Marriage and Age Gaps in 1770

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As you know, I've begun typing up the transcriptions of Elizabeth Shackleton's diaries, and after a dull start to the task - things are starting to get interesting. Following the sacking of her Steward (which seems to have been completely forgotten now, by the way) Elizabeth's mind has turned back to other affairs. Her sow had "11 piglets and behaved very bad to them" and a new maid that only lasted 9 days in her employ before running off, leaving behind a shirt so badly embroidered, Elizabeth describes it as "a specimen of her work".

One entry particularly caught my eye, as it did Elizabeth's. On Monday October 15th, 1770 she writes:

"Miss Horsfall married to Captain Tucker she 17, he 70 years of age, but very rich."

Now, that's an age gap. There's no apparent connection between the Horsfall family, Tuckers and Shackletons, so this isn't a family update. This is local gossip!

In the 1700s the legal age for women to get married was twelve years old, and fourteen for men. Marriage was socially significant at the time, and though arranged marriages were decreasing compared to previous centuries, they weren't out of the question. Women of wealthier families were expected to marry well. Even those coming from a poorer background who had more freedom of choice in a partner, had to gain the approval of their parents before marrying.

Saying that, the 53-year age gap between Miss Horsfall and Captain Tucker is clearly no laughing matter - even Elizabeth, a respected woman of the time, justifies the match by referring to his considerable wealth. Money aside, the main purpose of wedlock was having children. It is unclear whether Captain Tucker has family from a previous marriage, although one could presume not given the union with a younger lady, as they would hope she would be more likely to bear children...

For the remainder of the year 1770 there is no more mention of the pair in her entries, although I'm sure Elizabeth won't hesitate to inform us of any news between the two! Until then, back to the pigs.

Sources:

'Marriage in Seventeenth-Century England : The Woman's Story'. A Brabcová. 2006. p21 - 23

by Eleanor Thorpe

Nov 30, 2023

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