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The Approach to Family History - Stone, Cold, or Sober? A Review Article Antonia Fraser, The Weaker Vessel: Women's Lot in the Seventeenth Century, London, 1984; Alan MacFarlane, Marriage and Love in England: Modes of Reproduction, 1300-1840, Oxford, 1986; Linda Pollock, Forgotten Children, Cambridge, 1983; Mary Prior, ed., Women in English Society 15001800 , London, 1985; Miriam Slater, Family Life in the Seventeenth Century The Verneys ofClaydon House, London, 1984. The prescriptive norm published in 1600: "the best rule that a man may hold and practise with his wife to guard and governe her, is to admonish her often, and to give her good instruction . . . " 1 can no longer be accepted as an accurate description of relationships in early modem families, as several recent studies exploring family history make clear. For family historians, even more than for other social historians, the problems of evidence are severe since they are researching very sensitive areas of behaviour. Yet some have relied on the more easily available printed records, and a limited selection, without sufficiently confronting the question of how balanced or typical the selection may be. Lawrence Stone has exercised considerable influence on family history, along with Philippe Aries, and both choose selectively and sometimes using sources from an inappropriate mixture of dates and places in order to support their thesis of a cold, unaffectionate attitude within families, and towards children in early modern families.2 N o w others have shown that, even within the constraint of print, a wider perspective is possible and can alter our understanding of the past. Such questions arise especially when considering one of the more widely promoted recent books, Antonia Fraser's The Weaker Vessel: Women's Lot in the Seventeenth Century. Fraser has relied on the better-known printed sources such as diaries, and some of the books published in the seventeenth century, and has quarried information from biographies and the general historical collections. She is influenced by some of the family studies of the previous decade, including Stone; however, she does not promote his conclusions about marriage. Almost all her examples come from the aristocracy, as do Stone's, but she takes a contrary, and romanticised view. For instance, Fraser picks on only three examples of marriage resulting from romantic love, then concludes that love, as it has always done, did find a way. This is simplistic, and the work of other historians with other evidence suggests a more complex picture, in which ^ . C , A Godlie Forme of Householde Government ..., London, 1600, 169 (usually attributed to Robert Cleaver). 2 Lawrence Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage 1500-1800, London, 1977; P. Aries, Centuries of Childhood: a Social History of Family Life, London, 1962. 164 A. Wall romantic love was often not a factor in the formation of marriages among the gentry and aristocracy. The veto allowed to a couple is not the same thing as a choice for love: Joan Thynne was permitted to meet her future husband to see if they could like one another, but there was great parental pressure, for she "would have to yield a good reason to the not liking".3 Fraser's assumption that among the ordinary people virginity before marriage was not important, also raises questions. For the situation was complicated by the validity of clandestine marriages: a promise in private formed a binding contract, especially if consummated, so many of her nonvirgins probably considered themselves, and were at law, validly married.4 The work of J. A. Sharpe and others on defamation suits shows that ordinary people did care very much for their sexual purity and reputation, and were even willing to go to ecclesiastical courts to prosecute neighbours who spread doubts about fidelity or chastity.5 Fraser discusses that key question "what was marriage like for women in the seventeenth century?", using chiefly the account of Lady Anne Fanshaw to answer it. The problem with this source is that Anne Fanshaw's account is a later recollection written after the death of her husband, so she probably could not resist thetemptationto increase praise of the dead husband, and to elevate the importance of her own role in the marriage; some of the incidents happened...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1832-8334
Print ISSN
0313-6221
Pages
pp. 163-171
Launched on MUSE
2013-04-03
Open Access
No
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