To save content items to your account,
please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies.
If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account.
Find out more about saving content to .
To save content items to your Kindle, first ensure firstname.lastname@example.org
is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings
on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part
of your Kindle email address below.
Find out more about saving to your Kindle.
Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations.
‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi.
‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.
The ecclesiastical authorities in the Catholic and Presbyterian churches imposed penalties on members of their congregations who violated their respective institution’s regulations on bigamy and remarriage. Bigamy was, from 1634, a criminal offence which was prosecuted in the civil rather than the ecclesiastical courts. An individual who wished to invalidate a marriage in civil law on the grounds of bigamy was obliged to seek a solution in the civil courts. The destruction of court records means that we have little information on rates of bigamy in Ireland before the nineteenth century. Bigamy cases generally involved desertion and abandonment, states with practical and emotional consequences that must have been difficult for those who were deserted and for second spouses who must, in some cases at least, have also felt betrayed. The men and women who committed bigamy were on the whole servants, porters, labourers, soldiers and sailors. The majority were not improving their economic state, but perhaps tried instead to find some happiness in their lives. Bigamy pretended a marriage and thus respectability existed, and may have been preferable to open cohabitation. Bigamy reveals that over the period there was an amount of marital non-conformity, men and women interpreted the law on marriage flexibly to suit their own ends.
Chapter 3 explores how and where individuals met their future marriage partners. From the eighteenth to the early twentieth century there was a gradual expansion in the spatial range in which the search for a marriage partner took place. The move into towns and cities broadened the spaces for courtship. This chapter also looks at the ages at which people married and the changes that came about in age of marriage over the period. It reveals that from the seventeenth through to the early twentieth century, financial and material considerations formed a central part of the negotiations for the majority of marriages. Marriage was used by families as a means to accumulate additional economic resources or to retain land within a particular family. The size of a dowry could vary, depending on class, family income, and the numbers of daughters requiring a marriage portion. The perception that the dowry and arranged marriages became more pervasive in post-Famine Ireland is, however, not supported by the evidence. Dowries, whatever shape they took, made marriages an explicit business deal. Assets and the rights brought with them, provided the expectation of a wife’s control of her own household, the support of a husband and the safety of a family unit in which all might prosper.
A breach of promise to marry is a fundamental break of a promise, by either a man or woman, to carry through a marriage. The legal action had its origins in the canon law definition of marriage as a promise between a man and a woman. Ecclesiastical courts had an obligation to ensure that when a promise of marriage was made that both parties recognized that they had entered into a clandestine but valid marriage. In Ireland, civil suits for breach of promise seem to have begun in the middle years of the eighteenth century. It was primarily through the courts that breach of promise to marry cases came to the attention of the public, providing lawyers with lucrative incomes and newspapers with titillating stories for their reading audience. The actual court cases themselves were a form of public entertainment and the court room the arena of performance for witnesses, barristers, judges. Exploring the history of breach of promise cases in Ireland reveals the significance of monetary considerations in marriage negotiations, and the value that was placed on women’s, and men’s, reputations. Such cases also throw light on class, the appropriateness of cross-class relationships and the significance of social status among plaintiffs and defendants.
Marital infidelity was not uncommon in the period covered in this book. Nor was it, for much of the time, a hidden or concealed crime. Newspapers regularly reported on bigamy, criminal conversation, divorce and desertion cases that came before the Irish courts and often involved adulterous behaviour. It is impossible to know how extensive extra-marital sexual behaviour was in any period. In this chapter we explore the attitudes expressed towards adulterous behaviour and couples who cohabited without marrying, how such behaviour reflected upon marital relationships and what it says more generally about sexuality in Irish society. Printed reports and newspaper accounts of trials for criminal conversation were an important medium through which the public became aware of adulterous affairs. This chapter reveals the level of non-conformity that existed in sexual matters amongst individuals and couples over a long time period. Sexual non-conformity can be viewed for instance, in cohabitation, adultery, the keeping of mistresses, and the advantage taken of women servants in households. By the end of the nineteenth century, both the Church and the law increasingly oversaw the implementation of sexual norms in society and perpetuated ideals for male and female sexual behaviour.
This chapter explores the contexts of spousal violence, and considers the evolution of the legal discourses and judicial practices around this issue, and examines what this violence tells us about power, control and intimacy within marriages. It was widely believed in the nineteenth century that spousal assault was rare in Ireland, while it was thought to be a common practice in England. In the evolution of Irish national identity in post-Famine Ireland such beliefs distinguished the Irish from the English. Irish men were held to be morally superior to English men. But such beliefs were unfounded. More husbands abused and killed their wives, than wives did husbands. Husbands used their wives’ behaviour, their disobedience, intemperance, infidelity, lack of female virtue, inadequate fortunes, as excuses for causing a turn to violence or their wives’ deaths. Verbal and physical conflicts, could in the context of alcohol, spiral out of control. Money and property were also the causes of violence, as was the distribution of household resources. Some women feared the loss of their homes and other property and killed to protect their interests. Certain acts of violence were judged legitimate when particular contexts were taken into consideration. A drunken wife or a brutish and violent husband could, for example, see murder charges being reduced to manslaughter charges.
Chapter 7 explores what happened after the marriage was agreed. It looks first at the planning of the wedding festivities: the buying of a dress and the preparation of the wedding meal. The second section of the chapter, explores relationships between husbands and wives and the different ways in which patriarchy was expressed. To what extent did husbands exercise their authority under the laws of church and state to control their wife’s behaviour? What evidence is there that husbands were aware of their status as heads of household and anxious to enforce it? It is impossible to generalise about the implications for marital relations of large numbers of children but large, crowded households are, nonetheless, a constant throughout the period covered by the volume. There can be no generalising either about intimate relationships between married couples. Emotions shaped such relationships as clearly as economics and status did. Emotions might be expressed in words, in letters, but within an intimate life they find expression also in gesture, touch, in looks and in the more practical realms of support and care to be found in intimate relationship.
Marriage was often a way to contain the poverty of women and children and sometimes men. Men were expected to be the family breadwinners, earning enough to feed, clothe and house their wife and children. In reality, poorer women were always obliged to assist in supplementing or securing the family income, as were children. For many women, the desertion of a husband brought them and their children to destitution and they ended up in the workhouse. Desertion could occur at any point in a marriage, sometimes after a couple of days or even years later. The large number of newspaper notices placed by husbands cautioning the public that they would not pay any bills accumulated by their runaway wives testify to the way in which men and women took matters into their own hands to abandon a difficult marriage, without consulting a lawyer or, in many cases, their spouse. Sometimes spouses agreed to a desertion as a way of separating. The evolution of the law throughout the period saw the removal of legal constraints placed upon women granting them, for instance, greater property rights and economic autonomy. By the end of the nineteenth century, the law provided more substantial support to women who were deserted, or separated, particularly in the area of securing maintenance payments.
This chapter argues that the period is marked by creative legal solutions designed to undermine ecclesiastical control of marital dissolution. The civil courts had begun to consider marriage cases which in 1660 would have been deemed the business of the consistory courts. The canon law prohibition on remarriage after divorce was undermined by private parliamentary acts which dissolved marriages and permitted those involved to remarry. The increasing use of formal and informal private deeds of settlement in which spouses agreed to live apart also weakened strict adherence to church regulations. While these changes did not represent a complete secularisation of Irish marriage law and regulations, they do suggest that men and women were willing to be flexible in their interpretation of church guidelines, particularly when they were considering how to end a problematic union. According to canon law, which guided both the ecclesiastical and civil courts in determining marriage litigation, there were two types of divorce. The first, a vinculo matrimonii (i.e. from the chains of marriage) was, in effect, a judgment that the marriage was null and void because it had never existed in the first place. Far more common in the consistory court and its secular successor were applications for divorce a mensa et thoro or from ‘bed and board’. This was essentially a request for a judicial separation rather than a divorce. Unlike a vinculo matrimonii, a divorce a mensa et thoro did not permit either partner to remarry.
Marriage is one of the oldest institutions in Ireland. The earliest legal codes in Irish history incorporated a detailed set of regulations on the rights and responsibilities of husbands and wives. In the medieval period, marriage was at the core of the conflict between Gaelic and English customs and social practices. Marital alliances were also an essential element in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century political and economic networks. The continuing significance of family connections is also evident in eighteenth-century Irish political life. In the nineteenth century, the financial arrangements for marriage were an important factor in the economic structure of rural society. Marriage also set the parameters for the sexual moral code that prevailed in twentieth-century Irish society.
Chapter 1 describes the considerable confusion that existed in relation to marriage law in Ireland. In Ireland there were not only differing views between the state and individual churches but also within religious denominations. For instance, until 1827, the Catholic church was divided into areas where the marriage definition of the Council of Trent of a valid marriage was implemented and others where it was not. Within Presbyterianism, there were groups who placed more emphasis on the scriptural definition of marriage as essentially the private vows between a man and a woman than the church leadership approved. Prior to the second half of the nineteenth century, the laity can be documented frequently defying clerical censure to marry in a manner that conformed more to social rather than religious requirements. Throughout the eighteenth century all of the main churches struggled to implement their regulations in relation to marriage. Men and women planning to marry in Ireland in the period from 1660 through to 1844 could choose from a complex array of formal and informal services. By the last decades of the eighteenth century, there are indications that all the church authorities were beginning to supervise the implementation of their respective regulations concerning marriage more stringently.
Courtship behaviour varied not just across social class but also depended on individual inclination and disposition. There were agreed patterns of behaviour, particularly in middle-class society, that signalled to family, friends and the wider community that a couple were courting and the expectation was that the courtship would end in marriage. Not everyone observed or followed the rules of courtship, particularly around the issue of pre-marital sex. Courtships sometimes broke down and led to breach of promise to marry cases. While impossible to quantify, one of the facts to emerge from a study of breach of promise cases is the prevalence of sex as part of courtship. While the Presbyterian church authorities were tolerant, if not approving, of couples who consummated their relationship before marriage, the statistical evidence slowly emerging from scattered sources also indicates a significant number of pregnant Catholic brides. The single mother may have been shunned by society but there was less shame attached to the birth of children within seven or eight months of marriage. There is evidence in middle-class urban society of changing attitudes to courtship in the early decades of the twentieth century with more men and women anxious to make their own choice of spouse.
The aim of this book has been to understand the logistics of heterosexual marriage in Ireland, particularly among the lower and middle classes from 1660 to 1925. Our starting point was the establishment of a legal chronology of marriage in Ireland during the period, and the identification of the key developments in the regulation of marriage within the main Christian denominations of the Church of Ireland, Protestant Dissenters and Roman Catholicism. This was not a simple task as, throughout the period, there was considerable confusion and uncertainty in both church and state over the definition of a valid marriage. Parliamentary legislation reflected an ambivalent attitude towards marriage ceremonies not celebrated by Church of Ireland clergymen and this legal uncertainty was not fully removed until the later decades of the nineteenth century.