Uncertain Unions: Marriage in England 1660-1753

In Road to Divorce, Lawrence Stone explored the different ways in which marriage took place, and analysed the confusion and uncertainty surrounding the legality of the institution in its various forms before the Marriage Act of 1753. He now shows in absorbing detail, through a series of case-studies, how courting and marrying couples tended to manoeuvre around the ambiguities of the law, and how they sometimes became entangled in a web of moral and legal contradiction leading to personal catastrophe. There are stories about unwise courtship, prenuptial pregnancies, forced marriages by parents or parish officials, bigamy, clandestine marriages often performed in haste in peculiarly squalid circumstances and repented at leisure. These fascinating studies reveal in intimate, often ribald detail how men and women adjusted their sexual conduct, moral attitudes, and matrimonial plans to suit an ambiguous legal situation. Professor Stone has traced 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 and parental dictation in the search for a spouse; the studies he has drawn from court record for Uncertain Unions enable us to see this great moral transition being played out in the lives of men and women, often in their own words. These are vivid, human histories, presented in revealing detail, by the leading historian of the family.