Review of Sex, Love and Marriage in the Elizabethan Age

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I received a review copy of this book for the purposes of this post. 
Thank you to Pen and Sword Publishing and NetGalley.

Sex lives, love and marriage must be the most gossiped about subjects over garden fences since Roman times. And it probably still is. You only have to look at today's headlines of magazines and lifestyle websites to see whose marriages are in danger, who is a Hollywood star's latest squeeze and how much action they're all getting in the bedroom. 

Historically, researching attitudes to love, sex and marriage does more than satisfy our modern curiosity. It tells us a lot about gender roles of the day, the types of things that people found attractive and whether marriage was always taken seriously. Spoiler: sometimes it wasn't.

A new book, by RE Pritchard, discusses this topic in his Sex, Love and Marriage in the Elizabethan Age and I gratefully received a Kindle copy to review. 

The book isn't a long one; I read it as bedtime reading over the course of a week. It's informative and, at times, funny. You meet people from the lower sections of society, the nobility and courtiers - and even explore the love lives of the royalty.  Primary sources - often in big chunks - are quoted throughout the book, which is great because you can form your own judgements on the original texts. 

Some of the stories related in the book particularly stood out: the randy London doctor who was seeing multiple women a day; the attempts of a married lady to seduce a visitor to the house; many surreptitious affairs - and the banned, secret marriages of the wealthy (along with the predictable wrath of a Queen who hadn't given her permission). 

You'll also learn about prostitution in the sixteenth century and the 'stews' that were notorious at the time. I loved the really personal accounts - wives calling out at their husbands' mistresses - and wished there was more of them. Some evidence is presented in the form of contemporary plays and poems which should reflect what happened in society. The prevalence of diseases like syphilis is also explored, along with some of its unsightly effects.

The only time that I felt something was missing from the book was right at the end. The section on the love lives of Elizabeth and Mary Queen of Scots often delved deeply into politics, and while reading, I did feel it strayed a little from the focus of the book, but then you could argue that for those new to Elizabethan history, a little context is necessary to know who these people were and their links to these famous Queens. I was also looking forward to a concluding chapter that brought all the themes and topics together to reinforce what I'd learned, but it wasn't there. The book ends with the last chapter, and I just wanted something to round up and finish the book off. That's my own personal opinion, but it makes it easier when you're reading in tidbits each night rather than all at once over a couple of days. 

I'd recommend the book, especially for the amount of primary sources that are quoted in it, and the breakdown of short, readable chapters. It will give you a better understanding of everyday life in Elizabethan times. It's these stories and accounts that seem to make Elizabethan England jump off the page at you. 

To find out more about Sex, Love and Marriage in the Elizabethan Age, visit the Pen and Sword website - or you can also find it for pre-order on Amazon

You might also like my review of the book Sex and Sexuality in Stuart Britain

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