Exhibition: Love Bites – Caricatures by James Gillray

To mark 200 years since satirist James Gillray's death, the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford is currently holding an exhibition in his honour. During his lifetime he created over 1000 prints, and here on display is a group of 60 examples ostensibly held together by heartstrings – they explore the artist's often scathing view of love, sex. marriage, friendship... Continue Reading →

The tale of Elizabeth Smith (and her second husband’s first wife’s first husband), 1766

Sometimes, when trawling through historical records, a researcher comes across personal stories that seem destined for Hollywood. Take this dramatic tale of romance triumphing against all the odds, featuring sexually-charged teenage servants, illegimate pregnancy, forced separation, triple bigamy, a few deaths, and a gouty clergyman in a sedan chair. All in that world-renowned town of passion and enchantment... Bicester. Before... Continue Reading →

Beware the wife who wears the breeches, 1682

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... Continue Reading →

Why you shouldn’t marry a lady of learning, 1708

This charming epistle on the horror that is a woman choosing to better herself through education comes from  The Modern World Disrob'd (1708), by satirical writer Ned Ward. I'm particularly taken with the idea that the more languages a lady speaks, the more varied the opportunities for scolding her husband with them. Her poor unfortunate husband will... Continue Reading →

Husband-Hunting in c18th India

As is perhaps inevitable for someone so interested in social history, I am also a keen genealogist – and so I was very excited last month when I was given exclusive access to the brand new 'British in India' collection over at findmypast.co.uk. Naturally I busied myself primarily with the marriage records, and over a... Continue Reading →

How to be Happy Though Married

Just a note to announce the publication of a lovely little gift-book compiled by yours truly, 'How to be Happy Though Married: Matrimonial Strife Through The Ages'. It collects together some of the best (and worst) marriage quotations and advice – including coping with a bad match and some rather questionable sex tips – from... Continue Reading →

Sex & The c17th City

The tendency of women to gossip about their sex lives with their friends has set men a-fretting for centuries. Far from being a phenomenon of the 'Sex & the City' era, women of the seventeenth century were just as likely to have intimate discussions about their man's skills and equipment, past experiences, how to keep... Continue Reading →

Plan your own broom-stick marriage

Weddings today seem such a stressful, complicated affair. If you have cast off the misery of a single life and plunged into all the misery of someone in pursuit of the perfect day, why not follow this eighteenth-century model of the Broomstick Marriage? a) Get married with a number of other couples, ensuring reduced expense... Continue Reading →

How to Elope in Style, 1793

Detail from 'The Elopement' (1828) In the late eighteenth century, if you were under the age of 21 then you were generally considered too young to be trusted with your own heart. The Marriage Act of 1753 had decreed that no wedding conducted on English soil would be considered valid unless there was a formal church... Continue Reading →

Husband Wanted, Military Man Preferred

Possibly my favourite possession in the world is my little collection of eighteenth-century newspaper scraps, apparently compiled by a Georgian gent with a particular interest in matrimonial adverts (fascinating) and buying horses (not so fascinating). Frustratingly I have no idea who he was, although his few helpful scribblings suggest that he was busying himself with... Continue Reading →

The 70-Year-Old Virgin, 1738

To Georgian Edinburgh, where in the summer of 1738 an almost-centenarian wed a nervous "undefiled" lady of about seventy. My interest was caught by the idea that her primary reason for pursuing marriage at such an advanced age was a fear of the "old maid's curse" – presumably the already well-established saying that old maids... Continue Reading →

How to Sell a Wife, 1787

Unbridled passions! Sibling rivalry! Threatened suicide! Wife selling! A party down the pub! What more could you want from this news report of 1787? Not only does it give a lively insight into love and marriage in the eighteenth century, but it proves once and for all that Bristol is a city where romance never... Continue Reading →

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