10 Ridiculous Victorian Etiquette Rules



He's breaking about 50 courtship etiquette rules. Hulton Archive/Getty Images
He's breaking about 50 courtship etiquette rules. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

During the Victorian Age, the English prided themselves on being more liberal than the French in recognizing the importance of love and mutual affection in marriage. Nevertheless, Cassell's states, "Marriages of affection are not necessarily incompatible with marriages formed from interested motives, but mutual affection is not considered necessary as a starting point." Tension necessarily grew when young people had to choose between mutual affection and retaining financial or social stability.

Etiquette books of the day advised readers to look only within their own class for a mate [source: Phegley]. The common law customs of entail and primogeniture, which kept estates whole and in the hands of first-born males, had unfortunate repercussions for those seeking a marriage of mutual affection. It was accepted as normal and right that ladies seek eldest sons. When an estate was in trouble (and unable to be mortgaged because of entailment), eldest sons often sought heiresses of new money, even if they were crass women of low social rank. This practice was a bitter and ironic pill for Victorians to swallow.

Men generally married younger women — one book advised that a 30-year-old man is suited to a 22-year-old woman, and a 40-year-old man is suited to a 27-year-old woman [source: Phegley]. All "out," or available, girls made sure to be in town during the season, a period of social events (beginning in January but accelerating in April through June) that served essentially as a marriage market. And, if a young lady couldn't snatch a husband in three seasons, she would start resigning herself to spinsterhood [source: Pool].

A gentleman who was interested in a lady could never expect to be alone with her. Rather, he would call on her at her family's home and they would converse in the presence of her parents or chaperones. Each would try to determine the other's character. A woman would be wary of a man who enjoyed "low and vulgar amusements," while a man would want to make sure his future wife made good company and determine whether she performed her household duties [source: Phegley].