Skip to main content

View Diary: Write On! Sneaking up on your muse (98 comments)

Comment Preferences

  •  And of course "turncoats" & divorce/marriage (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RiveroftheWest, TayTay

    were utterly different from now.

    for one thing, most people of English origin living in the American colonies at that time considered themselves English and even in initial battles saw the situation as fighting to keep the same rights for themselves as English citizens overseas as were enjoyed by English citizens in England. They wanted to not be ruled differently was all. (Our bill of rights didn't come out of nowhere, far to the contrary.) The earliest 'patriots' were widely regarded as as traitors to England, and a 'turncoat' was someone who had vowed allegiance to one cause and then changed/turned his coat/uniform allegiance to the opposite side, especially if doing so secretly for espionage purposes; not someone who simply continued to want to be an equal English citizen and not even someone who wanted to be an equally venal and profiteering English citizen.

    Colonization had always been about commerce for raw materials cheap and materials that weren't found anywhere else in the world, and families/civil settlements were just the long-known recognition (since greco/roman and earlier empire/colony times) that skills and activities needed for creating and holding successful mercantile colonies were most civilian skills not provideable by military units & officers assigned to enforce overseas land control (be it control by British, Dutch, French, Portuguese etc). Civilians and the 'gentleman'-class of military officers (gentleman = younger sons of titled families, not well-behaved people as we understand the term now) demanded to have their families and servants and other "comforts" with them, in addition to the earnings of conquest (http://en.wikipedia.org/...), none of which 'comforts' were illegal at the time.

    Marriage then as now was mostly about arranging property for personal and familial security (e.g., a large factor in the drive for legal recognition of same-sex marriage is to secure spousal social security rights and job-benefit rights including military, etc, --which are financial property-- and rights of lawful action on behalf of spouse and children ~ in countries where a solid social safety net and universal healthcare are standard, common-law marriages are more ...common... especially countries where religious marriages make divorce & remarriage difficult).

    But persons of titled families back then might be unable to get a divorce (dissolution of marriage contract with severely complex division of property & 'ownership' of children & children's rights of inheritance) unless it was granted by parliamentary bill of divorcement (House of Lords acting as a court of law similar to the ancient power of british monarchs to approve or nonapprove or declare invalid marriages/proposed marriages by/among noble houses.) Marriage contracts were literal contracts among all propertied persons (i.e., including yeoman, middle-classes, etc, spelling out what properties each party brought to the marriage, which of them was to be dowry, which to be dower, which to be inheritable only by the male line, which to be accessible to the wife, which to be controlled by the wife or even outright owned by her separate from her husband, how subsequent inherited or personally-generated property by husband or wife was to be accessible to which and controlled by whom and owned by whom, what were the inheritance provisions for a spouse and children when one of the spouses dies, etc.  

    Among noble houses and their cadets and their 'fitzes' (children-of-the-left-hand/wrong side of the blanket) and among the non-noble ambitious seeking titles & powers who possessed some form of leverage (sometimes beauty, sometimes cleverness including in bed), formal and informal (including extra-legal) positions of influence upon more powerful persons, and positions in relation to more powerful persons by which gain from the relationship, were realistically considered potential value in deciding whom to marry.

    Disentangling all that by a divorce (if even possible financially & legally to disentangle) simply for emotional reasons (including being physically abused) was really not imaginable until VERY recently. Articles such as the one about the Lorings in saying that the Mrs apparently liked the Mr enough to have some children with him after the end of the Howe relationship are being absurd from the viewpoint of those times: a woman in the situation and era of Mrs Loring who did have 1 or more children, preferably male, was protecting her own future survival literally, because if she had no children she usually stood to lose having somewhere to live and income for food, clothing, etc, because if her husband chose to abandon her she had little recourse or means of survival; and if he predeceased her with other relatives of his still alive then those relatives of preceding generation and male relatives of her late husband's generation and younger generally had extensive inheritance rights that could easily impoverish her, including taking all property she had generated during the marriage and virtually all she had "brought to" the marriage. Even having a daughter was better than no children, because daughters were generally provided for in their parents' marriage contracts (the dower and dowry clauses for example, hence the word dowager has less to do with age than with property rights), daughters being useful for marrying off to other families with whom marital/property/business alliance looked mutually advantageous, which of course required the daughters to be bringing property in order for her to be of interest to the family of the "intended."

    So, a widow who'd had any children at all during marriage was in a safer position. Note, that is "during" and does not mean the children were fathered by her husband, who might easily acknowledge-as-his-own any children fathered 'thru his wife affaires sooner than admit the children weren't his, if only because the marriage contract may have spelled out entitlements to him predicated upon his wife actually having children -- e.g., property from grandparents devolving directly to grandchildren-- which would be clauses protective to the wife, in effect, and because having children to give in marriage was potentially of contract value, so he was extremely unlikely to repudiate them, hence the saying, "never comment on a likeness" of one man's acknowledged children to the likeness of some other man, it just doesn't do anyone any good.

    Again, so she was generally in considerable control of, even if not ownership of, all property resulting from having been married, in administering it for the benefit of the unmarried minor children (and for benefit to herself, fair pay for the job of widowed mother, even if technically there were male trustees doing the administering) and for married children for whom inheritance documents specified age of inheritance regardless of when marrying, and the inheritance documents were generally predetermined by the previous marriage documents & other legal forces of documents from the generation before and before.  As long as her children lived, (and sometimes even if they died but had given her grandchildren) the widow was reasonably safe, unless the children hated her and had legal power to dispossess her.

    The humor and satire which Jane Austen and other writers of the era bring to stories of romance and seeking-for-marriage were written within a context of fully understanding the complexities of property as the means for survival. The idea of earning a living by fair-paid labor did not exist yet. The idea of "saving up for old age" was inaccessible to most people because banks and retirement plans in the modern sense did not exist and the best and often only investment for most was to buy real estate (some people these days will say the same) in order to have an income at least from rents of farmlands and buildings.  The mentions in Pride&Prejudice, Sense&Sensiblity, etc, of fearing to lose their home and income when the father of the family would die is not trivial, but actual. It only appears to be lightly taken from our viewpoint, our assumption that humor means no worries and that liking and affection and passion are all that figures in whom we marry; in their day, a marriage which both gave some security for one's parents & siblings as well as for the family created by the marriage AND involved affection was a sensationally exciting idea differing from the chivalric romances of preceding novelists.

    The adoption by the christian/catholic church of the idea of sacred priestess orders and converting that idea into religious communities of women was one of the extremely few protections for women that existed, acceptance often requiring endowment of the abbey with whatever property the woman or widow legally had a right to bring - often not enough to live on in secular life even if independent life were possible for her, but in combination with the existing property held in common by the order it could be valuable enough to ensure her food, clothing, shelter & companionship for the rest of her life, and the only arena in which she might rise as a result of her own abilities ('tho rank of birth-family tended to have a major influence upon who could become the real authority/power in the community and the order). The dissolution of abbeys (Downtown Abbey indicating the place was probably originally an actual Abbey whose property was gifted to a 'deserving' person by a monarch) by Henry8 and his confiscating of the wealth and property of those abbeys put thousands of women literally into the street to walk it hooking or die, which was justified by the claim that those nuns were promiscuous and licentious anyway.  By the time of Jane Austen, one out of roughly every 8 women in the british isles was a prostitute and another 1 out of that 8 was in service to someone of property and her entire life conduct and determination of daily activities utterly subject to the whims & judgement of that propertied person with little or no recourse to law; by the end of the victorian era the numbers were 1 in 6 and 1 in 6.

    So we need to be very careful how we interpret what people do ---and what we think they felt or thought--- in any era, culture, or circumstance different from our own.

    It's all still extremely fascinating and enlightening, of course, and goes a long way toward explaining why (why meaning "from what cause" &/or "toward what purpose) empires routinely sank billions of dollars-worth of wealth and millions of lives held essentially slave to military service in standing armies for reinforcing tribute-taking & colonization & wars of multiple decades against their neighbors, brothers, and cousins, let alone wars against people they found expedient (profitable) to regard as inferior because not of their own culture. At a certain level of 'western' society, we are actually not as far from those times/values as we might think.

    thanks for great conversation!

    •  Absolutely fascinating comment -- (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      TayTay, mettle fatigue

      it could have been a diary unto itself! In any case it is well worth reading; thank you!

    •  Ok, at some point we need to talk offline (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mettle fatigue, RiveroftheWest

      And I so wish I had picked a better link.

      Recent scholarship has peered into these issues as they related to America and how US law saw marriage, women, property and inheritance. I have to find my link to 3 rdcent books on "infamous" women, including Peggy Shippen (might be Shippin), who was Benedict Arnold's eventual wife.

      (I am apart from my research materials and on a cell phone on the moment. You open a world of topics on British and US views.  Love it. )

      I am fascinated by the whole subject of women with or married to or paramours of "spies. "  check out the controversy on Margaret Kemble Gage or the infamous traitor Benjamin Church's amour.

      I wish I had picked a better link on the Lorings. I generally stay away from anything with the female perjoratives like "whore" in them for obvious reasons.  

      Thank you for this. Great stuff.

      •  you're very kind. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        TayTay, RiveroftheWest

        i can't read longform nonfiction anymore so i appreciate the material wherever someone brings them here.  actually i can't speak much outloud either - i get kind of aphasic, 'tho oddly when my fingers do the work that's much less a problem.

        don't worry about the Loring link - it was such a great example of the kind of thinking any era is prone to use about previous ones.  whenever looking at history, that needs to be recalled constantly, so i think it did an excellent service.

        and gave me an basis to contribute, so, y'know... heh ;)

        most high-achieving women are infamous at some time, their own or others or both. i love the "uppity women" book series.  it's kids'-level but i get such a kick out of it.  

        i looked up margaret kemble gage, "Peggy" Shippen (even wikipedia heads her article with the diminutive, and omits her married name) and benjamin church in wikipedia.  An interesting bit about shippen that pertains to one of my points:

        Arnold purchased Mount Pleasant, a manor home...for his bride, and specifically deeded the property to Peggy and that of their future children.[3] The couple did not live at Mount Pleasant; instead Arnold rented it out for income property.
        the tradition of a diamond engagement ring comes, basically, from the propertied-class custom of the affianced husband giving a property gift to the affianced wife, in respect for her material security, and dates back very anciently.   sadly, diamond rings are not worth squat these days.  diamonds are not rare nor particularly precious.   emeralds, on the other hand...

        wikipedia quotes geo washington reporting of letters carried by "a woman who was kept by [Benjamin] Church" which means she could either have been his lover whose living expenses he paid, or a salaried servant, a bond servant (indentured) or a slave, because the verb for having all/any of them was "keep", just as for owning/operating a wheeled passenger vehicle at the time was "keeping a carriage".  her being literate is what most suggests she may have been near of his class, but unless he was wealthy enough to pay the costs of her separate household (and there's no clarity of his wealth or lack), she may not have been his lover except coincidental to her other tasks as some form of servant to him.  

        these articles are mostly written from an assumption of independence-mindedness that isn't entirely accurate, which the "Assessment" section in the Church article hints at the error of in saying

        It is worth noting that Church shared this information when Americans were not yet fixed on independence.
        we're so jingoistically conditioned to think of our founding families as "americans" that even in wikipedia articles by historians (amateur or whatever) the presumption of patriotism-vs-traitors creeps in even without basis.  it's difficult to think/write outside the reflexive box.

        talk to you again/next time, or looking forward to reading what you send next,
        thnx again

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site