Book Review: ‘Sex, Love & Marriage in the Elizabethan Age’ by R.E. Pritchard

‘Sex, Love & Marriage in the Elizabethan Age’, written by R.E. Pritchard, is a fascinating read, full of excerpts from primary source material from the Elizabethan period, it is well worth a read. Even though the title implies that the book is strictly ‘Elizabethan’, it really isn’t, since many of the historical figures mentioned within lived well into the seventeenth century, so many of the readers of this website will undoubtedly find the information of interest.

Published by Pen & Sword History in 2021, this is a fairly short book with another lovely cover design job by Jon Wilkinson. It runs 153 pages, which includes a section of glossy black-and-white images, then is followed by a small Notes section, select bibliography, and an index.

The contents include courtship rituals, sexually-transmitted diseases, how marital matches were made, what a typical Elizabeth wedding day would be like, what married life entailed, adultery. Unsurprisingly, the words of the great Elizabethan wits, poets and dramatists such as Jonson and Shakespeare and Bacon are used throughout. The love poetry from the period is utterly gorgeous.

As mentioned above, Pritchard uses quite a lot of quotes from primary sources. Now, I love that sort of thing—and do it often in my own work—but I can see that it may be a bit too much for the general, or casual, reader, who perhaps would prefer less of it and more analysis. Again, I enjoyed the content but thought it was worth mentioning this detail.

One Elizabethan proverb was included, which I particularly liked:

There belongeth more to marriage than four bare legs in a bed.

Towards the end of the book, Queen Elizabeth’s own relationships are examined, rumoured or otherwise, with figures such as Sir Thomas Seymour, Lord Robert Dudley, and Henry, Duke of Anjou.

Although my favourite work of Pritchard’s remains his excellent Scandalous Liaisons: Charles II and his Court, I nevertheless enjoyed this work and think you might as well.

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