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The Arranged Victorian Marraige, a Conundrum


My Victorian era manuscript underway utilizes an obstacle of an arranged marriage. In today’s world, marriages are dissolved easily enough that the idea of one standing in the way of true love is less onerous than in past eras, such as during the 19th Century.

Arranged marriages were still a norm of the Victorian era. Politics and inheritances were quite still the reasons just as in the Dark Ages. Although in bygone eras the political marriage affected all class levels of a society, serfs included. The pressure was still fervent in European aristocratic circles, or what remained of them, even those living on the American continents, as my story’s characters do for a time.

My Spanish characters are dealing with an arranged marriage. Their reality – as products of their times – was to accept marriage when it came, not necessarily to each other. In reality, people raised in the ways of my characters were not taught to hope for love or expect romance in an arranged marriage. They would hope for kindness, understanding, propriety, and even dignity. Still, the benefits of marriage within the same social class often outweighed the thrill of romance which was still thought of as a chance and fleeting moment to be grasped. Romance didn’t carry with it the expectation of longevity unlike what appeals to today’s romance audience and readership. (Rest assured that this author is part of that very same audience.)

Tolerating extramarital lovers was going out of vogue. Open arrangements were falling out of favor. Morality movements and laws being passed in other countries found imitations in decorum in Spain and its holdings. Spain was no longer the largest kingdom nor the most powerful country any longer, but its Borbon royalty and their aristocratic nobility were expected to set the heights of decorum, even in marriages; the same expectations, as it happens, are held up to the Bourbon House of today. The reason I point this out is that Queen Victoria’s circle, including her Belgian cousin, Princess Charlotte (later Empress of Mexico) openly touted the Bourbon House in Spain as the height of expected decorum. The royal courts were still dictating behaviors of the rest of society, in something of a trickle-down effect.

Oddly difficult to explain is that extramarital lovers of arranged marriage partners were often enough allowed if scandal were avoided. Secretive affairs with lovers more powerful than a marriage partner were not quite favored but were less than frowned upon. As long as they were kept secret.

Catholicism was a dominating influence in Spanish society and so were its moral codes. Spaniards conducted a revolution when they counted among their grievances the openly adulterating Queen Regnent, Isabella II. Her marital bed had never pretended to belong to her king consort husband, Francisco, beyond the wedding night. Only a generation before, though, Isabella’s mother’s affairs weren’t considered to have interfered in her duties on the throne. The fact that Francisco claimed all dozen of Isabella’s offspring, and even named his collection of poodles after her lovers, tells of an understanding of duty quite opposite to proverbial fairy tale romances that often toss everything to the wind for the sake of instantaneous love.

Of course, my manuscript entails a fairy tale coming true. Conveying the seriousness of the obstacle of an arranged marriage is part of the challenge of being a modern writer portraying the past to modern sensibilities that expect love and marriage to automatically go hand in hand.




  1. Denise Eagan says:

    Wow, that was interesting. I’ve never read anything about Victorian Spain! Do you have more for us? It sounds very different from the U.S. during that same period, although parents were still meddling–strongly!–in Society marriages.

  2. Susan Macatee says:

    Interesting blog! I think it’s hard for those of us living today to identify with a heroine who’s forced into a marriage. In most romances I’ve read, either the heroine grows to love the man she’s married, or a hero comes along to interfere and keep the marriage from taking place.

    And, of course, you can’t have extramarital affairs in a romance.

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