Sunday, August 12, 2007

Question from Isabel - Marriages in Tudor England

In Tudor England would a noble girl be able to marry a common boy? What would be the punishment for eloping?


  1. Women with titles of nobility did occassionally marry non-noble men in the Tudor period. For example, Francis Grey, a grandaughter of the first Tudor king, Henry VII, and later herself Duchess of Suffolk, took as her second husband Adrian Stokes, her Master of Horse. Frances' youngest daughter Mary married Thomas Keyes, Queen Elizabeth's sergeant porter. Other examples of noble women marrying non-noble men do exist. The trouble arises with the term "girl." Women in sixteenth-century England, particularly noble women with property, occupied a peculiar legal space in that their legal rights were often determined by their relationships. Any unmarried woman with a living father was considered legally subject to that father, often without regard to her age, for example. In short, unmarried women were most often at the mercy of their nearest male relative or a male legal guardian (though there were excpetions). Their ability to marry might be limited by the degree to which their male relative or guardian took an interest in the matter. There was wide variation in that regard. "Elopement" is another difficult term, since it implies a lack of parental consent. Women of potential property (heiresses) who married without parental consent could find their marriage annulled, even after consummation. But again, there is not hard-and-fast rule here. Mary Grey was an heiress to the crown, and she married without the queen's consent ("eloped"). Her husband was sent to the fleet and she was placed under house arrest. The marriage, however, remained legally valid. An excellent book on the subject of women and marriage in Tudor England is Barbara Harris' "English Aristocratic Women, 1450-1550: Marriage and Family, Property and Careers" (Oxford, 2002).

  2. Also, Mary Boleyn, Anne Boleyn's sister, eloped shortly after Anne became queen and Anne was so angry that she had married below her she banished them from court entirely.

  3. Did Anne Boleyn really do that? Or was that a creative device used by Philippa Gregory in "The Other Boleyn Girl"?

  4. Yeah, The Other Boleyn Girl isn't as inaccurate as most people think. I mean, it's no historical text, but it's more accurate than most other historical novels (like Jean Plaidy's work, and Robin Maxwell's). And it's certainly closer to fact than most movies or TV shows. Mary did marry William Stafford, who was below her rank, and Anne did banish her. I'm no Anne fan, but in her defense that was just how they did things back then. People from noble families weren't supposed to marry below rank, especially close relatives of the Queen.


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