Affairs of the Heart in History

Sep 2011
24,135
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#1
Since we can ever remember, in history, and still in some societies today, couples were married off for reasons other than love. Whether this be for title, position, money, or just simply the fact that your parents decided and you had no say in the matter. Generally in much of history (though I do not make the claim for all of human history) people did not get married for love and companionship as many do in the modern world today.

So I have a question.

Do you think it possible that more people had affairs? Or, that it was more common than we suspect? This type of thing would not be recorded as such, for obvious reasons - mainly because it will have been kept secret and the history of the 'everyday man' is not recorded very well at all.

If people married for reasons other than love, what happened when they then genuinely fell in love with someone else? If you are forced to marry someone against your wishes - the likelihood that you would fall for another person would be high, no?

Plus DNA tests were unknown, so if say a woman had and an affair, unless it was so obvious like a white woman and black man, or all had black hair then one pops out ginger (although cases are known to be true regarding DNA) then a family would never know that the woman had been having an affair.

We cannot control our emotions as humans and there is nothing to suggest that humans had less emotion back in the past than we have today. We can't help who we fall in love with and if we have been deprived by force, of being with a person we love, the urge may be even more intense that when we are free to express our emotions?

I do not compare this question to someone who walks into a marriage willingly then cheats - today in our era. It is not the same thing at all and I hope you can understand the distinction I am making here between history and now. Modern day affairs are not the same and being forced into a marriage then actually falling in love with someone who you could have or should have been with in the first place - of your own free will. There is no comparison.

So, do you think that affairs of the heart were more common through out history? Do you think the urge to feel loved and have a loving embrace with someone was strong enough for such secrets to take place?

I guess the nation, era etc will make a difference to how you answer.

I am curious of your thoughts on this matter. Especially since it is all speculation, most history is written about the rich and famous and not the lives of the everyday people. But just because we are unawares, does not mean it did not happen.

When freedom of choice is taken away in such matters, would the heart give in to desires when cupid strikes?
 
Jun 2010
3,336
Colorado Springs (PA at heart)
#2
Since we can ever remember, in history, and still in some societies today, couples were married off for reasons other than love. Whether this be for title, position, money, or just simply the fact that your parents decided and you had no say in the matter. Generally in much of history (though I do not make the claim for all of human history) people did not get married for love and companionship as many do in the modern world today.

So I have a question.

Do you think it possible that more people had affairs? Or, that it was more common than we suspect? This type of thing would not be recorded as such, for obvious reasons - mainly because it will have been kept secret and the history of the 'everyday man' is not recorded very well at all.

If people married for reasons other than love, what happened when they then genuinely fell in love with someone else? If you are forced to marry someone against your wishes - the likelihood that you would fall for another person would be high, no?
In some cases but not necessarily. Firstly, I think forced marriages were less common among average individuals. Parents may still have wanted to find a match with good prospects but they had a lot more options than royalty and nobility who could pretty much only pick from that small, elite circle. Especially royalty whose marriages where often of vital importance on a near global scale. That was not the case for regular people. If their daughter didn't want to marry John Smith, there would be other options.

I have thought a lot on this subject during my family history research and I feel that people's attitudes and expectations about love and marriage were very different in the past. I think I've talked about this before in another topic but one thing to keep in mind is the fact that most people married someone of similar background and therefore the likelihood that their beliefs and lifestyle would be a compatible match was promising. I think it probable that people approached marriage pragmatically and that a similar background combined with time and unity against the hardships of life would allow people to grow close over their married life and learn to love each other.

I also think people, especially women, had less opportunity to meet and fall in love with someone else. Spending time alone with a man would have to be carefully planned so the chance that they spent enough time together to even fall in love to begin with, let alone have an affair, was reduced. So perhaps for some people, it (love) just never happened. That may seem sad to us but like I say, I think people had different expectations of life and love. That is not to say they had less emotion, just that they did not grow up with the expectation of falling in love and marrying "the one" like we do today. There was no concept of "the one". Today, we consider a romantic love to be essential in finding happiness in life. In the past, a woman might consider her love for her children of utmost importance instead.

Likewise, there is something to be said about the hierachy of needs when it comes to the poor and struggling. Love was not a basic necessity - food, shelter, and life were. In a world where we take those things for granted, love can become a basic necessity too.

That is certainly not to say affairs never happened! Just that these could be reasons why it wasn't exactly happening in all or even most marriages. There may have been more affairs than what we know about, especially among commoners. I think it unlikely there are much more than we know about among royalty and nobility since they were closely watched.

Furthermore, this is mostly approaching the issue from a woman's perspective. Plenty of men were known to keep mistresses.

Plus DNA tests were unknown, so if say a woman had and an affair, unless it was so obvious like a white woman and black man, or all had black hair then one pops out ginger (although cases are known to be true regarding DNA) then a family would never know that the woman had been having an affair.
I believe black hair is dominant and red hair is recessive. That means two black haired people can indeed have a red haired child. But I take your point and yes, I do think there were probably a lot of cases of unknown illegitimate children.

I do not compare this question to someone who walks into a marriage willingly then cheats - today in our era. It is not the same thing at all and I hope you can understand the distinction I am making here between history and now. Modern day affairs are not the same and being forced into a marriage then actually falling in love with someone who you could have or should have been with in the first place - of your own free will. There is no comparison.
Totally agree. That was the point I was trying to make about Eleanor of Aquitaine in another topic not long ago. Her marriage with Louis was arranged and she had affairs. But her marriage with Henry was her own choice and despite the fact that it also wound up being a disastrous marriage in the end, I believe she was unfaithful to him.
 
Sep 2011
24,135
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#3
In some cases but not necessarily. Firstly, I think forced marriages were less common among average individuals. Parents may still have wanted to find a match with good prospects but they had a lot more options than royalty and nobility who could pretty much only pick from that small, elite circle. Especially royalty whose marriages where often of vital importance on a near global scale. That was not the case for regular people. If their daughter didn't want to marry John Smith, there would be other options.
I think that would depend on which point in history we are speaking of and where, to be honest. I am talking all nationalities and thousands of years of history. Only because from what we currently know, marriage was very different in most of history compared to now, as you suggest further on your post - which I totally agree with.

Good point though in comparing the commoner to the elite. Though I would say that even though commoners may not have married for privilege, do you think that parents still may have been quite dominant in choosing a spouse for their kids? Rather than now where we can pretty much marry who we like, with or without parental approval.

I have thought a lot on this subject during my family history research and I feel that people's attitudes and expectations about love and marriage were very different in the past.
Yes I agree. But they were still human and love, lust and desire are not a modern concept to humans. It is woven into who we are as a species.

I think I've talked about this before in another topic but one thing to keep in mind is the fact that most people married someone of similar background and therefore the likelihood that their beliefs and lifestyle would be a compatible match was promising. I think it probable that people approached marriage pragmatically and that a similar background combined with time and unity against the hardships of life would allow people to grow close over their married life and learn to love each other.
I agree and understand your point. But I would suggest that even so, people still have desires and feel love, affection and have sexual urges no matter how we try to justify sharing our lives with a person based on these matters.

I do not believe for one moment that people of the past felt less love or desire. But it is highly possible that the society they were raised in tried to inhibit such feelings.

I also think people, especially women, had less opportunity to meet and fall in love with someone else. Spending time alone with a man would have to be carefully planned so the chance that they spent enough time together to even fall in love to begin with, let alone have an affair, was reduced.
This is very true for some societies, but not others, it totally depends because not all women have been restricted in this manner.

You are indeed correct on the fact for women that were restricted in this fashion. Thought even if a women was house confined, if she was from a richer background maybe she could have got busy with the butler, slave or the cook? Or maybe some got busy with other women? Society can try to inhibit certain behaviours - but it cannot exterminate ideas and human emotion - at least not into every single person even if it does with others.

So perhaps for some people, it (love) just never happened. That may seem sad to us but like I say, I think people had different expectations of life and love. That is not to say they had less emotion, just that they did not grow up with the expectation of falling in love and marrying "the one" like we do today. There was no concept of "the one". Today, we consider a romantic love to be essential in finding happiness in life. In the past, a woman might consider her love for her children of utmost importance instead.
I don't think women today value love over their kids. I think that we just have plenty more options available to us and we can enjoy life as well as being good mothers, rather than being locked in a house being wife, mother and teacher all in one. That said, I do get your point about having different priorities. But I would have thought that even with different priorities, these emotions still are not eliminated from human thought and feeling. When modern people go through hard times, they are not void of these emotions.

Likewise, there is something to be said about the hierachy of needs when it comes to the poor and struggling. Love was not a basic necessity - food, shelter, and life were. In a world where we take those things for granted, love can become a basic necessity too.
Very good points indeed, thanks.

I don't believe that people feel less or more love now than in the past. Views may have changed on it, as have a lot of other things. But I do not believe that a human today is capable of feeling an emotion that a human 1000 years ago could not. When we hit hard times in life and it becomes a struggle, love does not disappear, it comforts, it gives hope and I believe humans to be creatures of desire - hence why we get so bloody greedy. :)

Imagine being married to a complete arsehole that you did not choose to marry of your own accord. Imagine going through struggles with this person. Then someone else shows you support or affection (though in what circumstance or manner is impossible to know) would you as a human, a woman, not start to feel desires for this person? Even in struggling times?

I know that marrying out of necessity seems unusual to us in the modern world. And sometimes if we view events of the past through modern eyes, we can blind ourselves to the reality of the past and lack empathy. But even with that said, I believe humans have always had these emotions and desires, at least for a good amount of years within the thousands range. Being social is one reason which helped us grow as a species, and emotion is part of that, not just survival.

Just my opinion of course.:)

That is certainly not to say affairs never happened! Just that these could be reasons why it wasn't exactly happening in all or even most marriages. There may have been more affairs than what we know about, especially among commoners. I think it unlikely there are much more than we know about among royalty and nobility since they were closely watched.
I agree about the royalty, it would have been most difficult to get away with it without someone discovering it.

I think you are correct. Maybe it was not rife in the past, but I certainly think it happened much more than we believe. Especially as some can put marriages from the past on a pedestal like they were better than modern marriages and were far more noble. I don't believe this for one minute. Only that the choices and freedom were minimal in these matters and as already said, social restrictions on desire and love may have worked somewhat - but not completely.

Furthermore, this is mostly approaching the issue from a woman's perspective. Plenty of men were known to keep mistresses.
Indeed! It will be interesting to see the replies from the male members on this topic. ;)

I believe black hair is dominant and red hair is recessive. That means two black haired people can indeed have a red haired child. But I take your point and yes, I do think there were probably a lot of cases of unknown illegitimate children.
Yes that was my point, that without DNA it could be extremely hard to tell. I am sure there were cases when the woman did not sleep with anyone but her husband, yet the because the child had different hair colour etc... she would be labeled a whore no doubt.

Totally agree. That was the point I was trying to make about Eleanor of Aquitaine in another topic not long ago. Her marriage with Louis was arranged and she had affairs. But her marriage with Henry was her own choice and despite the fact that it also wound up being a disastrous marriage in the end, I believe she was unfaithful to him.
Do you have a link to the thread is sounds interesting, cheers.

Thanks for the indepth reply, you make some excellent points and give food for thought.:)
 
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SPERRO

Ad Honorem
Mar 2011
3,480
North East England
#4
Since we can ever remember, in history, and still in some societies today, couples were married off for reasons other than love. Whether this be for title, position, money, or just simply the fact that your parents decided and you had no say in the matter. Generally in much of history (though I do not make the claim for all of human history) people did not get married for love and companionship as many do in the modern world today.

So I have a question.

Do you think it possible that more people had affairs? Or, that it was more common than we suspect? This type of thing would not be recorded as such, for obvious reasons - mainly because it will have been kept secret and the history of the 'everyday man' is not recorded very well at all.

If people married for reasons other than love, what happened when they then genuinely fell in love with someone else? If you are forced to marry someone against your wishes - the likelihood that you would fall for another person would be high, no?

Plus DNA tests were unknown, so if say a woman had and an affair, unless it was so obvious like a white woman and black man, or all had black hair then one pops out ginger (although cases are known to be true regarding DNA) then a family would never know that the woman had been having an affair.

We cannot control our emotions as humans and there is nothing to suggest that humans had less emotion back in the past than we have today. We can't help who we fall in love with and if we have been deprived by force, of being with a person we love, the urge may be even more intense that when we are free to express our emotions?

I do not compare this question to someone who walks into a marriage willingly then cheats - today in our era. It is not the same thing at all and I hope you can understand the distinction I am making here between history and now. Modern day affairs are not the same and being forced into a marriage then actually falling in love with someone who you could have or should have been with in the first place - of your own free will. There is no comparison.

So, do you think that affairs of the heart were more common through out history? Do you think the urge to feel loved and have a loving embrace with someone was strong enough for such secrets to take place?

I guess the nation, era etc will make a difference to how you answer.

I am curious of your thoughts on this matter. Especially since it is all speculation, most history is written about the rich and famous and not the lives of the everyday people. But just because we are unawares, does not mean it did not happen.

When freedom of choice is taken away in such matters, would the heart give in to desires when cupid strikes?
Yes, affairs of the heart run throughout history, for all of the reasons that you have put forward. Human nature being what it is, political arrangements would not stand in the way of illicite relationships. No mystery here just fact.:)
 
Jun 2010
3,336
Colorado Springs (PA at heart)
#5
Good point though in comparing the commoner to the elite. Though I would say that even though commoners may not have married for privilege, do you think that parents still may have been quite dominant in choosing a spouse for their kids? Rather than now where we can pretty much marry who we like, with or without parental approval.
Oh yes, a woman still was not expected to marry without her parents approval in most cultures but a commoner might have been less likely to disapprove of a love match.

I don't think women today value love over their kids.
I didn't meant to suggest that they did. Just that today, we expect love to come before children, for children to be a product of that love. In the past, I think there was less of that expectation to find love and that once a woman had children, she may have been perfectly happy and fulfilled by that. Today, most people expect both.

Imagine being married to a complete arsehole that you did not choose to marry of your own accord. Imagine going through struggles with this person. Then someone else shows you support or affection (though in what circumstance or manner is impossible to know) would you as a human, a woman, not start to feel desires for this person? Even in struggling times?
Absolutely, I'm sure there are plenty of examples of it over history. I'm just think today, we have an expectation to find love whereas in the past, it was not an expectation. It happened but it was not expected.

Yes that was my point, that without DNA it could be extremely hard to tell. I am sure there were cases when the woman did not sleep with anyone but her husband, yet the because the child had different hair colour etc... she would be labeled a whore no doubt.
I would not be surprised if a woman was doubted when the family had no known history of someone with that hair color and suddenly one popped out. Especially in areas where one hair color was the norm. But I think, for example, if a couple who both have brown hair had a blonde child and at least one of the couples' parents or grandparents had been blonde, it would not be highly suspect. In areas where there was a good mix of hair colors, it probably wouldn't even be taken into consideration.

Do you have a link to the thread is sounds interesting, cheers.
It was this one: http://www.historum.com/european-history/47754-first-queen-england.html

Thanks for the indepth reply, you make some excellent points and give food for thought.:)
Likewise! And I agree people did not have less emotion in the past. I read an article in a BBC History Magazine once which was on a similar topic - the mistaken idea that parents loved their children less because the rate of child and infant death was so high, they could not afford to love with all their heart. But the article gave many examples of how this is not true. The main feature was of some surviving letters between a husband and wife talking about their despair at the loss of their son. The wife in particular suffered some deep depression. Similarly, it was not a case of loving your children any less, but in some cases, people had to expect to lose at least one child over their lifetime.

Oh and btw, I think a big part of the reason why I think we can't just assume most marriages were arranged or force, especially among commoners, are the surviving love letters between my 3rd great grandparents, detailed here: http://genealogical-musings.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/love-letters.html
 
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