The Reluctant Bride: an early modern courtship

Eloquence of Love 1

From Edward Phillips’, ‘The Misteries of Love and Eloquence’, 1658

When I embarked on my project to publish the Jeake family letters (read more about that here) I planned only to focus on those sent to and from Samuel, he of Astrological Diary fame, and his wife Elizabeth.[i] But correspondence preserved by Jeake’s father, also Samuel, and Elizabeth’s mother, Barbara Hartshorne, offered stories that were hard to resist. What follows is an account of Jeake senior’s courtship of Frances Hartridge. (The Barbara Hartshorne courtship will form the subject of a later blog.)

Samuel Jeake senior was a prominent man in Rye during the 1640s and 50s. A lawyer and one of the leaders of a congregation that broke away from the Church of England in the early 1640s, he was also a political activist whose sympathies were firmly with the Parliamentarian cause.[ii] He was not what we would consider ideal husband material. He confessed himself to be bookish, solitary, taciturn and laborious.[iii]

In 1650, aged 27, he pursued the 20-year-old Frances Hartridge. The two were connected through the preacher Christopher Blackwood, who had been curate at Rye during the 1630s and had thereafter moved to Marden in Kent.[iv] Blackwood had married Frances’s sister Mary in 1646. Jeake appears to have visited Marden in 1650 and during that time formed what he clearly thought was a close connection with Frances. While taciturn in most respects, he proved himself an ardent lover. On 1 July 1650 he wrote declaring ‘I can no longer enjoy my selfe but in thee, for truly I have not beheld in all the world one so able to reciprocate my longings & retaliate that love which will never expire but with life’.[v]

Frances’s response was blunt: ‘if you intend to pursue your former sute I must hearin, that you may not fall into a laborious losse of time, professe my selfe by this finall negative a totall dissenter’. She wished Samuel ‘the choysest shee upon the earth’ but was ‘resolved in my self not as yet to marrye’.[vi] She declined to elaborate on her reasons, not wanting to encourage any attempts to change her mind.

There, one might imagine, should have been an end to the affair. But the reluctant bride did marry Samuel on 17 July 1651. So what happened?

Frances’s brother-in-law, Christopher Blackwood, it seems, was the cause of her change of heart. He wrote to Samuel on 3 September 1650 explaining that as far as he could tell Frances’s objection was financial: ‘the great shirke as to me seameth and truly the only shirk is feare of and doubt about a good tithe about the things to be possessed from you’.[vii] But were financial matters really the problem? A highly unusual set of demands drawn up by Frances prior to her betrothal tell a more complex story in which her right to religious freedom was also paramount. Worldly concerns there were certainly but Frances also asserted her right to worship as she chose. She demanded:

  1. I desire libertie of conscience & that I may have all conveniencies for a journey to the church whereof I am a Member fower times in the yeare.
  2. For the goods which were your fathers, because I am not established in conscience about the title of them & so consequently not of the use of them, though you your selfe be, I desire that so much of it as will be worse for using may be changed with what convenience may be and some other which will be of a right propertie in my conscience purchased, which I may use in the roome thereof.
  3. That forasmuch as I know not the manner of your worship nor whether there will be any thing that will offend my conscience therein. I desire that if there should be such worship as my heart cannot close withal nor my bodily presence allow of without sin, that it may be no alienation of conjugall affection if I should absent herein.
  4. That whereas my Brother Mr Blackwood told me that he had proposed no other condition about temporal estate save the jointure of the house unto me, yet this thing I shall adde that in case we have no issue and if you should dye first I desire it may be given to me & my heires for ever.
  5. That you will be pleased for as much as I see my sister Blackwood over burthened with young children to let me keepe Mary Blackwood her daughter till we have children of our owne.

If those conditions were met, and Samuel recorded that they were, then Frances resolved to ‘show my selfe a loyall, loving & dutifull wife’.[viii]

The letters Frances wrote just prior to her marriage were a complete contrast to her earlier reluctance. She asserted a ‘true affection…which nothing I hope save death shall remove’ but she also expected the tokens due to her, telling Samuel in another letter ‘I desire you to buy me a ring with a diamond in it’.[ix] And Blackwood continued to be a prominent player in the arrangements, offering constant encouragement to move quickly towards the marriage, along with reminders that she should remember his ‘warning’ and ‘Endeavour to please him that shall be your husband and dwell with him with an amiable meekenes & contendedness of minde and doe not greeve his spirit with the least forwardness. Affections may be easilye lost but hardly recovered’.[x]

Frances’s views on her marriage do not emerge from her letters but once settled in Rye she did express longing for the company of her sister and brother-in-law. She didn’t have long to dwell on these feelings, as she bore three children in quick succession: Samuel, the diarist, born 4 July 1652; Thomas, born 29 June 1653 and died in July 1656; and Frances, born and died on 3 December 1654. Having contracted smallpox in the later stages of her pregnancy, Frances died on 9 December 1654, just six days after her infant daughter.

Notes:

[i] M. Hunter and A. Gregory, An Astrological Diary of the Seventeenth Century: Samuel Jeake of Rye, 1652-1699 (Oxford, 1988).

[ii] M. Hunter, ‘Jeake, Samuel (1623–1690)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/14674, accessed 6 Jan 2016]

[iii] M. Hunter, G. Mandelbrote, R. Ovenden and N. Smith eds., A Radical’s Books: the library catalogue of Samuel Jeake of Rye, 1623-90 (Woodbridge, 1999), p. xix.

[iv] Richard L. Greaves, ‘Blackwood, Christopher (1607/8–1670)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/66423, accessed 6 Jan 2016]

[v] East Sussex Record Office, Archive of the Frewen Family, FRE 4223, fo. 104.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Ibid., fo. 107.

[viii] Ibid., fo. 111.

[ix] Ibid., fo. 112; fo. 118.

[x] Ibid., fo. 114

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