Monday, January 21, 2008

Question from Lisa - Nobles and marriage

I had some questions about marriage and nobility. I know that most marriages among the upper class were arranged but there were at least a few exceptions (some with and some without their family's blessings.) Specifically, I would like to know what circumstances/situations would have led two nobles to meet and fall in love with people of the opposite sex. I know that sometimes they would meet at court but what specific activities would have got them interacting with each other? Were there any other places they could have met? In Romeo & Juliet (which I know is fictional and based in Italy) the title characters met at a party. Did nobles ever throw parties in Tudor England and was this a possible way of meeting someone of the opposite sex? Were there any other situations which would have allowed the nobility to meet?

Also, there are a couple examples I've run across where nobles married commoners such as Mary Boleyn's marriage to William Stafford. Under what circumstances might a noble meet and fall in love with a commoner? Every source I've found just states that she married him but does not mention how they would have met and I'm curious, not just about her but how any noble could have had enough interaction with a commoner to fall in love with them since it seems like, at least from my limited research, that they didn't spend much time together.

Any help would be greatly appreciated.


Foose said...

Well, court was sort of a big party much of the time; parents were very anxious to get their daughters appointed there as maids of honor because of the large selection of eligible men they would meet. One of the Queen's roles was to facilitate suitable marriages among her waiting women, so parents and their children counted on that too. Anne Boleyn met Henry Percy at court, with Cardinal Wolsey rating the young man about being "entangled with that foolish girl in the court yonder."

The court offered opportunities like masques, often with a courtly love theme, where various courtiers would take on the roles and spent a lot of time with each other rehearsing. I would imagine the most attractive or important courtiers were chosen for these roles, which added to the romantic tension.

Hunting was big. The court would go out hunting all day, and then have a sort of picnic in the middle, where courtiers could be more informal with each other.

I don't know about nobles giving parties. They must have had some private celebrations to which local magnates and relations were invited, and matchmaking there would not have been uncommon. And of course when the king was on progress he would stop at various noble houses and they would have to offer entertainment, and everyone from miles around would show up. At one time it was thought he met Jane Seymour that way, by stopping at her father's Wolf Hall on progress.

Katherine Howard met her doom in part because she had earlier been introduced to Francis Derham and Henry Manox in her step-grandmother's house. Aristocratic ladies were supposed to bring up and train female relations in their household, although they were expected to exercise a stricter eye on their charges. Male relations and connections would be there too.

Another venue where nobles might find spouses could be in their own home. If your parent remarried after a spouse's death, it would often be to someone who also had children -- and part of the deal might be that you would marry your new stepbrother or -sister at a suitable age. Or, if your father died, some noble might "buy your wardship" and bring you up in his own household, possibly with an eye to marrying you to one of his children. Keeping property in the family was important.

Regarding nobles and commoners, the married examples that come to mind are female and not entirely respectable ones. Daily proximity appears to be everything. Frances Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk, married her Master of Horse. Catherine, Duchess of Suffolk, married her son's tutor. Mary Tudor married her brother's best friend -- she was probably thrown into his company a lot.

Anonymous said...

The upper classes were underoccupied: hunting, feasting, dancing etc. were their main occupations.

As to Mary Boleyn, she met William Stafford as he was part of the retinue of Henry VIII when he travelled to France in 1532. He is described as a 'soldier' and a commoner, but he was a distant relation of the Dukes of Buckingham; although this was still a very lowly match for the Queen's sister! They met in December 1532. They didn't marry - as far as we know - until 1534. We have no idea how often they were together.

The nobles and gentry also spent a lot of time visiting their well-to-do neighbours and arranging marriages with them.

Sara said...

Also, Robert Dudley, favorite to Queen Elizabeth, married below his class. He married his first love Amy Rosbart when he was a teenager. Although he was not the first born son, he was the son of a duke. Amy's father was a well to do farmer, but the Rosbarts were common. Robert was likely allowed to marry below his station because Amy was her fathers heir and stood to inherit his lands and moneys. Robert was not the heir to the Dukedom so he likely had more freedom to marry as he wished.