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Old 12-14-2012, 10:02 AM   #1
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British/American Marriage- 1870s

So for my current WIP, for one of the couples in the story, the husband is from England and the wife is American. They reside in Liverpool, England, circa early-1870s.

So here are my questions:

~The legality of a marriage like this and how it would have to be done to bridge the differences in native countries

~England's social views on having a marriage that involved a foreign spouse in this time period

~Typical attitudes towards married life from the perspective of each spouse, ie. gender roles, sex, and family as compared to the one spouse being British and the other being American

Any books or websites anyone recommends?
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Old 12-14-2012, 05:41 PM   #2
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Well, I'm not a particular expert in Gilded Age history, but my impressions are:

It would be perfectly legal for a British man to marry an American. I don't know what kind of documentation they would need to make it fully recognized on both sides of the pond, but it wouldn't have been terribly difficult, I imagine, to get the necessary paperwork. Relations between Great Britain and the US had repaired themselves markedly by the late 19th century. After the tension during the Civil War, diplomatic relations were good--meaning, getting stuff like marriages recognized in both nations wasn't a huge problem.

For the last two questions, I feel like a lot would depend on class. Is the American woman marrying into the gentry/nobility? into the working class? into the professional class (doctor/barrister/etc)? An American would get a lot more social push-back if she married into the upper crust of society (because she's a common American). In that stratum, rules of behavior for a wife would have been stricter. A lady of a certain class was expected to entertain her husband's guests and keep a well-ordered household, but not much else (certainly no occupation!). A little more leeway might be offered to a woman without a large household to oversee.

Someone with more expertise might be able to chime in with more.
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Old 12-14-2012, 07:51 PM   #3
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If you are writing about an aristocrat marrying a wealty American, then I suggest "To Marry an English Lord: Tales of Wealth and Marriage, Sex and Snobbery" by Gail MacColl and Carol McD Wallace. This book has recently been updated as its original version was "To Marry an English Lord: How Anglomania Got Started". I read this earlier version and it was very entertaining and informative (my favorite kind of non-fic). As you will read, often the Englishmen were married in the bride's American city.

If you are writing about the middle or lower classes, the custom of the country prevails. If they marry in England, bans will have to be posted or a special license acquired, etc. After 1836, a couple could be married in the church or civilly by the registrar.

I'm actually not sure about the rules in America or when licenses were first required. Up to the mid 19th century, common law marriages were still recognized. I imagine that having witnesses and being married by a JOP or a minister would have sufficed provided that the marriage was properly recorded. I once researched a National Register nomination on a house where a mixed race couple lived from 1860 on. They were never formally married as they could not find a minister to perform the ceremony. This was in South Carolina, but that says to me that if you could a minister or JOP to perform and record the ceremony, you could be legally married.

Good luck!
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Old 12-14-2012, 11:35 PM   #4
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I honestly know nothing about the subject, except that you could look into one well-known Anglo-American marriage: Lord Randolph Churchill & Jeanette Jerome. Their son was Winston Churchill. Not the most typical figure I admit, but there may be some insight along those lines.
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Old 12-15-2012, 03:15 AM   #5
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Regang attitudes of the time, marriages between American and British families weren't discouraged as this was the time when industry was really overtaking agriculture as the major form of money. As many of the old families in Britain relied on agriculture, they lost a fair amount of their fortunes, thus turning to the US in order to find people to marry and get some more money.
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