One of the ways smaller merchants secured a future for their family name was by marrying off their daughters to wealthier merchants or noblemen. Daniel Rice (2008) points out that some of the common features of marriage in those days were the payment of a high price for the marriage certificate, the whole family became committed to the arrangement and the marriage was court ordered once the bond payments had been received. Little, if any, interest was given to the two parties getting married and this often led to other problems within the marriage contract. These issues are explored to some depth in a series of paintings by William Hogarth, executed around 1745.
In this series of paintings, Hogarth shows the progression of a marriage from the initial signing of the contract through the young couples’ accustomed activities with each other and with others to end finally in their individual deaths at a relatively young age. The first image depicts the signing of the contract in which only the older members of the group seem to take any interest. The groom seems to be playing cards in corner while the bride flirts with the lawyer directly behind his back. Neither one seems overly concerned with the activities of the other. The group of men gathered around the table seems to be trying to work through the contract document, but it seems more of a distraction than the serious business deal it actually is. Meanwhile, one of the older gentlemen, presumably the groom’s father, stands looking out the window admiring the new mansion he’s building. Thus, this painting sets up the concept of marriage as little more than a business arrangement which must bring some kind of materially mutual benefit to the families involved with very little concern for the interests and abilities of the two people who will have to live with each