Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 March 2010
This article addresses the relative dearth of work on courtship and marriage motivations for early nineteenth-century England. Focusing on rural-industrial Lancashire, the article draws on a rare conjunction of sources: an autobiography, a series of love-letters and letters from friends, relating to the nascent textile entrepreneur David Whitehead and his intended wife Betty Wood. Triangulating these sources suggests that some of the seemingly dominant influences on courtship and marriage seen in other studies, such as the economic status of partners, family and kin, had little part in this drama. Rather, issues of love, destiny and, above all, religious suitability dictated the pace, content and outcome of the courtship process. Against this backdrop, it was Betty Wood, rather than David Whitehead, who held the levers of power in the courtship. The article also explores other aspects of courtship, most especially the relationship between courtship intensity/fragility and the spatial dynamics of the marriage market.
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16. O'Hara, Courtship and Constraint, pp. 37–8.
18. Frost, Promises Broken, p. 75.
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21. Frost, Promises Broken, p. 62.
22. The Whitehead Collection, which includes the autobiography and letters described here but also business and personal correspondence covering the duration of David's life, publications on the Whithead business, business cards, samples of cloth, periodic diaries and an extensive collection of Methodist ephemera, was originally split between two institutions (the Local Studies Library and Rossendale Museum) in Rawtenstall, Lancashire. All sources mentioned in this article were consulted and transcribed in these locations in the period 1994 to 1996. Subsequently parts of the collection have been moved to the Lancashire Record Office and David Whitehead's autobiography has been transcribed, Stanley Chapman, ed., The Autobiography of David Whitehead of Rawtenstall (1790–1865), Cotton Spinner and Merchant (Helmshore, 2001). All references are to this excellent edition. The original is written in bold hand with numerous deleted words or phrases and superscript additions. Whitehead crossed through some one hundred passages and moved them to different, often distant, pages, suggesting that he was trying to achieve some sort of chronological ordering.
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25. Chapman, The Autobiography, p. 25.
26. Ibid., p. 19. Literacy was ‘at once a personal and a collective possession’ for David Vincent, Literacy and Popular Culture: England 1750–1914 (Cambridge, 1989), p. 49.
27. Chapman, The Autobiography, p. 41.
29. A transcript of the will is held at Rawtenstall Library.
31. Chapman, The Autobiography, p. 203.
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40. Chapman, The Autobiography, p.xv-xvii.
41. The precise motivation for writing is unclear, but the volume has an educative tone and may well have been regarded as a resource for the children.
44. For a recent survey see Rosemary O'Day, Women's Agency in Early Modern Britain and the American Colonies (London, 2004). We also see some of these themes played out in near contemporary autobiographies by other writers. See Chancellor, Victor, ed., Master and Artisan in Victorian England: The Diary of William Andrews and the Autobiography of Joseph Gutteridge (London, 1969), pp. 110 and 113Google Scholar.
45. Chapman, The Autobiography, p. 49.
46. On the cultural underpinning of marriage age disparities, see O'Day, Women's Agency, p. 75.
47. In casually saying that he was on a business errand when he first met Betty, David may have been establishing a face-saving mechanism in case things went wrong. I am grateful to Jane Humphries for this point.
48. Rossendale Museum. David Whitehead Letters, items 43 and 83.
49. Chapman, The Autobiography, p. 50.
52. See Fauve Chamoux, ‘Marriage, Widowhood’, p. 236, who argues that geographical endogamy at marriage often went hand in hand with marriage to the closest available relative. See also contributions to Naomi Miller and Naomi Yavneh, eds, Sibling Relations and Gender in the Early Modern World: Sisters, Brothers and Others (Aldershot, 2006).
53. Snell, ‘English Rural Society’.
54. Chapman, The Autobiography, p. 50.
59. Frost, Promises Broken, p. 9, suggests that the same was true in the Victorian period.
60. Chapman, The Autobiography, p. 52. For other examples of Methodist epiphanies see Mack, Heart Religion, p.100.
61. Chapman, The Autobiography, p. 52.
64. Rawtenstall Library, Whitehead Collection (hereafter RL), 22nd December 1817.
66. See Hill, Women, Work, p. 178, who shows that the eighteenth-century diarist Thomas Turner used the same language in his courtship, pointing to the context of conventions with real longevity. For a sceptical view of the meaning of the language of love see Eustace, ‘The Cornerstone’.
67. RL, 30th December 1817. See Hill, Women, Work, p. 179 for contextual discussion of the importance of a woman's ‘inclination’.
68. RL, 20th January 1818.
69. RL, 4th February 1818. My italics.
71. For Wesley on marriage see Mack, Heart Religion, pp. 22, 96, and 142.
72. RL, 16th February 1818.
73. RL, 28th February 1818. The sub-theme of destiny is again revealed.
74. RL, 17th March 1818.
75. RL, 19th March 1818.
76. RL, 16th April 1818. My italics.
77. RL, 16th April 1818. My italics. The destiny card is played very purposively here. For contextual discussion that shows their intimacy was indeed short, at least for the mid-Victorian period, see Frost, Promises Broken, p. 61.
78. Of course, devotional allegiance could have been used to lever a match that would have taken place anyway irrespective of religious compatibility. I am grateful to Alannah Tomkins for this point.
79. RL, 6th May 1818. My italics. On the importance of potential distance from family as a factor in gentry and aristocrat courtships, see O'Day, Women's Agency, p. 169.
80. RL, 7th May 1818. My italics.
81. RL, 27th May1818.
82. RL, 28th May1818. My italics.
83. RL, 10th June 1818.
84. RL, 13th June 1818.
86. RL, 20th June 1818.
87. I am grateful to Keith Snell for this point.
88. Chapman, The Autobiography, p. 54.
89. RL, 1st July 1818.
90. I am grateful to Jane Humphries for suggesting that I tie lack of discussion of a dowry into a more detailed dissection of the subsequent role that Betty was to play in the marriage.
91. O'Day, Women's Agency, p. 121.
92. Frances, ‘Making Marriages’; Erickson, Amy, Women and Property in Early Modern England (London, 1993)Google Scholar; Morris, Robert, Men, Women and Property in England 1780–1870: A Social and Economic History of Family Strategies among the Leeds Middle Classes (Cambridge, 2005)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
93. On the way in which Methodists elaborated emotion in narrative sources, see Mack, Heart Religion, pp. 9 and 25. More widely on religion as a courtship framework for the middling sorts, see Davidoff, Leonore and Hall, Catherine, Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class 1780–1850 (London, 1987)Google Scholar.
94. Chapman, The Autobiography, p. 183.
95. Ibid., Passim. For marital endogamy amongst the Baptists in this period, see Marjorie Reeves, Pursuing the Muses: Female Education and Nonconformist Culture, 1700–1900 (Leicester, 1997).
97. O'Day, Women's Agency, p. 83. See also Frost, Promises Broken, p. 80 on the common failure of courtships in mid-Victorian England.
99. Evans, Tanya, ‘“Blooming virgins all beware”: Love, Courtship and Illegitimacy in Eighteenth-Century Popular Literature’, in Levene, Alysa, Nutt, Thomas and Williams, Samantha, eds, Illegitimacy in Britain 1700–1920 (Basingstoke, 2005), pp. 18–33Google Scholar.
101. O'Day, Women's Agency, pp. 112–18; Erickson, Women and Property; O'Hara, Courtship and Constraint.
102. For a wider discussion of this point see O'Day, Women's Agency, p. 118.
103. See also Frost, Promises Broken, p. 40 for a discussion of ‘correct’ behaviour.
104. This was also a courtship without the ritualistic elements discerned by Frost, Promises Broken, p. 58, for the Victorian period.
105. Acting in fact much as agents in aristocratic marriages might have done. See O'Day, Women's Agency, p. 78.
106. Eustace, ‘The Cornerstone’, p. 524.
107. Frost, Promises Broken, pp. 61–72.