[Milton-L] Generalizations about marriage; x-post ficino

Schwartz, Louis lschwart at richmond.edu
Tue Nov 9 17:11:37 EST 2004


The literature on marriage in the period is vast and varied, but a good
place to start might be David Cressy's chapters on the subject in
*Birth, Marriage and Death: Ritual, Religion and the Life-Cycle in Tutod
and Stuart England*.  He's primarily interested in the rituals
surrounding marriages, but he uses a study of those rituals to make some
general observations about marriage itself as a social institution, or
more bluntly as a thing people did in a number of different ways and for
a complex and varied set of reasons.  

As far as your questions are concerned, it is his (and my) understanding
that throughout the period we're discussing most people thought of
marriage as "for" three things (as the B of CP more or less lays it
out):  1) procreation, 2) as a way to keep people from the sin of
fornication by giving them a way to have sex in a sanctioned manner, and
3) for mutual society, help and comfort.  None of this is particularly
"new" or "unique" to Protestant England (see Cressy 296-7 for a brief
discussion).  What differences emerged over the course of the 16th and
17th Centuries in England have to do with how much *emphasis* particular
groups or individuals (those who left some record of their thoughts or
wrote treatises, handbooks, or sermons on the subject) tended to put on
that last category.  It is true that some "Protestants" and "Puritans"
tended to elevate the last category to a higher place of dignity than
was common in earlier periods--Milton certainly did.  For some, this
emphasis on mutual comfort tended to also suggest that sexuality itself
should be thought of as having a higher dignity than that already
suggested by its procreative function alone (Milton is, again, an
obvious example).  Not all, however, would even have gone that far, and
certainly very few would have gone so far as to make mutual solace the
whole show.  

In other words, the way you put it in your first question is in some
ways correct, but it overstates the case (the radical nature of the
shift in thought and practice) and oversimplifies a complex and varied
reality.  The way you put it in your last question certainly goes too
far.  There were some sects, perhaps, and some individuals willing to
think of marriage as exclusively the "solemnization of love between two
people" (there were some, for that matter who wanted to get rid of
marriage altogether!), but for most all three purposes would have been
held to be more or less equally important, and even interdependent.  On
the more radical sects, I think the best introduction is still
Christopher Hill's *The World Turned Upside Down*, but I'm sure there
are more recent things as well.  

I don't know the answer to your question about when marriage became a
sacrament in Catholic practice, but in England by the time of the
revolution the question of the sacramental status of marriage was
certainly up for grabs, and during the interregnum (after Marriage Act
of 1653) there were no church-sanctioned marriages at all in England (at
least not legally). For a good discussion of that see Christopher
Durston, "'Unhallowed Wedlocks':  the Regulation of Marriage During the
English Revolution," *The Historical Journal*, 31, I (1988), 45-59. 

I think it's at least safe to say that over the course of the period the
idea that celibacy was a higher path than marriage tended to wane, but
more in terms of its real relevance to people than in an abstract sense.
People still took personal vows of celibacy (some people think Milton
took one for a period in the 1630's), and this might seem to some a
dignified and holy thing to do, but it no longer had the kind of social
and institutional status that it had when there was a celibate clergy
they could join.  Most people married, and this conferred on them a
special social status.  Those who didn't had no special status
comparable to it, and this certainly affected what celibacy meant to
people, even if it still retained some more abstract sense of holiness.

I hope that helps.


Louis Schwartz
Associate Professor of English
University of Richmond
Richmond, VA  23173
(804) 289-8315
lschwart at richmond.edu

-----Original Message-----
From: milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu
[mailto:milton-l-bounces at lists.richmond.edu] On Behalf Of Dan Knauss
Sent: Tuesday, November 09, 2004 3:16 PM
To: milton-l at lists.richmond.edu
Subject: [Milton-L] Generalizations about marriage; x-post ficino

Dear Listmembers--

A few questions arising from that rich source of inquiry--the broad
claims of eminent scholars who supply neither argumentative nor
citational support. References to secondary literature where this stuff
is considered in detail will be much appreciated.

1) Is it a reasonable generalization to say that "Puritans" or
"Protestants," in constrast to "Catholics," thought of an ideal marriage
as being based in companionship in some new sense, especially a more
"inward" intimacy--a "sharing of selves?"

2) Is it meaningful or accurate to say that by 1667 marriage in England
was *no longer* thought of as being inferior to celibacy? (When did
marriage become a sacrament in the Catholic church? Prior to that,
hadn't it achieved a quasi-sacramental status over a long period of

3) What basis is there for claiming that by the late 17th century--in
contradiction to the prayer book from Cranmer's to the 1662--marriage
was neither a doctrinally approved way of avoiding fornication nor an
institution centered on procreation but rather a solemnization of love
between two people? More specifically, what significant groups of people
would have thought this way?


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