Road to Divorce: England 1530-1987

Road to Divorce: England 1530-1987

Road to Divorce: England 1530-1987

Road to Divorce: England 1530-1987

Synopsis

Lawrence Stone is one of the world's foremost historians. In such widely acclaimed volumes as The Crisis of the Aristocracy, The Family, Sex and Marriage in England and The Open Society, he has shown himself to be a provocative and engaging writer as well as a master chronicler of English family life. Now, with Road to Divorce, Stone examines the complex ways in which English men and women have used, twisted, and defied the law to deal with marital breakdown. Despite the infamous divorce of Henry VIII in 1529, Britons before the 20th century were predominantly, in Stone's words, "a non-divorcing and non-separating society." In fact, before divorce was legalized in 1857, England was the only Protestant country with virtually no avenue for divorce on the grounds of adultery, desertion, or cruelty. Yet marriages did fail, and in Road to Divorce, Stone examines a goldmine of court records--in which witnesses speak freely about love, sex, adultery, and marriage--memoirs, correspondence, and popular imaginative works to reveal how lawyers and the laity coped with marital discord. Equally important, in tracing the history of divorce, Stone has discovered a way to recapture the slow, irregular, and tentative evolution of moral values concerning relations between the sexes as well as the consequent shift from concepts of patriarchy to those of sexual equality. He thus offers a privileged, indeed almost unique, insight into the interaction of the public spheres of morality, religion, and the law. Written by the foremost historian of family life, Road to Divorce provides the first full study of a topic rich in historical interest and contemporary importance, one that offers astonishingly frank and intimate insights into our ancestors' changing views about what makes and breaks a marriage.

Excerpt

If marriage is regarded in social rather than legal terms, it is a complex and often lengthy process and not merely a formal public event. This has become evident in the last few years, when the Western world has become full of young couples in various stages of negotiation. Some are courting, often including a good deal of physical intimacy; some are temporarily or semi-permanently cohabiting; others are secretly becoming engaged or even married. If they marry, they do it at a Registry Office, or openly in a field, or wood, or private house, or formally and publicly in a grand ceremony in a church. Many produce children in or out of wedlock at any stage of these various proceedings. the traditional sequence of the chaste courtship, followed by the formal engagement announced in the newspapers, followed by the public wedding in a church, followed by consummation, followed by pregnancy, is now no longer the norm. All these are stages in the process of coming together, but there is now no standard for orderly progression from one stage to another, nor even a single socially accepted mode of formal bonding. in this respect we have, quite suddenly, and perhaps only temporarily, created a situation not dissimilar to that which prevailed in early modern England.

At that time, far more people and institutions had a vested interest in the process of marriage than merely the man and woman involved, their rivals and their competitors. There were also the 'friends', who often assumed the right of control or veto and were in a position to enforce their will by the granting or witholding of money, house, property, or patronage. and there were the neighbours, who had to be persuaded to accept the couple into their midst as a morally bonded domestic unit. If they disapproved, they could express their feelings by a noisy public demonstration, called 'rough music', or by denouncing the couple to the ecclesiastical authorities as legally suspect -- something which happened not infrequently before about 1700.

The major institutions of the society were also involved in a marriage. the church was closely concerned, partly since it had for centuries . . .

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