To Have and to Hold: 18th Century Marriage and Divorce

Part I : Marriage a la Mode

Upper class marriage in the 18th century was more often than not made by arrangement, marriages of convenience to align powerful political families, join and enlarge great estates, or to bolster the coffers of impoverished aristocrats through the dowries of merchant class heiresses, which in turn advanced the social status of the bride’s family. This last practice is lambasted by Georgian era artist and social commentator William Hogarth in his series Marriage à-la-mode (created 1743-1745) :

Hogarth’s first plate (shown above)depicts the marriage being arranged between the heir of bankrupt Earl Squanderfield and the daughter of a wealthy “cit”.  


  The second plate shows the marriage is already suffering. The husband and wife are going their separate ways evidenced by their state of overindulgence and disinterest in one another.

  In the third plate the bridegroom, accompanied by a prostitute, visits a “physician” seeking a “pox” cure.

In the fourth plate the  bride, now a “lady of fashion” is holding her levee in her bedchamber. The lawyer Silvertongue from the first painting, reclines beside her, suggesting his status as her lover.  The child in the painting points to the horns on the statue of Actaeon, horns being the symbol of cuckoldry.

Plate number five depicts the escape of the Countess’ lover (Silvertongue) out the window immediately following a dual with the cuckolded husband. The Earl is fatally wounded and his wife begs forgiveness.

In the last scene, the Countess has poisoned herself with laudanum after her lover is hanged at Tyburn for murdering her husband.

For a more detailed description of this series:



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