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
'rich collection of case histories ... This is history at its most intimate and specific, superbly organised and narrated by our greatest historian of the family.'
The Observr 'His long and happily still productive trans-Atlantic career has been distinguished by unequalled conceptual energy, outstanding analytical and organisational powers, and a virtually unchecked flow of crisp and striking judgements couched in ebullient, sparkling prose. ... the sheer human interest of much of his material could hardly be denied,'
Wilfrid Prest, Adelaide. Australian Journal of Politics and History. No 3 '93 'let me recommend this book with enthusiasm ... It is a major contribution to both legal and social history, it opens new ground by the use it makes of the Court of Arches records, and it provides a most entertaining excursion into the sordid and little documented underworld of eignteenth century society.'
R.L. Brown, The Journal of Legal History, Vol. 15, No. 2, Aug '94 `colourful tales are entertainingly related by Stone, complementing the more austere analysis in Road to Divorce'
The Economic History Review 'These colourful tales are entertainingly related by Stone, complementing the more austere analysis in Road to divorce.'
R.B. Outhwaite, Gonville and Caius College, The Economic History Review, Volume XLVI, No. 3, August 1993 'Uncertain unions is an unputdownable book. The case studies he presents provide a wonderful vista on the world of the verbal marriage contract, clandestine marriages, bigamous relationships, and other means whereby marriages were made in England between 1660 and 1753. Uncertain unions is bold, fascinating and entertaining. Anyone interested in the human condition and the history of human relations in early modern Europe will derive enormous pleasure and
not a little knowledge from this book.'
James Kelly, St Patrick's College, Drumcondra, Irish Historical Studies 'Herein lies the uniqueness of Stone's perspective on English society, [of his] extraordinary sensitivity to the dialectic of public and private lives among the educated elites with whose family archives he is incomparably familiar. This quality has never been so well displayed as in his massive three-volume study of English divorce, of which this is the second part ... an original book with many bold things to say ... well documented and challenging ... it
presents rich slices of the lives of average people.'
Roy Porter, The New Republic, April 1993 `It consists of a wide-ranging series of case studies of courtship and marriage practices during a period of peculiar brutality in the marriage relationship. ... Professor Stone's absorbing case-histories read like a series of brilliant short stories that throw much light upon courtship practices ... Uncertain Unions is hilarious, tragic and as colourful as a novel by Thackeray. Reading it will inform and entertain you. And it will convince you that
even in bad old 1992 some things for some people are much better.'
Richard Holloway, Church Times 'Lawrence Stone offers another fascinating and important volume, this time on bogus and clandestine marriages. These case-studies provide all the pleasures of a peep-show, bringing the characters before us, often with their very speech, in a series of brilliant little vignettes.'
Times Literary Supplement `A meticulous documentation of human behaviour.'
The 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 `Stone's book records the tragi-comedy of marriage, that perennial triumph of hope over experience.'
Roy Porter, Observer `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 `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 `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 `the book is immensely readable ... these brief peep-shows of long-gone lives are enthralling'
Christina Hardyment, Independent `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 `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 `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 life.'
Social History Society Bulletin
Part 1 Introduction: case studies; legal records; courtship; the making of marriage; marriage, property and the Common Law; customary unions and concubinage; contract marriage - the first suppression 1540-1642, the revival 1642-1660, the second suppression 1660-1753; clandestine marriage - definition and development, demand from the laity, supply by the clergy, repressive legislation and actual growth 1666-1730, reform and abolition 1730-1753. Part 2 Case studies: courtship and contract; forced marriage by the parish; forced marriage by the seducer or suitor; clandestine marriage - a fleet person, a valid clandestine marriage, a forged clandestine marriage, a bigamous marriage.