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English matrimonial culture, matrimonial litigation


This article suggests that the matrimonial culture of northwest England from 1560 to 1640 was marked by a complex range of strategies, values, and processes that emphasized matrimony as a performative process. While present-tense language of consent created, in the words of sixteenth-century lawyer Henry Swinburne, the “Substance and indissoluble knot of Matrimony,” people in the northwest consistently identified other words, actions, and attitudes that also communicated matrimonial intent. Litigation from the diocese of Chester’s two consistory courts features considerable “talk of marriage” by litigants and deponents and reveals an enduring emphasis in the northwest on public performance of matrimonial consent through cultural, social, and economic negotiations and exchanges. This evidence also suggests ways in which rival notions about matrimonial propriety began to alter the cultural framework through which people in the northwest interpreted marriage prior to the civil wars.