Courting and dating history

Defying parental prohibitions, youths occasionally caught the quickest ride to their connubial destination.At left, a coach waits for a pair leaving by the back fence in John Collet's The Elopement, from ca. Starting a family at times leapfrogged a wedding—baby-to-be making a party of three. The anxiety is quickened by the feeling that society has been on the road to ruin since maybe Miles Standish's day and that the prospects of their offspring walking the path to the altar with a nice young man or sweet young woman have greatly diminished since John Alden and Priscilla Mullins made the trip.In such situations, couples had to wait into their late twenties before formally entering the connubial state—which some historians say created fertile ground for extracurricular shenanigans, broken promises, and court battles.

For the lower end of the social scale, property was not such a problem. The arrangement was a spoken marriage contract—in Latin verba de praesenti—taken alone or before witnesses.

No priest, minister, magistrate, or license was called for, although it was not unusual for blacksmiths to officiate—the anvil becoming a symbol of where long-lasting unions were forged.

The ceremony could as easily be performed in a field, a garden, an alehouse, or, as was often the case, in a bedroom. It's easy to imagine a libidinous youth promising in a few words to have and to hold in order to secure his wicked way with a young country maiden, later to renege on the deal.

In parts of Britain, 50 percent of brides were great with child.

Court records are a trove of intimate tittle-tattle and gory details that shamefaced ladies and gentlemen would have preferred to keep private.

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