restricted access Natural Affection, the Patriarchal Family and the "Strict Settlement" Debate: A Response from the History of Emotions


Around thirty years ago, inspired partly by the publication of Lawrence Stone's The Family, Sex and Marriage in Britain, 1500-1800 (1977), historians engaged in a debate around the purpose and implications of the 'strict settlement' in England. For Stone, the 'strict settlement', arising during the seventeenth century, was evidence of a shift in values, because whilst it formalised patriarchal descent of property, it showed parental love in the provisions it made for younger children. The book was immediately controversial, as historians debated whether or not the settlement was patriarchal and whether it shaped affective ties in the family. This article looks at the strict settlement anew, locating it against the backdrop of the last thirty years of research into the history of the family and particularly the rise of the history of emotions as a methodology. It argues that the strict settlement provided a contract for ensuring the maintenance of affection within the family in response to a wider social concern that emphasised the centrality and importance of 'natural affection' both to family life and to patriarchal social order. The strict settlement provided a legal solution to an emotional problem.