Selecting a wife is a tricky business. The main concern of a merry young bachelor was often that, if he chose badly, he could end up chained to a woman intent on wearing the breeches. And let’s face it, there could be little more embarrassing for our seventeenth-century gent than being ruled over by a woman (especially if she is going to further confound his misery by then stalking about the house in the style of Michael Jackson’s Thriller, as below). It was such a hot topic that it even provided the theme for entertaining (or cautionary?) tableware.
But, foolish & wandring lovers, fear not! In these ‘remedies for your squandered brains’ The Ten Pleasures of Marriage (1682) sets out the key warning signs to look out for when courting a lady. If she ticks all the boxes, then you’re off to a good start – just cross your fingers and hope that the wedding ceremony won’t promptly transform her into a domineering harpy bent on vexing you with torments.
1. No woman significantly posher than you – they are more likely to be stuck up
2. No woman significantly more attractive than you – they will expect to be worshipped
3. No woman significantly poorer than you – she’ll get ideas above her station
4. Don’t be crafty or dishonest when you are trying to chat her up
5. Don’t rush into things
6. Ask your friends for advice
7. Country wenches are only fit for meddling with, not marrying
8. BE PREPARED TO SUFFER – because, y’know, this is marriage we’re talking about
‘Make this your example, O all you foolish and wandring Lovers, who are so desirous to tast of the Pleasures and sweetness of marriage; and are somtimes so disquieted and troubled till you cast your selves upon an insulting, domineering Wife, who perhaps hath the Breeches already on, and will vex you with all the torments imaginable in the World. Do but use these few remedies for your squandered brains, and be assured they will bring you to have good fortune and tranquility.
Search not after great Riches, but for one of your own degree; for the Rich are insulting, self-conceited, and proud.
Admire no outward beauty; because they are proud of their beauty, and imagine themselves to be Goddesses, whom their husbands ought to obey.
Shun those who are much lesser then your self: For when a mean one finds her self promoted by a great Match, she is much prouder and self-conceited then one of a good extraction; and will much sooner than another indeavour to domineer over her husband.
Dissemble not in your wooing. For dissimulation deceives its own Master.
Be not too hasty. For a thing of importance must be long and prudently considered of, before a final conclusion can be made.
Follow the advice of understanding friends. For to be wise, and in love, was not given to the Gods themselves.
Chuse no Country wench: For she’l want a whole years learning, before she’l know how to shine upon a house or Office, and two years to learn to make a cursie.
If you marry, arm your self with patience. For he that hath the yoke of marriage upon his shoulders, must patiently suffer and indure all the disquiets and troubles that that estate is subject to.’
This brilliant seventeenth-century earthenware dish shows a man and woman quarreling over a pair of breeches.
Header image: ‘The Battle Royal, or Who wears the Breeches’ (1774)