen.

Families 05

  • More important than cousins were friends and neighbours; good neighbourliness (guilt projection and witches?)

  • Families (except poorest) included servants as well as children.

  • Idea of England as a society of villagers with little geographical mobility; false.

  • Shakespeare far from unusual in going to London for work.

Families 06

  • Cogenhoe (Northamptonshire) 1618-28: over half the population moved out (or died) and was replaced by people moving in.

  • Clayworth (Nottinghamshire) 1678-88: a third of the population moved out, and was replaced by people moving in.

  • Many people went to London to look for work; 20% of the population lived in London at some time.

Domestic Service

  • People also very often left home when young to become servants in the household of others; this happened throughout the social hierarchy.

  • As a boy, (Sir/ Saint) Thomas More became a servant in the household of Thomas Morton (Archbishop of Canterbury).

  • About 60% of population aged 15-24 were servants in other families; arguably this made for economic efficiency.

Marriage 01

  • Domestic servants saved money, so they could set up their own households.

  • Marriage took place in mid/ late-20s (contrast U.S. in 1950s/ 60s: average age at (first) marriage was 23 for men, 21 for women.

  • In Romeo and Juliet, Juliet is in her early teens; in England only wealthy could afford to get married at that age.

  • Legal age for marriage: 14 for males; 12 for females.

Marriage 02

  • Valid marriage could take place as:

  • A church wedding; approved by clergy (they got fees);

  • A promise by both partners made in words in present tense, in front of witnesses;

  • A promise by both partners made in words of the future tense, followed by intercourse.

  • Often, couples who had made a promise to each other in the future tense and then had intercourse, later had a church wedding as well.

Marriage 03

  • Many (10-30%) brides pregnant by the time of church weddings; most perhaps considered themselves already married; one was Anne Hathaway 1582.

  • Illegitimacy rate low; peaked (at around 5-10%) 1600, probably through bad economic conditions.

  • Children: Ralph Josselin spent a quarter to a third of his income on his children.

Anne Hathaway?

  • Sonnet 145:

  • Those lips that Love's own hand did make
    Breathed forth the sound that said “I hate”
    … “I hate” she altered with an end
    That followed it as gentle day
    Doth follow night, who like a fiend
    From heaven to hell is flown away.
    “I hate” from hate away she threw,
    And saved my life, saying “not you.”

Marriage, children, and families

  • Diaries: clergy: Josselin; Adam Martindale; Henry Newcome; apprentice shopkeeper, 1660s: Roger Lowe.

  • Cambridge Population Group: family limitation/ contraception from 1640s; population in late-seventeenth and early-eighteenth centuries grew more prosperous but did not increase in size, breaking the Malthusian mould; increased buying power fueled the Industrial Revolution.

A Revolution in Family Life? 01

  • Idea that family changed drastically (perhaps connected with growth of capitalism); Lawrence Stone:

  • Open lineage family 1450-1630: marriages arranged as property transactions to benefit whole wide kinship group; little affection between spouses or within family.

  • Restricted patriarchal nuclear family 1550-1700: Tudor monarchs attack noble power, based on wide kinship group.

A Revolution in Family Life? 02

  • Protestantism and puritanism stress power of father within family; little affection within families; fathers arrange marriages for children, but take children’s preferences into account.

  • Closed domesticated nuclear family 1640-1800. Decline of patriarchal power; growth of affection between spouses, and towards children; parent retain only a veto over children’s marriages; appearance of romantic love.

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