"Now where the husband
and wife performeth these duties in their house, we may call it a college
of quietness. The house wherein these are neglected, we may term it a
--John Dod and Robert Cleaver, A Godly Form of Household Government
"The third thing
whereunto a servant is called is to serve, that is, to obey and to be in
subjection, to have no will of his own or power over himself, but wholly
to resign himself to the will of his Master, and this is to obey."
--Thomas Fosset, The Servant's Duty
In examining family life in history, it is important
to keep in mind that the ideals and the actual practice do not often match
up, as perhaps we all know, no matter how satisfactory or unsatisfactory
our own family life may be or have been growing up. Therefore, when
looking at domestic history, one has to hold in tension the various
texts--sermons, advice manuals, paintings, and so on--that model what
people wanted family life to be like with indicators of what it often
actually was like--letters, social statistics, legal and municipal
records, satires and comedies, etc. Places where the ideal and the actual
sometimes did not meet included:
- Family Authority--in particular, the
assumed authority of the husband and father over wife and children and
the resulting expected obedience and deferment.
- Gender Roles--the kinds of work, behavior,
and dress appropriate for men and women was debated, as was the the
appropriateness of popular entertainments.
- Legal Rights & Responsibilities--for
example, the right to own property was typically denied to wives, but
opened up to widows.
- Domestic Wealth--differences between how
the various classes lived include houses, furniture, luxuries,
clothing, diet, and so forth. What was considered appropriate for
one's station and social standing was often debated, too.
- Education--especially in the 18th century,
a large debate was held in various public venues as to whether women
should be formally educated and if so, what that education should
- Marriages, Divorces, Estrangements--marriage
was a often a matter of families exchanging wealth for status, or
expanding wealth and status, or maintaining those matters. Divorces
were almost impossible to obtain.
- Sexual Behavior--contradictory
expectations and double-standards for husbands and wives are only one
of the potential points of tension; another is the nature of conjugal
relations within marriage, including concerns with intimacy and
pleasure. Illegitimacy was also of particular concern when considering
inheritance laws and practices.
Likewise, one should keep in mind that it is
impossible to draw generalizations across all of Europe (or America) in
this period. Differences in region, class, religion, country, and age
account for important differences in family life. John Hajnal has
suggested that broadly Western Europe tended to observe a marriage pattern
involving later marriage (men 26-27, women 23-24) with 10-15% never
marrying, while in Eastern Europe, men and women married younger and
almost all were married. In the same way, urban areas had more nuclear
families with higher fertility rates and more persons living alone.
Household structures were diverse and in different
proportions in differing regions:
- nuclear families: husband-wife-children
- "non-family" households: household with
individuals or siblings
- multiple families: two or more families with some
- extended families: nuclear family plus other
family members such as aging parent, unmarried brother, etc.
- stem families: single son with parents
- neolocal families: nuclear families in separate,
but nearby households
Systems of inheritance included partible ones where
all sons divided the inheritance, inpartible ones in which the eldest son
received all or the largest portion (fiedicommisum or progenitur
and entail), and later on partible ones that included daughters.