What Constitutes a Regency Betrothal

During Regency times, people generally married for love. Arranged marriages usually did not occur unless you were royalty, and even then royalty sometimes married for love, such as in the case of Princess Charlotte of Wales. Apparently, however, occasionally Regency people found to their surprise they were engaged. That happened because of mistakes or misunderstanding, but such mistakes or misunderstandings could be devastating or even ruinous to an innocent party. One nineteenth-century monthly periodical devoted to literature, art, and religion decided to write about betrothals and presented the article in their 15 November 1836 issue. The article expressed five points that the writer claimed showed what constituted and what did not constitute a Regency betrothal.

Regency Bethrothal: "Off for the Honeymoon" by Frederick Morgan

“Off for the Honeymoon” by Frederick Morgan. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Here are the five points provided almost verbatim:

  1. I remark that a matrimonial engagement does not consist in any of the civilities and courtesies of life which a gentleman may extend to a lady. It is not unfrequently the case, however, that these are mistaken for declarations of love, and the announcement is made at once that such persons are engaged. Such is the imprudence of friends often, and more frequently of the lady herself, that the common politeness and attention which are ever due between the sexes, are construed into proposal for matrimony, and a young gentleman hears the report of his engagements while as yet not even a dream of the thing has passed through his own mind. By such imprudence the lady severs herself from the society perhaps, of an honorable and polished mind, and brings upon herself and friends, the mortification and disappointment which will inevitably follow in such cases. If a gentleman attends a lady to church; if he walks with her in the street; if he occasionally visits for the sake of her good society, the report is not unfrequently set … by some mischief-maker, or indiscreet friend, that the parties are engaged to be married.
    Friedrich von Ende, Courtesy of artnet.com

    “Courtship” by Friedrich von Ende, Courtesy of artnet.com.

  2. Neither does an engagement consist in any politeness or social intercourse, which a lady may extend to a gentleman. There are young gentlemen, however, of such consummate vanity, as to suppose that such treatment is nothing less than the strongest intimation of personal attachment. If a lady so much as looks at them, they fancy that it must be a love affair, and equivalent to the most direct proposals for matrimony. A smile, a compliment, a social interview, a walk or ride of pleasure, is set down by such conceited coxcombs, as the most unequivocal declarations of love. They tell of the conquests they have made, with an air of triumph, and never know their mistake till they learn it in that reserve and neglect which their conduct so richly deserves.
  3. Neither does an engagement consist in any of those preliminary steps, which are so important, in order to a just estimate of the character and qualifications of the person with whom you would be united for life. Many persons, however, imagine that every such step is committal. While the individual is only forming that wise estimate, and making those judicious investigations, which every one is bound to make in this affair by a regard to his own happiness — and that of others — he is considered as fairly committed, without the possibility of honorable retreat. But this is all wrong, whether it be the sentiment of individuals or pubic sentiment. The very object of his researches is to ascertain if that character and qualifications of the person are such as will make him a happy companion for life. Without such investigation he might as well commit his interest, in this manner, to a lady whom he had never beheld. He might as well be betrothed as heathen children by their parents, without his consent or knowledge, and while yet in a state of infancy he might as well blindfold himself, and rush into a great assembly, and select a companion at random. Parents must suppose their daughters are little else than angels, if they expect to betroth them in this manner. And if young ladies are so superficial in character and accomplishments, as not to admit of such honorable and wise scrutiny, they had better give up the idea of marriage life, and become nuns at once. Such should be the sentiments on this subject, that every young gentleman should feel himself at liberty to make every necessary investigation of character, without subjecting himself to the report of being engaged, or of other than honorable intentions, if disappointed he sees fit to retire.
  4. Neither does an engagement consist in the most unqualified declaration of love on the part of either the gentleman or lady. This may all be, yet no obligations are assumed, no contract is formed. And yet there are those who suppose that declarations of attachment impose an obligation on their friend, which cannot be resisted or violated. The gentleman whose province it always is first to make such disclosures, considers that when he has done this, he has secured by right his object. But not so. The lady may be wholly unprepared for such an event. Such a disclosure may be made before she has made the necessary inquiries and investigations herself. Such a declaration may be made when she had no suspicion of any attachment existing, and whilst her own engagements and circumstances do not admit of her entertaining such proposals for a moment. It is true, such a disclosure on the part of a gentleman, imposes certain duties on the female. If her circumstances are such as to render an engagement impossible, she is bound by every principle to acquaint him immediately with the fact, and keep the transaction a secret. If her circumstances are such as to render it proper for her to enter into a matrimonial engagement, it is proper then, that she make his proposals a matter of immediate and serious consideration. If she is satisfied with his character, and entertains such an affection for him as will render a union with him happy, she has nothing left to do but to make known to him, in a modest and affectionate manner, her acceptance of his proposals. But, if, after due consideration and inquiry and deliberation, she is conducted to a contrary conclusions, she should lose no time in informing him of the fact, in a way least likely to wound his sensibilities, or mortify his pride. She will consider it too, both a dictate of modesty and prudence and honor, to disclose the circumstance to no living being.
  5. A matrimonial engagement then, is when the parties, having made mutual disclosures of affection for each other in view of such disclosures, bind themselves by promises to become each other’s wedded companion for life. There must be a contract formed, in which the parties pledge themselves to each other for life, or there can be no matrimonial engagement. Nothing short of this can be accounted a betrothment, and nothing more is necessary to its perfection.


  • The Universalists and Ladies’ Repository, Volume 5, 1837

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