Tales of seduction and betrayal: Disputed marriage engagements in early modern France
This dissertation enters the discussion among family historians about how and why people chose their spouses in early modern Europe. This debate has often focused on a dichotomy between marriage for sentiment and marriage for material or social strategy. I discovered that dividing a cultural and social process like marriage into black and white categories is not a viable means of examining this process; sometimes much more complex reasons influence why people wed or refused to wed.
Using records of matrimonial disputes from an ecclesiastical court called the Officialité, I examine the reasons people married—or did not marry—in seventeenth and eighteenth century France in the province of Rouen. Seduction victims who used the court to force marriages in the seventeenth century had different motives than couples in the eighteenth century who wanted to dissolve their engagements because of irreconcilable differences. Harmonizing quantitative with qualitative information has allowed me to examine trends over time and the factors that played roles in matrimonial decisions. The cases are situated within the larger schemata of absolutism, the Catholic Reformation, the Enlightenment and the French state's usurpation of ecclesiastical authority. In the end, I find that while peoples' expectations of marriage concerned both sentiment and family strategy, they more importantly hoped for trust, respect and compatibility.