For all but the grandees, who married too young to be entrusted with the responsibilities of independent housekeeping, and very poor couples, who lacked the means to set up even the most rudimentary establishment of their own, the consequence of a successful courtship was a new household. Between 80 and 90 per cent of those who survived into adulthood married, thus householding was the normal condition of mature men and women.
There was a powerful relationship between the rank or occupation of the householder and the size, structure and material circumstances of the household. The largest, headed by great landowners, had well over a hundred members, the smallest were those of solitaries, often widows without children or servants. Landowners, professionals and businessmen, many farmers, shopkeepers and craftsmen, even some labourers, had employees living under their roofs. Their number and function was a gauge of the household's status, prosperity and pretensions. At all social levels, the size and composition of households altered as children were born, left home or died. Husbands and wives died. Widows and widowers remarried. Kin moved in to support the bereaved.
Three or four hundred years ago the functions of households were much more extensive than they are today. In a society in which the welfare and the good order of the community depended primarily on the vigilance of parents and employers, the practical and moral responsibilities borne by heads of households were recognised as onerous. A widow without an adult son was expected to step into her husband's shoes and add his agenda to her own responsibilities. In spite of a feminist tendency to put a positive interpretation on instances of women doing men's jobs, for many widows the combination must have been more exhausting than empowering. Her contemporaries would not have envied Widow Scarlet of Romford who earned a pittance carrying loads of sand and timber.
The household was the normal place to be born, the natural place to die. Households provided care, discipline and vocational training for children and young people. Masters stood in for the natural fathers of the undergraduates, apprentices and servants who lived under their roofs; when he referred to his family, a householder included these surrogate children. It