In the highly acclaimed Road to Divorce, the first of a three-volume history of marriage in early modern England, renowned historian Lawrence Stone explored the different ways in which marriage could take place, and analysed the confusion and uncertainty surrounding the legality of the institution in its various forms before the Marriage Act of 1753. Now, in Uncertain Unions, Stone presents a multitude of case-studies showing just how these courting and marrying couples were able to maneuver around the ambiguities of marriage law in England, and the many reasons they did so.
Based on a massive archive of court cases that illustrate the extraordinary variety of legal, quasi-legal, and illegal ways of making a marriage, here are stories of forced marriages, clandestine marriages, prenuptial pregnancies, unwise courtship, and other situations in which people often became entangled in a web of moral and legal contradiction that could, and often did, lead to personal catastrophe. Stone shows how, as a result of glaring defects in the laws of marriage, very large numbers of people in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries could never be quite sure whether they were married or not. For instance, in Elmes v. Elmes, we see a wife by ecclesiastical marriage, and a wife by clandestine marriage fight over a man and his inheritance--in this case, each woman could rightfully claim legitimacy as Mr. Elmes's wife. Other cases reveal how a parish easily pinned the blame of fatherhood onto an innocent man and thus the financial burden of a bastard child onto another parish, and how a married man threw the blame for a bastard child onto a fellow townsman, among many other intriguing schemes.
Lawrence Stone illuminates the ways in which, during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, demands by individuals for love and affection were starting to take precedence over family interests in the search for a spouse. The studies he has drawn on for Uncertain Unions enable us to see this moral transition played out in the lives of the men and women within these pages. Revealing various types of marriages, and the different levels of sexual liaisons, Uncertain Unions is vivid human history, from the leading historian on family life.
Praise for Road to Divorce:
A New York Times Notable Book of the Year, 1990:
"There are many...gems to be found in this volume...from the current spectacular levels of illegitimacy to the increased economic dependence of women...Road to Divorce offers a sure-footed and fascinating commentary."--New York Times Book Review
"His energy and his achievement are stupendous....Stone's book...breathes new life into an old subject by advancing fresh hypotheses and much fascinating new material."--The New York Review of Books
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About the Author:
Lawrence Stone is the author of many highly acclaimed books, including Road to Divorce, The Crisis of the Aristocracy, The Family, Sex and Marriage in England, and The Open Society.
`This book is a fascinating study of matrimony, courtship and morals in the post-Restoration period. ... Altogether a very readable and enjoyable book: Professor Stone has clothed the legal records of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries with a real vitality that brings the characters to
Social History Society Bulletin
`He derives unconcealed enjoyment from the human comedy and he manages to transmit that enjoyment to the reader ... Many readers will enjoy these books for the titillating pleasures they afford; others may be repelled by their coarseness, violence, and brutality. No one will be bored; and
those seeking a colorful guide to the sexual escapades of the Hanoverian aristocracy need look no further ... Uncertain Unions is particularly good on servants and domestic arrangements. Stone has a sharp eye for the different nuances of life below stairs.'
The New York Review
`gripping, ... sordid, salacious, very human, sometimes hilarious, but mainly sad. ...a superb bedside book of Real Life Stories? I cannot think of a better holiday read.
J. H. Plumb, Financial Times
`the book is immensely readable ... these brief peep-shows of long-gone lives are enthralling'
Christina Hardyment, Independent
`the absorbing and often extraordinary stories told here, based on the voluminous and hitherto inaccessible records of various ecclesiastical courts, throw a clear, bright light not only upon the making and breaking of marriages in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, but also on social
customs and the intimacies of private lives.'
Christopher Hibbert, Sunday Times
`A Historical paparazzo with a zoom lens, Lawrence Stone trains his eye on the records of Lambeth Palace and suddenly the blur of the past is in bright focus. ...there's not a dull story in the book. Each one illustrates a point that interests Stone as a historian, but his eye for the
ridiculous or touching detail ensures that they can be read as the purest of entertainment'
Claire Tomalin, Independent on Sunday
`Professor Stone's inimitable skill as a story-teller brings the formal record to life, and puts human flesh on the bare bones of the law of marriage.'
Paul Langford, Sunday Telegraph
`Stone's book records the tragi-comedy of marriage, that perennial triumph of hope over experience.'
Roy Porter, Observer
`These are good stories, not only because Stone tells them with an elegant economy, and with a kind understanding of his readers' need for summnary and recapitulation, but also because we are so well rehearsed in their cultural and affective meaning.'
Times Higher Education Supplement
`A meticulous documentation of human behaviour.'
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