Courtship at the Coroner’s Court of the 19th Century
journal contributionposted on 07.05.2015, 09:32 by Elizabeth T. Hurren
This article examines the nature and conduct of nineteenth-century courtship through the prism of the largest sample of coronial court records ever assembled. These records deal with unexplained or violent deaths and often involved the extensive gathering of testimony from witnesses and other community stakeholders. A surprising number of cases were either directly connected to courtship, or witness statements provide evidence on courtship practice and custom. Focusing particularly on records for the English Midlands, we offer a new model of typologies of courtship experience running across a spectrum from serene and unproblematic through to the obsessive relationship that ended with murder or violence. Dealing in more detail with individual cases, we illustrate the value of the material for understanding the lived experience of courtship and address three broad questions. What range of actors (family, friends, neighbours, employers, lodgers, etc,) was involved in courtships among the labouring classes? What was the emotional context within which the courtships of ‘ordinary people’ were played out? And how did ordinary people experience the human journey of courtship? We suggest that it was possible for men and women to construct completely different versions of courtships, that relationships were fragile, and that the capacity for individual agency in courtship was much more circumscribed than has often been allowed for this period.