Marriage à la mode

I’ve sadly neglected this blog of late – occupied with writing and rewriting (and rewriting) a funding application and then catching up with other work as a result. I will be writing about what I’ve consequently learned about what I want to research and the sources I need to look at, but in the meantime, here are two vignettes of eighteenth-century marriage.

The first is an elopement, between Lord Rochford (William Henry Nassau-de-Zulestein, who was later to become Secretary of State and was 23 at the time) and Miss Young, a maid of honour to Princess Augusta who at the time was living at Norfolk House. Judith Madan writes:

The secret is at last come out – Miss Young is elope’d on Saturday last at about ten at night. She went from her lodgings at Norfolk House & giving no notice to her servants. They sat up all night expecting her home. They found on her table a lettr directed to Mrs Payne. The contents were as follows –
Dear Madam, As I have long had reason to think you my freind, I beg you to present my duty to the Prince & Princess, & beg they would think so favourable of me as they can, but as I never lov’d, nor never could be happy with any man but Lord Rochford, misfortunes have oblig’d me to fly to him for protection. I am Dear Madam &c.

and finishes with a flourish:

I am sorry Miss Young should either have not read Pamela – or read it to so little purpose.

Samuel Richardson’s novel about a servant girl who resists the attentions of her master, leading him eventually to marry her, had been published earlier that year. The Duchess of Somerset also notes the event in a letter to the Countess of Pomfret, commenting dismissively:

Why she named him I cannot comprehend, unless she had said she was to be married to him; which I hear that nobody believes to be the case. In my opinion, she should have left it to the world to make what conjectures they pleased since she was not more particular.

Nevertheless, Miss Young eventually got her way. Inveterate letter writer Horace Walpole reports two years later:

Did I tell you that Lord Rochford has at last married Miss Young? I say, at last, for they don’t pretend to have been married this twelvemonth; but they were publicly married last week.

At the other end of the age scale is the marriage of Judith’s brother, the Reverend Doctor John Cowper, father of the poet William Cowper. John’s first wife, Anne Donne, had died in 1737 at the age of 34. In his second marriage he certainly seems to have met his match. Martin Madan writes:

You will not be surpris’d when I tell you the Doctor is to be married within three weeks, since it is a state that you & all his friends expected he wou’d re-engage in, but he shall, this time, act prudentially, for he settles his person on a widdow that has £500 a year jointure besides some money. My authority for this news is good, your niece Molly… told it me, with many diverting circumstances. The Doctor & the Widdow Marriot, for so she’s call’d, toy & wanton like two lovers of eighteen, no tea can he drink but what she makes, no part of the room is half so agreable as where he sits, but yet she is not so blind but she can find fault, the Doctors wigg is too fair, his coat is ill made, his morning dress is unbecoming, all which he is about to remedy, dark wiggs are bespoke, La Motte, I suppose, for the future is to have the honour to cloath him, & for his disability she has chose him a scarlet banian him’d with black.

In a later letter he adds:

As yet I’ve not seen the Doctor, who I understand is in town, & I suppose designs to continue so, for his bride cannot bear the country in winter, & indeed it is unreasonable for a husband to consult his own inclinations when they disagree with his wife’s, especially in matters of moment, & what can be more so than the pleasure of London…

The relationship was not completely one-sided in terms of power, however, at least at the beginning:

But in return, the Doctor complains her hoop is too large therefore she has sent to town for a larger, thus you find, as yet, the complaisance is not equally reciprocal.

MS. Eng. lett. C.285: 37, May 2nd 1740; 17, Nov 20th 1739; 31, Jan 20th 1740/1

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