Courtship and Marriage in Jane Austen’s Day-Answers and Winners

Courtship and Marriage5

What awesome questions, thanks so much for asking! Now for some answers:

What was a settlement and how was it worked out?

A marriage settlement was a prenuptial agreement written by lawyers representing both families. Both families would have to accept the agreement.

It specified the financial arrangements of the marriage. These included what, if anything, the two families would contribute to the couple, what the woman’s spending money would be, what amount would be set aside for girl’s dowries and establishing younger sons, (Only the lump sum was set up, the distribution would be decided later), an provisions for a woman’s widowhood, through establishing an annuity called a jointure.

How was the woman’s dowry intended to protect her financial interests — and were there any legal remedies if her dowry was used by her husband, leaving her destitute upon his death?

Usually the dowry was set aside to provide a woman’s spending money (pin money). The amount would usually be the interest earned off the dowry. At her death, her dowry would usually go to the daughters and younger sons as specified in the marriage articles (settlement). A woman’s jointure was usually as yearly payments of one tenth of the amount of her dowry.

The monies a woman brought into marriage belonged to her husband at marriage, unless a separate estate was established.  Since they belonged to him they were at his disposal. Since a woman no longer had any right to it, there was no legal remedy available if he wasted it.

Why was there both a dowry and a marriage settlement? What about marriages in the “middle class” (approximating the Bennets) — did they also have dowries and marriage settlements?

The dowry was a woman’s fortune that she brought into marriage. The settlement was the agreement about how the money would be used. They were entirely different things. The Bennets were in no way middle class. Their income was 2000 pounds a year, middle class would be more like one tenth of that.  The Bennet girls had dowries of 1000 pounds each.

Marriage settlements were expensive, costing on the order of 100 pounds to draw up. Only about one tenth of marriages had them. So Elizabeth and Jane probably had them, but the other girls probably did not.

Hi, if a man has no children, can his sister’s son inherit his title and land? Would he need to adopt him?

There was no legal adoption in the era. Adoptions were informal.  A sister’s son is unlikely to inherit a man’s title, but it ultimately depended on the way the title was created.  Each title specifies how inheritance will progress. ‘Male heirs of the body’ is the most common style.

Once an engagement was announced how soon after were they wed?

In general, a couple would have to wait a minimum of fifteen days for the banns to be read. If marriage articles were needed, that might take additional time. In general, engagements were very short by today’s standards.

There is a story on my radar where Elizabeth is married to the elder Mr. Darcy then on his death, she ends up falling in love with the younger Mr. Darcy and in the end they marry. In reality, would this type of marriage be accepted by society or would this have been a scandal?

The marriage would have been illegal. If she married Darcy senior, then she would have been stepmother to Darcy junior. Consanguinity rules in the Book of Common Prayer forbade marriage between mother and son whether by blood, half blood or marriage.

In the event of a second marriage, what rights did the children of the first marriage have, how was that handled?

The rights of the first wife’s children would have been set up in the marriage settlements. If there was an estate, the first son of the first marriage would be the heir by primogenitor. If there was no son, then the first son of the second marriage would be heir.

Hi Maria! Could an engagement be broken without it being considered a scandal? Would it depend on who broke the engagement?

It is possible. A lot would depend on who knew about the engagement, how long it had lasted, the reasons for breaking it off, and how much gossip about it circulated.  In the case of a short engagement that few knew about with little gossip, then there would probably not be too much trouble. More gossip, more scandal. Not unlike today.

And the winner of the ebook is Catherine! Congratulations!


    • Beverlee on August 29, 2016 at 7:08 am
    • Reply

    Interesting, as always. Talk about affinity and consanguinity take me back to my husband’s thesis on early modern English property laws. The one instance in which a marriage to a step-son would be permitted would be if the marriage to the father (in this case Darcy Sr.) had never been consummated. In that case (assuming this could be proven to the right people), the marriage could be annulled, removing barriers to marrying the son. Shades of A Little Night Music… cue the clowns.

    I enjoy your historical tidbits very much.


    1. I’d be interested to know the time frame of those laws, the 1600’s maybe? In the regency, non-consummation was not a permitted reason for annulment, so it would not have made a different. Impotence was though,but proving that was quite an interesting process.

      Thanks so much Beverlee!

        • Beverlee on August 29, 2016 at 8:13 am
        • Reply

        Yes, we were looking at the early modern period – definitely pre-Regency – late 1500s / early 1600s.

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