Arranged marriage is a wonderful premise for a romance novel whether it is placed in the medieval period or up through the 19th century. Even today there are arranged marriages in many cultures like India and several Asian countries. Then, as now, such marriages are based on issues other than love. Money, the acquisition of land, political power and a desire to position a family in society are common reasons for arranged marriages. This is a subject with ramification in many times and places, but for the purposes of this blog, I will deal with arranged marriages in the 19th century in Great Britain and America.
The monetary aspects of marriage among the upper classes and the peerage in Great Britain were in the forefront of any union, whether based on love or for any other reason. The suitor would, as a matter of course, approach the young woman's father, ask for her hand and would explain his intentions as far as pin money and the worth of his estates. In return, the father would detail the dowry his daughter would bring to the marriage, as well as the total worth of her expectations. Once the woman was married, all of her worldly goods became the property of her husband, and unless her father put her money into a Trust that was managed by an independant Trustee, she would be completely at her husband's mercy monetarily. The purpose of the trust was to prevent him from ":Kissing or kicking" her money out of her.
Since a woman had little to no legal recourse if her spouse spent all his money, and hers as well, on gambling, wine and women, she had to hope that her parents arranged her marriage very carefully for her protection. In my opinion, a family would do well to consider the stability of the man in question, and an equality of family backgrounds, status and interests. Although differing interests can be well accomodated if the man and wife find that time spent apart makes the marriage happier.
Just to cover the ways that English traditions translate to American History, we must always remember that Americans up to the 1900s were mostly all from the British Isles. Therefore, the discussion of women's rights and reasons for marrying are very similar except for the concept of royalty and the peerage. However, class distinctions were as powerful a motivator in America as titles were in England. In the west, people sought marriages that joined lands or gained wealth, or strengthened alliances.
The ability to provide an heir is yet another reason for a marriage based on reasons other than love. In old Blue-blood families in England years and years of cousins marrying cousins, or other families of attenuated genetic materisal, could lead to a very real need for "a little fresh blood." In some cases the fresh blood needed was money to rehabilitate exhausted fortune and aged estates. In both cases the man's family might look to a young woman of the upwardly mobile merchant class, especially if her parent had received a knighthood or was exceedingly wealthy. In addition, it would prove advantageous if the merchant's daughter had been well-educated in the ways of a lady and had made an entry into society under the auspices of a respectable woman. Of course, marrying downward would only do if the man's estates were on their last legs, or if his rank was not of the highest. Even good schooling and acceptance of part of the ton could never make a tradesman's daughter a suitable wife for a Duke. But... if might make a great love story!
Speaking of Love stories, Heart of Gold will be out March 11, 2011. I hope you will enjoy Matt and Dee's story.