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The Macksey Journal

Abstract

The Protestant Reformation in England began with Henry VIII's Great Matter in the early 1500s. Almost a century later, British society's understanding of what made a good and happy marriage had evolved alongside the broader shifts in church doctrine, and Puritan factions began to splinter from mainstream Anglican practices and teachings. Writing in 1617 from the Protestant stronghold of Oxfordshire, an influential minister named William Whately offered newlyweds and engaged couples advice regarding their duties to each other and to their community. This 'Bride-bush,' as he called it, sought to make marriage "a great Helpe" for those who "now finde it a little Hell." A close analysis of Whately's writing reveals that at its most basic level, early modern English marriage advice has much in common with advice offered today, despite its misogynist language and thoughts about the role of a wife in the household. Marriage remained a societal institution but the idea of marriage as a personal commitment, potentially including happiness with and love for one's spouse, had started to take root. Whately was an early, moderate voice amidst what would develop into a cacophony of Puritan teachings and factions, and his 'Bride-bush' pamphlet provides a glimpse into some of the practical concerns which may have plagued an everyday Englishman in the early seventeenth century.

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