Jan. 4th, 2017

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Worth evening dress worn by Edith Kingdon Gould in her portrait by Théobald Chartran, 1898

From the exhibition “Defying Labels: New Roles, New Clothes,” at Lyndhurst via Irenebrination

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thursdayplaid:

aufanficfanatic said: Isn’t it like, 14 or something?  I dunno man, educate me. 

I’m so glad you asked @aufanficfanatic because I have so much to say!

In upper classes the children were considered the property of the family, so they married whenever the parents wanted them too.  There were children of the nobility who where married as infants and then never saw their spouse until said spouse’s funeral due to the ague or whatever.  Even the daughter of a simple gentleman might start feeling a bit alarmed if she hit 24 without any offers of marriage, but then her duty was to secure a suitable match.

The merchant, crafts, and agricultural classes were a bit different.  And by a bit different I mean they were entirely different.  A lot of this marry at first blink of puberty thing is part of the mythology that because the average age of death pre-1700 was about 35-40 that meant everyone died at forty.  What really happened was that most people lived to 70 and half of all children died.  Application of math tells us that if you add 70+0 and then divide by two the average death date is a bit misleading as a statistic.

The two most important things to people in a primarily agricultural culture is population numbers and food.  You need more population to grow more food and you need more food for your population.  There are other, more complicated factors such as the local nobility using the peasantry as cannon fodder, taxation, self-defense of the village, trying to avoid depopulation, but we’re going to skip that discussion.

Population is the big issue when it comes to marriage age, and let’s be honest.  When we pick a teenage marriage age the picture people have in their minds is a forty year old man and a sixteen year old girl.  This large age gap marriage mythology is a largely colonist era idea that means to depict sexual exploitation of children is natural and traditional for the purpose of corrupting men’s natural healthy instincts and discrediting cries of alarm from women.

But we’re not here to talk about politics, we’re here to talk about population.  For Western Europe marriage was for the purpose of creating a home, a social, emotional, and physical support system - children were an expected part of that.  However!  Even among women who chose not to get married, and there was at least one bastard born every year, they chose to have their children at an older age.

There are several issues about a woman’s body that could get in the way of a young marriage age.  First being that historically the first child a woman had usually died within a month, if the child was born alive at all due to a variety of issues like nutrition and stress on the woman’s body.  You know how everybody tells women not to carry things?  Well, European women didn’t always have that luxury.  The older a woman was, the more like she would be to be strong enough to lose less babies.

Second, poor nutrition can push back puberty, or at the very least menstruation.  This meant that many young ladies would only have superficial signs of puberty until they hit about sixteen, meaning that even if someone was going by some patriarchal conception of when a woman was marriageable, she’d only appear ‘on the market’ at sixteen, not be married by it.

Third, the woman’s body was insufficiently developed as a teenager, IE if she was sixteen or younger, her vagina would be smaller and her vaginal lining would be too thin  as the thickness therein is determined by the amount of estrogen in the system.  Usually the vaginal lining is not childbirth safe until the end of puberty, which depending on the female, is between 18-20.  People are good at picking up patterns.  They figured out pretty quick that women under eighteen tended to die during childbirth.  I won’t be graphic, suffice to say they bled to death.

Fourth, due to apprenticeships and occupations, many women were too busy to get married as teenagers.  Women had occupations other than some variation of mother or healer?!?  Yes, rhetorical question, they did!  If your last name was Baxter or Webster, not only do you descend from a woman who was a Master of her craft (baking or weaving respectively) but that one of your male ancestors took on her surname instead of the opposite.  Other female heavy professions were black smithing, silver smithing, accounting, leather working, agricultural labor (except wagonering and plowing - no innuendo intended - that was more of a man’s job since they would often have to travel), administratrix (more legal than a steward, more useful than a lawyer), ale wifing and brewing, knitting and lace working, and notary-ing.  Since having one or both of a couple having a craft occupation meant that their children would have a shoe in to a network of guilds it was of great benefit.  Additionally since many men traditionally worked the land or went to war, it meant that their family would be taken care of if something happened to his health.

So there you go!  Women generally started getting married after they finished their apprenticeships or when they reached about 20 and started having their own property and kept getting married until they were tired of it.

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Dorothy Joan Gray

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