What did Victorian bachelors think of marriage?

We know from letters, diaries and novels that Victorian bachelors expended much thought and worry on the issue of marriage. When confronted with a potential match, they had to weigh up both the financial and personal aspects of the married state.

Financially, Victorian marriage was an expensive business. Among the very poor, perhaps, neither party expected to get much material benefit out of the union. For the lower middle classes and up, however, it was considered essential that a man was able to offer his wife-to-be an adequate establishment – whether that meant a townhouse in Grosvenor Square with ten servants, a carriage and an account with a Paris dressmaker, or a poky semi-detached on the Holloway Road with one frazzled maid-of-all-work. Men of a certain class were expected to move out of their cheap bachelor lodgings, rent (or more rarely, purchase) a family home, spend money doing it up in a suitable style, and ideally earn enough to make their wives ladies of leisure. Given these expectations, marriage presented a significant drain on male finances and may even have put some men off the idea, at least until they were better situated in life.

Along with the financial considerations came the personal, many of which would resonate today. Questions asked by men in the nineteenth century included: Do I love this woman? Will she make me happy? Can I make her happy? Can I bear to spend every Christmas until death do us part with my parents-in-law? Will I still be able to spend time at my gentleman’s club/favourite tavern, or will I be trapped at home, sucked into domestic drudgery?

Victoria and Albert: the ultimately 'happily married couple'
Victoria and Albert: the ultimate ‘happy couple’

Such concerns about money, love and more are reflected in a note which Charles Darwin penned when he was considering marriage. Like the thoroughly logical chap he was, Darwin drew up a list of pros and cons on the subject, which touchingly reflects the concerns of many of his fellow bachelors:

MARRY [pros]

Children – (if it Please God) – Constant companion, (& friend in old age) who will feel interested in one, – object to be beloved and played with. better than a dog anyhow. – Home, & someone to take care of house – Charms of music & female chit-chat. – These things good for one’s health. – but terrible loss of time. – My God, it is intolerable to Think of spending ones whole life [sic], like a neuter bee, working, working, & nothing after all. – No, no, won’t do. – Imagine living all one’s day solitary in smoky dirty London house. – Only picture to yourself a nice soft wife on a sofa with a good fire, & books and music perhaps – Compare this vision with the dingy reality of Grt. Marlbro’ St.

NOT MARRY [cons]

Freedom to go where one liked – choice of Society & little of it. Conversation of clever men at clubs – Not forced to visit relatives, & to bend in every trifle. – to have the expense & anxiety of children – perhaps quarreling – Loss of time. – cannot read in the Evenings – fatness & idleness – Anxiety & responsibility – less money for books &c – if many children forced to gain one’s bread. – (But then it is very bad for ones health to work too much). Perhaps my wife wont like London [sic]; then the sentence is banishment & degradation into indolent, idle fool.

Charles Darwin, family man (1842)
Charles Darwin, family man (1842)

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Castle Ward, a house divided by marriage

Castle Ward, in Northern Ireland, is a remarkable building, though it is not known for architectural brilliance, opulent interiors, great artworks, or beautiful gardens. Instead, what strikes you when you visit Castle Ward is the overwhelming sense that the architect must have been deranged. This is because one half of the stone mansion is done up entirely in Georgian classical style, while the other half – right down to the furnishings – is constructed in eighteenth-century Gothic Revival style. One might suspect this to be some morbid joke on the part of the architect, or the wild frolic of some mad craftsman. However, the house’s dual aspect was in fact intentional and is, as far as I know, the only example of its kind.

Originally known as Carrick na Sheannagh and owned by the Earls of Kildare, Castle Ward had been the home of the Ward family since around 1570. The Wards were prominent Anglo-Irish gentry, elevated into the aristocracy when Bernard Ward was made 1st Viscount Bangor, in recognition of his political service. In 1747, Bernard married the widow Lady Ann Bligh and started building a new, grander edifice suitable for the dignity of his position.

However, Bernard ran into a seemingly insurmountable obstacle in his quest to design the perfect house: namely, his wife. While Bernard favoured a cool and masculine classical style, Ann much preferred Georgian Gothic Revival, with its turrets, spires, fan vault ceilings and pseudo-medieval décor. It might be supposed that in the 18th century, the taste of the wife would have to be subservient to that of her husband; the building (along with the wife) was generally his property, after all. Clearly, however, Ann felt so strongly about the architecture and interior of the proposed house that Bernard was obliged to relent and allow her to have half the house built and decorated as she wished. Their subsequent joint efforts were mocked by the Bluestocking artist Mrs Delany, who visited in July 1762 and wrote in a letter that Bernard lacked taste and Ann was ‘so whimsical that I doubt her judgment’.

Bernard Ward, 1st Viscount Bangor
Bernard Ward, 1st Viscount Bangor
Ann, Viscountess Bangor
Ann, Viscountess Bangor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In her excellent book, Behind Closed Doors: At home in Georgian England, Amanda Vickery writes of the Wards and their house:

“…division was unmissable at Castle Ward in County Down in Ireland in the early 1760s, where marital disagreement over style resulted in clashing Gothic and classical wings. The Wards separated shortly after the building was completed – architectural incompatibility was prophetic.”

I suspect that Vickery is being tongue-in-cheek; notwithstanding their different architectural tastes, we don’t know whether Bernard and Ann were unhappy for a long time or whether the separation came on suddenly. Ann did stick around to bear her husband eight children, after all. In fact, some sources claim that Ann and Bernard never actually separated.

The entrance side of the building is done in Bernard’s preferred stern Palladian style, with columns supporting a triangular pediment. Ann was allowed to have the back of the house done up in the way she wanted, built in the Georgian Gothic style with pointed windows, spires, and even battlements.

Palladian exterior Irishdeltaforce

gothic exterior Ardfern

The interior followed a strict division along these lines, with the front half of the house decked out in Palladian/classical style, and the back half in Gothic Revival, covering everything from ceilings to bookcases to stairwells. On the one hand it is noteworthy that Ann was allowed to decorate half of the house entirely in her own style; on the other, it is telling that she was given the back of the house, with its private sitting rooms, while the reception rooms were all done in her husband’s preferred neoclassical style.

The following rooms are from Bernard’s side of the house, and follow a cool neoclassical theme in both decoration and architectural features.

palladian grand hallway Irishdeltaforce
Entrance hallway
palladianArdfern
Note the white and pale green colours, and the austere classical-style door frames

 

palladian sculpture & pillars Ardfern
Antique Greek bust amid classical columns

palladian2 Ardfern

palladian 3 Ardfern
Compare the austere ceiling stucco design with Ann’s ceilings, below

The following rooms, designed according to Ann’s taste, present a strong contrast. They are full of Gothic Revival decoration and furniture, and the overall effect is, in my opinion, much more domestic and warm. She must have found these rooms more comfortable to spend time in than the draughty neoclassical reception rooms favoured by her husband.

gothic room ARdfern
Note the fanciful ceiling, the red chairs and wallpaper, and the use of wall sconces
gothic Ardfern
The window shape seems an odd mixture of the Gothic and the Oriental styles
gothic ceiling 3Ardfern
This fanciful ceiling design seems to combine ‘oriental’ aspects with the fan vaulting found in many Gothic cathedrals
gothic bookcase Ardfern3
Gothic Revival-style cupboard
gothic door ARdfern
The door which leads into the neoclassical half of the house
Gothic1 fireplace & cupboard Irishdeltaforce
Gothic-style fireplace

Interestingly, Ann’s architecture and furnishings somewhat resemble that of Strawberry Hill House, a Gothic Revival villa built from the 1740s-70s by author Horace Walpole. I don’t know for sure whether Ann was influenced by Walpole’s design, or just more generally by the Gothic Revival, but the similarities are striking.

Strawberry_Hill_House_May_2013_22 Jonathan Cardy
Compare the fan vault ceilings and the red wall colour
Strawberry_Hill_House_from_garden Chiswick Chap
Both houses feature battlements, vaguely Gothic-shaped windows, and little spires
Strawberry_Hill_House_May_2013_09 Jonathan Cardy
A door shaped like the one which divided Ann’s side of the house from her husband’s
Strawberry_Hill_House_May_2013_14 Jonathan Cardy
These Gothic Revival bookcases are reminiscent of Ann’s, though these are much lighter and more elegant

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Jewish life in medieval England

Many of us in England like to think of ourselves as a fairly tolerant people, accepting of many traditions and ethnic groups. I would venture to say that this has some basis in truth, at least in contemporary Britain – it is true that if you go back a few decades, English society, unused to mass immigration, gave a frequently hostile reception to Caribbean and Asian immigrants. At any rate, when we hear the term ‘anti-Semitism’ we are most likely to think of Nazi Germany, or the Russian pogroms of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Yet in medieval England, Jews were persecuted and eventually expelled, left to wander the rest of Europe. (After they were allowed back in the 17th century, England became one of the better places in Europe to be Jewish, but that’s another story).

The first written record of Jews in England goes back to the reign of William the Conqueror. In 1070, William invited a group of Jewish merchants from Rouen to England, possibly to help the Crown in financial matters. The Jewish community grew over the next few centuries, during which time the discrimination against English Jews ebbed and flowed. At certain periods, Jews were better tolerated, often for policy reasons. They were granted a number of rights at various points. In Henry I’s reign, a royal charter ensured that Jews were permitted to buy and sell goods and property, to be tried by their peers, to swear oaths on the Torah rather than on a Christian Bible, and to move about the country without paying tolls. It should be borne in mind that a great many English peasants didn’t enjoy the last right, because of the restrictive feudal system which prevented much movement away from the lord’s estate.

By about 1140, Jews were to be found in many of the major English and Welsh towns: London, Oxford, Cambridge, Canterbury, Windsor, Reading, Winchester, Newport, Norwich, Bungay and Thetford. A number of Jews managed to do very well for themselves, at least in financial terms. Aaron of Lincoln, for instance, is believed to have been the wealthiest man in 12th-century England, perhaps even wealthier than the king. Testament to the wealth of certain individuals in the Jewish community is the Jew’s House in Lincoln, one of the earliest extant town houses in the country. Dating originally to the mid-12th century, the house is well-built out of stone, and has impressive features such as elaborate Romanesque windows.

Jew's House in High Street, Lincoln
The Jew’s House in Lincoln

However, for all the concessions granted to English Jews, their overall experience was one of discrimination and persecution. Numerous statutes limited their freedom of action, and they were never accorded the full rights of other English subjects. Petty legal discrimination abounded. For instance, before 1177, Jews were not permitted to bury their dead anywhere outside London, and in 1280 Edward I ordered that ‘Jews and Jewesses’ had to pay a special toll in order to cross the bridge at Brentford. Edward I also stripped Jews of their right to lend money, restricted their movements and activities, and forced them to wear a yellow patch on their clothing.

Frequently the king would seize Jewish assets simply because he needed money and could get away with it more easily than if he imposed onerous taxes on the whole population, which would run the risk of inciting rebellion. The persons and goods of the Jewish community in England were therefore rarely secure. One of the first such recorded incidents is when King Stephen burned down the house of Jew in Oxford when the man refused to pay a contribution to the royal expenses. Further incidents of intimidation and coercion followed. When negotiating an alliance with the Holy Roman Emperor in 1168, Henry II abducted the chief representatives of the English Jews and sent them to Normandy, imposing a land tax on the rest of the community to the value of 5,000 marks. Raising money for the Crusade against Saladin in 1188, Henry then demanded a quarter of all Jewish chattels for the purpose, a far greater proportion than was required of his Gentile subjects.

Jews were forced to wear special hats (England, 13th century)
Jews were forced to wear special hats (England, 13th century)

Persecution of the Jews grew increasingly serious, and indeed violent, towards the end of the 13th century. When Jewish moneylenders found themselves unable to fund the war against Wales in 1276, Edward’s response was brutal. He accused English Jews of disloyalty and enacted various punitive statutes. The heads of Jewish households were arrested, with over three hundred taken to the Tower of London and executed. On November 17, 1278, every Jew in England was arrested on suspicion of coin clipping and counterfeiting. Coin clipping was in fact carried out by Christians as well as Jews, but this little detail does not seem to have alleviated the Crown’s harsh treatment of the accused Jews. The Bury Chronicle records how:

“All Jews in England of whatever condition, age or sex were unexpectedly seized … and sent for imprisonment to various castles throughout England. While they were thus imprisoned, the innermost recesses of their houses were ransacked.” 

On a wider level, many English people were anti-Semitic as a matter of course, and augmented discriminatory laws with persecution of their own. Underpinning much of this was the contemporary Catholic attitude towards Judaism. Using the ancient idea that Jews were to be despised as ‘Christ-killers’, the medieval Catholic Church played a shameful role in inciting violence against Jews and their property. All over Europe, rumours abounded that Jews were the malevolent members of a great conspiracy against Christians. Jews were blamed for many unfortunate events; it was commonly believed, for instance, that outbreaks of plague originated from the wicked Jews poisoning wells.

13th century English caricature of the Jew Aaron, son of Satan
13th century English caricature of the Jew Aaron, son of Satan

This anti-Jewish sentiment periodically erupted into mob violence. For instance, when a rumour went around London in September 1189 that the king had ordered a massacre of the Jews, a frenzied mob set fire to houses in Old Jewry, killing those who attempted to escape. Further massacres followed at Lynn, Stamford Fair, Bury St Edmunds, and Lincoln, where the Jews only survived by taking refuge in Lincoln Castle.

The most infamous massacre took place in York in March 1190, on the night of the sabbath. Religious feeling was high at the time, as the crusaders were just preparing to leave on the Third Crusade, off to slaughter the Jews and Muslims in the Holy Land. Anti-Jewish violence in York was increasing, and Josce, the leader of the Jews in York, asked the warden of York Castle to shelter them and their families. They were duly accepted into Clifford’s Tower. However, crusaders surrounded the castle and demanded that the Jews convert to Christianity. The Jews’ religious leader, Rabbi Yomtov of Joigney, advised his flock to commit suicide rather than convert. The father of each family apparently killed his wife and children, beginning with Josce killing his wife Anna and their two children. Josce and Yomtov set fire to the wooden keep; the handful of Jews who did not kill themselves died in the fire, or were murdered by the rioters.

Clifford's Tower, York Castle
Clifford’s Tower, York Castle

The history of the Jewish community in medieval England ended suddenly when King Edward I issued the Edict of Expulsion in 1290, which exiled between 4,000 and 16,000 Jews from the country. A number of Jews favoured by the monarchy were permitted to sell their properties before leaving, but more often, Jewish goods and property were confiscated by the Crown. With a few exceptions, Jews did not return to England until Oliver Cromwell invited them back in 1655.

Expulsion_judios-en.svg
Jewish expulsions in Europe, 1100-1600

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