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Sixteenth-century courtship in the diocese of Canterbury

O'Hara, Diana (1995) Sixteenth-century courtship in the diocese of Canterbury. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.86072) (KAR id:86072)


This thesis seeks to re-examine the nature of courtship in the sixteenth century, using church court and probate material for the diocese of Canterbury. Challenging the hitherto established views regarding the freedom and personal initiative exercised by courting couples, it explores important topics neglected in most previous studies. Essentially it revives the notion that courtship in the past possessed far more structure and coherence than has been granted recently, and argues that the decision to marry was a momentous one, conducted against a backdrop of constraints and expectations which did much to determine and shape individual choice. Some constraints were external to the principle actors. Chapter 1 argues that parents, kin and community played a number of decisive roles in the making of marriage and Chapter 2 shows how courtship was structured by the giving and receiving of gifts, each invested with their own symbolic meaning. Go-betweens, as Chapter 3 demonstrates, played an important role in mediating between couples, transmitting gifts and messages, and helping in the vital property negotiations. Chapter 4 reveals a great deal more about the constraints of locality and distance over courtship behaviour. Couples possessed relatively restricted geographical horizons which delineated the parameters of their choices and they courted at particular times and in special places. Those intent on marriage, as argued in Chapter 5, also carried a range of internalized assumptions, which, together with legal and social rules may have helped to determine the time thought appropriate to marry. Finally, in Chapter 6, the crucial importance of financial matters in the process of courtship is examined. It demonstrates that even for the relatively humble, the sixteenth century was one of rapid dowry inflation, something that further determined prospects in the matrimonial market. Few marriages took places without negotiations or calculations about future financial prospects and the present value of the bride's contribution to the union.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.86072
Additional information: This thesis has been digitised by EThOS, the British Library digitisation service, for purposes of preservation and dissemination. It was uploaded to KAR on 09 February 2021 in order to hold its content and record within University of Kent systems. It is available Open Access using a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-commercial, No Derivatives ( licence so that the thesis and its author, can benefit from opportunities for increased readership and citation. This was done in line with University of Kent policies ( If you feel that your rights are compromised by open access to this thesis, or if you would like more information about its availability, please contact us at and we will seriously consider your claim under the terms of our Take-Down Policy (
Uncontrolled keywords: Marriage; courtship; Canterbury; marriage
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General)
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Women
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of History
SWORD Depositor: SWORD Copy
Depositing User: SWORD Copy
Date Deposited: 29 Oct 2019 16:27 UTC
Last Modified: 16 Nov 2021 10:27 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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