Breaking up and making up: another early modern courtship


Silver-cased watch, London 1640-50, BM Collection

Another courtship story from the Jeake family archive….

Richard Hartshorne and Barbara Harding were the parents of Samuel Jeake’s wife, Elizabeth. Richard was desperate to marry Barbara. And, as a couple in their middle age with no parents to interfere, their courtship should have been straightforward. It was anything but. They fell in love, they determined to marry and then they fought.

Although we have only Richard’s letters, we can deduce that the argument was over a love token, a watch given by Barbara and supposed to be kept secret. But the secret had been revealed and some were gossiping. Richard reassured:

What intelligence so ever you had that told you I had your watch, is nothing, no nothing at all but imagination to pump you, for there’s neither a man nor woman upon earth that hath either seen it or heard so much from my mouth save your selfe.[i]

Richard and Barbara

The wife beating her husband, Abraham Bosse (c. 1633)

Barbara remained resolute. She removed herself from Rye and would not return however much Richard begged. And beg he did, and pleaded, cajoled and threatened. In one letter he wrote ‘Prithee my Deare if my love estrue any thing, let me know where thou art, how thou dost, and when I may comfort my languishing and sorrowful heart with hopes to see thee…’ Some lines later his mood changed and he accused Barbara of being unnatural and using his heart ‘barbarously and heathenishly’. He then called down God’s judgement on her:


My Love there will be a time of searching, all the secrets of our hearts, no covers nor pretences can cloake us from the all seeing eye of God. Didst thou ever read or canst thou believe faithless & merciless shall find mercy without repentance or amendment.[ii]

The letters tell us of the intimacy of Richard and Barbara’s previous relationship. He wrote of the promise of ‘letters full of kisses’ and his desire to ‘enjoy thee one night instead of every nights dreames on thee’.[iii] But what the letters reveal most is Richard’s insecurity about his claim to Barbara’s hand. Early modern men were supposed to take an assertive role in courtship.[iv] Richard did not wear the trousers in this relationship!


Rye Grammar School is still standing and now a record shop

Twice-married, and apparently beautiful, Barbara was a relatively wealthy widow with several sons to prove her fertility. Richard’s prospects were poorer. He was the local schoolmaster, probably around 40 at the time of the courtship. He had arrived in Rye from Leigh in Staffordshire with the recommendation that he was ‘able, industrious, & successfull in the education of the Youth committed to his charge: as also of a temperate & unblameable conversation’.[v] But schoolmasters were not well-paid and Richard was ‘not borne to a great inheritance’. He could offer only ‘love and poverty’ and he feared that ‘A better fortune make a lesser love far more worthy in [Barbara’s] eyes’.[vi]


The quarrel over the watch clearly intensified Richard’s doubts. He accused Barbara of picking a fight on purpose to end the relationship. He believed other suitors were waiting in the wings and that Barbara had transferred her affections to a more affluent lover. For Richard there could be no other love:

 … I am bound under an eternall course to marry none but thy deare selfe… I beg, beg & beseech thee let me be once rewarded with that treasure which I am devoted to serve and honour to the breathing out of my last gasps, which if this may not be I pray the God of Heaven put an end to my long lingering sorrowes [vii]

Perhaps Barbara was swayed by her suitor’s pleadings. She had, by her own admission, already ‘marriedst twice against [her] will’ and maybe she was convinced by Richard’s argument that she should marry a ‘third time to thy poor friend’.[viii] Whatever convinced her to accept Richard, the couple were married in 1662. Unfortunately no more letters between them have survived so we cannot know whether Barbara finally found happiness in her third and final marriage.

[i] East Sussex Record Office, Archive of the Frewen Family, FRE 5268.

[ii] ESRO, FRE 5269.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Anthony Fletcher, ‘Manhood, the Male Body, Courtship and the Household in Early Modern England’, History, 84 (1999), p. 431.

[v] ESRO, RYE 47/162/11.

[vi] ESRO, FRE 5269.

[vii] ESRO, FRE 5270.

[viii] Ibid.

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1 Response to Breaking up and making up: another early modern courtship

  1. Pingback: Suggested Reading on Objects & Emotions | Emotional Objects: Touching Emotions in History

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