The idea that we’d let our parents or guardians arranged our marriages leaves the modern day man and woman laughing–or possibly cringing. Yet this was a common custom throughout history in nearly every country of the world. I’m sure a few of those marriages ended up as love matches, while most grew into a merely mutual amiability born of a determination to make the most of a difficult situation. However, many were supremely miserable.
Such arrangements are a favorite for the romance reader and author alike, inspiring countless historical romance novels about love springing from an arranged marriage. Such was the case for my very first published Regency Romance novel, The Stranger She Married.
Which begs the question; why were arranged marriages so common?
I can’t speak for other countries, but in England, the institution of marriage appears to be more a union of rank and property rather than of love. Though many popular ballads and plays of the era praised true love, in reality, practicability ruled more heavily than affairs of the heart.
During the Regency era, women, even ladies of the gentry and aristocracy, possessed very little independence. They were, in essence, property of their parents until they married, at which time they became property of their husbands. Therefore, parents cautiously settled their daughters in what they deemed were ‘good matches.’ They valued security over love because in a time when divorce was almost unheard of–and scandalous–marriage was a lifetime commitment, for better or worse. Parents searched for a men who would keep their daughter fed and cared for. They could only hope that love, or at the very least, regard, would bloom later.
The Victorian era introduced the idea of romantic love and marriage among the upper classes (Think of Queen Victoria; hers was a love match). Prior to that, while it did happen and people dreamed of it, and it happened in all of Jane Austen’s novels, it really wasn’t something most people expected from marriage. Love sometimes happened with the wrong person which ruined families financially. Men understood that marriage was a duty. Love itself, if it came, was a bonus. In fact, most men had mistresses because marriage wasn’t usually a romantic relationship–it was more a business relationship.
Mistress often became an aristocratic man’s ideal of ‘lust and love.’ Heaven forbid a man fall in love with another man’s mistress! Such a sin often meant death to that man because a man’s relationship with his mistress was intimate, one where men chose a woman to pleasure him, as opposed to duty being his deciding factor in choosing her. It wasn’t just about sex with these mistresses–it was finding a woman who was everything his wife wasn’t. Yeah. It makes me shudder, too. But that’s how it was, according to many sources including THE FAMILY, SEX, AND MARRIAGE in ENGLAND 1500-1800 by Lawrence Stone.
One such example was the 1774 marriage between the 17-year-old daughter of the Earl of Spencer, Georgiana, and the Duke of Devonshire, a 26-year-old man of supreme wealth, power, and influence. On the surface, the union must have appeared an excellent match. The Duke desired a young wife of high rank to provide him with heirs. For Georgiana, her status would be elevated to the coveted rank of duchess. According to reports, the young couple met a few times, all well chaperoned, before they wed. Reportedly, Georgiana tried to love her untouchable husband, but he returned to the arms of his mistress. Their infamously unhappy marriage proved that money and status could not guarantee love or happiness.
The true story inspired Hollywood’s 2008 film The Duchess. The wedding gown costume worn by actress Keira Knightly, above, is gold and white, though it looks more as a candlelit cream. Gorgeous, isn’t it?
On the other hand, Amanda Vickery, in her book A Gentleman’s Daughter contends that many people married for affection; that it was, in fact, more common than marrying for rank or wealth. Still, arranged marriages were common, often with the couple only having met a few times, or not at all, prior to the wedding.
An arranged marriage born of necessity is the premise of my first published Regency historical romance novel, The Stranger She Married, book one of The Rogue Hearts Series, available in digital and print. Their marriage, though fraught with danger, turns into a great love story.
After all, I’m all about the happily ever after
THE STRANGER SHE MARRIED by Donna Hatch
When her parents and twin brother die within weeks of each other, Alicia and her younger sister are left in the hands of an uncle who has brought them all to financial and social ruin. Desperate to save her family from debtor’s prison, Alicia vows to marry the first wealthy man to propose. She meets the dashing Lord Amesbury, and her heart whispers that this is the man she is destined to love, but his tainted past may forever stand in their way. Her choices in potential husbands narrow to either a scarred cripple with the heart of a poet, or a handsome rake with a deadly secret.
Cole Amesbury is tormented by his own ghosts, and believes he is beyond redemption, yet he cannot deny his attraction for the girl whose genuine goodness touches the heart he’d thought long dead. He fears the scars in his soul cut so deeply that he may never be able to offer Alicia a love that is true. When yet another bizarre mishap threatens her life, Alicia suspects the seemingly unrelated accidents that have plagued her loved ones are actually a killer’s attempt to exterminate every member of her family. Despite the threat looming over her, learning to love the stranger she married may pose the greatest danger to Alicia’s heart. And Cole must protect Alicia from the killer who has been exterminating her family before she is the next target.
Available now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, and other book retailers.
Believe in Happily Ever After!