Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Arranging a Georgian Match

Tuesday, July 31, 2012
Isabella/Susan reports:

What would you say to a blind date that lasted forever? That was the reality for young Georgian aristocrats, and the inspiration for the match between the Duke of Marchbourne with Lady Charlotte Wylder in When You Wish Upon a Duke, on sale everywhere today. 

While there were definitely marriages made on love-matches, the higher the rank of the bride and groom usually translated into a match carefully balanced and considered by the parents. It wasn't just a case of following the precedent of royalty; a marriage was a union of rank and property as well as of hearts, and while popular ballads and plays might be filled with high-blown sentiment and true love, the reality was much more practical. In an era where even high-born ladies had little independence of their own, becoming the virtual property of their husbands, parents of daughters were especially cautious about settling their daughters into an advantageous marriage. Security trumped the vagaries of love, and marriage would be a life-long arrangement, with virtually no chance of escape. The best that could be hoped for was that love - or at least an agreeable regard - would blossom after the wedding.

Consider the 1774 marriage between Georgiana, the 17-year-old daughter of the Earl of Spencer, and the 26-year-old Duke of Devonshire. On paper, it must have seemed an excellent match: the Duke was astonishingly wealthy and wished a young, malleable wife to provide him with heirs, while the chance for Georgiana to leapfrog up the noble ladder to become a duchess (like the elegant Duchess of Grafton, above, painted in her noble regalia by Sir Joshua Reynolds) must have seemed an irresistable opportunity to her parents to see her settled. The couple met a handful of well-chaperoned times before their wedding, but had no real knowledge of one another's personalities. Georgiana tried to love her unyielding husband, but within a week, he was once again in the arms of his mistress. There marriage became one of the most infamously awful of 18th c. England, riddled with complicated infidelities and financial disasters, and sad proof that Mom and Dad didn't always know best. (For more, see here.)

But another, equally notorious arranged marriage between a duke and a lady had a much happier result. In 1719, the charmingly wastrel Duke of Richmond agreed to a match for his 18-year-old son and heir with the 13-year-old daughter of the Earl of Cadogan as a way of settling the duke's gambling debts, accepting a reduction of £5,000 in the girl's marriage settlement against his losses. The young pair met at their wedding, though because of their youth, they did not live together as man and wife for several years. Yet from this unlikely match, made over the gaming table, began one of the great married loves of the 18th c. The second Duke and Duchess of Richmond were as happy as the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire were not.

But what of my fictional Duke and Duchess of Marchbourne? Matched by their fathers as children, the two find the path of discovering love with a stranger after the wedding to be a considerable challenge. Do they follow the path of the Richmonds, or the Devonshires?  I think you can guess  – but here's the first chapter of When You Wish Upon a Duke to tempt you to the read the rest.


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