Category Archives: Marriage

Love Marriage Women

Danger hid under a Petticoat

The poetry of Katherine Philips celebrates a woman’s love for her female friend in the seventeenth century in such poems as To My excellent Lucasia, on our friendship:

I did not live until this time
Crown’d my felicity,
When I could say without a crime,
I am not thine, but Thee

In the 1630s, Constantia Fowler became acquainted with Catherine Thimelby through her brother, Herbert Ashton, to whom she wrote of Catherine:

I canot hide from you the many, and great obligations, that I have received from Mrs Thimelby: truely, I never gained so much by the acquaintance of any, as of her; therefore a thousand times have I blest, and allmost adored the time, that I first saw her.

Later, Constantia writes:

I have bin more deadly in love with her as ever lover was… For never creature was more fortunate than I in gaining affection from her. For I believe I am blest with the most perfectest and constant lover as ever women was blest with.

Single women who cohabited were often objects of suspicion. Four women of South Milton who occupied themselves ‘by their own honest employment of spinning which they followed many years’ were ordered to put themselves into service. Jane and Anne Wright, ‘both single persons living only upon their labour’ were taken from home.

One way in which women disguised their relationships with each other was by cross-dressing. On 12th September 1680, in the parish of St-Martins-in-the-Fields, Amy Poulter, ‘representing herself to be a man’ named James Howard, was married to 18-year-old Arabella Hunt. Amy had courted Arabella in the guise of a ‘young heir, not yet of an age’. By day she went about disguised as a woman. When Arabella began to realise that her husband ‘went under the suspition of one of a double gender’, she immediately appealed for an annulment. The case came to court in 1682, and a jury of five midwives examined Amy Poulter and found her to be a ‘perfect woman in all her parts’. The marriage was annulled and both women were free to remarry. Arabella, who went on to become a famous lutenist and soprano at the court of Queen Mary II, insisted on her role as the innocent deceived, but it is more probable that she was quite aware her husband was not a man.

Aphra Behn’s play of 1682, The False Count, may allude to Arabella and Amy. In the play, an elderly husband is troubled by his wife’s relationship with her sister and her maid: ‘I have known as much danger hid under a Petticoat, as a pair of Breeches. I have heard of two Women that married each other – oh abominable, as if there were so prodigious a scarcity of Christian Mans Flesh.’ While this remark suggests contemporaries may well have thought a shortage of men the reason for the marriage between Arabella and Amy, it is possible that Behn was using public discourse to air the possibility of lesbian marriage.

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Actor Arte of Gardening London Love Marriage Stage

Let my orange stockings be dyed

This snippet is a charming insight into the intimacy and domesticity between man and wife in early modern London. Edward Alleyn (1566 -1626), actor and major figure in Elizabethan theatre, writes home to his wife Joan for news while touring the provinces with the Lord Strange’s Men. His nickname for Joan is Mouse.

Mouse, you send me no news of anything. You should send of your domestic matters, such things as happen at home, as how your distilled water proves this or that or any other thing you will… and jug, I pray you, let my orange tawny stockings of wool be dyed a good black against home I come to wear them in the winter. You send me no word of your garden but next time you will remember this, in any case, that all the bed which was parsley in the month of September, you should sow with spinach for then is the time. I would do so myself but we shall not come home ’til All Hallows tide, so farewell sweet Mouse.

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