The Victorian era refers to the time of Britain's Queen Victoria who ruled from 1837 until her death in 1901. The era represented massive population and economic expansion in England, as the world witnessed the industrial revolution. Marriage during the Victorian era was very different compared to modern nuptials, with women being legally subservient to their husbands, who controlled all property in the marriage. Divorce was also far rarer and more complicated than in modern times.
Marriage Rules and Etiquette
Getting hitched during the Victorian era involved more than a trip to a Las Vegas wedding chapel or exchanging vows on a beach somewhere. Social standing was a big factor when selecting a potential mate. Women were encouraged to marry within or above their current social standing, which could mean more money or possibly a title. The bride also had to offer the groom a dowry or property, while the groom had to prove he could provide for his wife-to-be in a manner equal to her social standing. In Victorian times, it was legal to marry a first cousin, but it was illegal to marry your deceased wife's sister.
During Victorian times, adultery was the only acceptable reason for divorce and was usually only granted to the man. A wife could petition for divorce on the grounds of adultery, but she also had to prove that her husband was cruel and had committed other bad acts.
Victorian-era women viewed marriage very seriously because it often involved all of their worldly property and was likely to be their sole means of economic support. The majority of the women in Victorian times were not educated and their position in life was restricted to the domestic duties of a wife. All of a woman's property, which could be significant, would become her husband's sole property upon marriage. A Victorian-era woman could not have a legal will to pass her property to a relative upon death. All control and distribution of property was the right of the husband. Any property a married woman inherited would also fall under her husband's control.
Victorian-era marriage was more businesslike and less romantic than fairy-tale love stories we see in movies and read in novels today. The courtship involved open discussion of financial terms of the pending nuptials between both families. The bride-to-be would bring a dowry which would be openly disclosed, while the man also provided financial information. The dealings may be compared to a prenuptial agreement common in today's culture. The man would present the woman with an engagement ring, while the woman would sometimes reciprocate with a ring for the man, but it was not required. The bride's mother was responsible for hosting an engagement dinner for the couple. The engagement would typically last between six months and two years prior to the wedding.
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