Marriage was, conventionally, the final stage in the metamorphosis from irresponsible youth to adult maturity and, with it, the assumption of the rights and heavy responsibilities of householding. The sorry picture of marital discord between Goodman Tomson and his Goodwife, recorded by John Smyth of Niblet in Gloucestershire in 1639, is evidence of the acknowledgement of distinctions routinely made between the child and the youth and the youth and the married man.
This Jacky Tomson, so called till sixteen, and after John Tomson, till he married at twenty-four…. After his marriage (humours at home not settling well between him and his wife) he lost his mirth and began to droop…. One of his neighbours…demanded…the cause of his bad cheer and heavy looks. Whereto, he sighing, gave this answer: 'Ah neighbour, if once again I were either Jacky Tomson or John Tomson, I would never be Goodman Tomson while I lived'.
At the extremes of society, the conventional link between marriage and setting up a household did not apply. Among the great landed dynasties and the paupers and delinquent poor marriage and the creation of an independent household did not coincide. For the grandee's heir, often married young to secure the succession, the critical event was not marriage but his predecessor's death. In the eyes of their betters, paupers and the delinquent poor never achieved social maturity and were disposed to make imprudent marriages or cohabit without incurring the costs of a church ceremony.
The preacher and writer William Gouge described the married couple as 'yoke-fellows'. To people who regularly saw, and often managed, ploughs and wagons drawn by horses or oxen the image was more telling than it may be today. An ill-matched pair was ungainly, uncomfortable and inefficient; they made heavy work of their joint task. In a letter to his wife, Dudley Ryder (born 1691), a merchant's son and, at the time of writing, a senior law officer of the Crown, described the relationship between man and wife, using comparable images drawn from the world of business:
I look upon matrimony, as it really is, not only as a society for life in which our persons and fortunes in general are concerned, but as a partnership wherein