Life in 18th Century Britain

Marriage and matchmaking

Arranged marriage was commonplace in the 18th Century. Daru Rooke, Curator with Bradford Museums and Galleries, explains why:

'To many brides, news of their impending marriage would be a surprise.  Writing in the 1780s, Lord Spencer’s daughter remarked:  “I had not the least idea about it till the day papa told me”, and of her husband to be: “I wish I could have known him a little better first.”

Earlier in the century...[17-year-old] Mrs Delaney had a similar experience when an elderly visitor to her uncle’s house turned out to be her family’s choice of a husband. His wealth and political position made him an ideal match...Her uncle pointed out:  “how despicable I should be if I could refuse him because he was not young and handsome”.

For richer, for poorer:

Georgian weddings could also involve love... When Lord Portland’s son fell in love with a poor girl his father wrote to say:  “If you are happy my dear George, I must be so.”  However, Lord Portland was forced to admit: “It would have been lucky for us had you found a thirty thousand pounder as agreeable to you as Elizabeth.”

(Text © Daru Rooke)

Objects associated with marriage:

As Daru shows, marriage was not always a cold affair. The 18th Century objects pictured on this page demonstrate the more affectionate side of marriage. 

The Georgian snuff box  from the mid-1700s, which was  used for storing powdered tobacco ( pictured above)  shows a well dressed man courting a 'maid' in the countryside. Courtship for the upper classes involved strict rules and the couple were not allowed to be alone. Therefore courting couples like this would usually have been from the 'labouring poor' not the upper classes.

The 18th Century apple corer is made of sheep bone. It was carved with a knife by a young man as a gift for his 'sweetheart' and has the letters 'BF' carved on it.


Affectionate - feeling or showing fondness 
Courting - dating; trying to win someone's good opinion
Despicable - unpleasant or bad, causing only dislike
Distaste - feeling of disgust 
Impending - about to happen
Snuff - powdered tobacco that people would take by sniffing

View other relevant My Learning resources or see the teachers' notes page for discussion and activity ideas. 

Scroll down for a list of links and resources on this topic.

Document icon Learning article provided by: Bolling Hall Museum | 
Text © Daru Rooke

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