While the unmarried status of many servants has caught wide scholarly attention, the reasons why domestics were often single and the differences among domestic workers over their marital status have not been analyzed correspondingly. In this article – which deals with Western Europe mainly from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries, though also giving some information on the twentieth century – I will firstly focus on the constraints that made it difficult for domestics to marry. Most scholars have stressed the constraints due to the need of amassing resources to found a family, whereas less attention has been paid to the masters’ opposition and the legal limitations. Thus I will focus on these latter ones. As a consequence of all these constraints, the servants’ age at marriage was usually high as was their celibacy rate. Many servants certainly quit service when they eventually got married, as suggested by many studies. Yet the importance of premarital life-cycle service should not obscure the fact that not all servants were singles destined to marry and leave service. There also were lifelong domestics who in some contexts were very numerous. It seems that, particularly in the urban context, menservants were more likely than maids to marry without leaving service. This pattern probably spread among women servants in the late nineteenth century, even though already in early modern times married live-out charwomen did exist. Before the spreading of this pattern, women servants generally left service if they married, while they usually stayed single all their lives if they remained in service. There were differences among maids, too: migrant ones generally married less frequently and later than native ones. The unmarried status of many servants was not necessarily a consequence of constraints but could have been actively chosen by the domestics themselves: quite paradoxically, serving might be a way to be independent.

‘All masters discourage the marrying of their male servants, and admit not by any means the marriage of the female’: Domestic Service and Celibacy in Western Europe from the Sixteenth to the Nineteenth Century

SARTI, RAFFAELLA
2008-01-01

Abstract

While the unmarried status of many servants has caught wide scholarly attention, the reasons why domestics were often single and the differences among domestic workers over their marital status have not been analyzed correspondingly. In this article – which deals with Western Europe mainly from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries, though also giving some information on the twentieth century – I will firstly focus on the constraints that made it difficult for domestics to marry. Most scholars have stressed the constraints due to the need of amassing resources to found a family, whereas less attention has been paid to the masters’ opposition and the legal limitations. Thus I will focus on these latter ones. As a consequence of all these constraints, the servants’ age at marriage was usually high as was their celibacy rate. Many servants certainly quit service when they eventually got married, as suggested by many studies. Yet the importance of premarital life-cycle service should not obscure the fact that not all servants were singles destined to marry and leave service. There also were lifelong domestics who in some contexts were very numerous. It seems that, particularly in the urban context, menservants were more likely than maids to marry without leaving service. This pattern probably spread among women servants in the late nineteenth century, even though already in early modern times married live-out charwomen did exist. Before the spreading of this pattern, women servants generally left service if they married, while they usually stayed single all their lives if they remained in service. There were differences among maids, too: migrant ones generally married less frequently and later than native ones. The unmarried status of many servants was not necessarily a consequence of constraints but could have been actively chosen by the domestics themselves: quite paradoxically, serving might be a way to be independent.
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/11576/2302464
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