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Proving that the commercialising of matchmaking was well-suited to the mercenary business of 17th-century marriage, a slew of ads quickly followed.
Almost all were posted by men wanting to hear from a young, rich woman.
In 1750, one gentleman went much further in describing his ideal: ‘Good teeth, soft lips, sweet breath, with eyes no matter what colour so they are but expressive; of a healthy complexion, rather inclin’d to fair than brown; neat in her person, her bosom full, plump, firm and white; a good understanding, without being a wit, but cheerful and lively in conversation, polite and delicate of speech, her temper humane and tender, and to look as if she could feel delight where she wishes to give it.’Most men, though, didn’t allude to a woman’s appearance. Another, who wrote ‘shapely ankle preferr’d’, was being positively risqué.
The most striking element of ads placed by women in this period is the sense of desperation.
The first to appear was by a 30-year-old man, with ‘a very good estate’, announcing he was in search of ‘some good young gentlewoman that has a fortune of £3,000 or thereabouts’.
Most reading it would have gasped at his ambition, as £3,000 is equivalent to roughly £300,000 today.
One of the responses clearly quickened his pulse, because he agreed to the lady’s suggestion to wait for her under a certain lamppost one evening, holding a black walking stick in one hand and gloves in another.
Ads like these only contributed to the perception that personal columns were a hotbed of intrigue.There’s the ‘young lady, who has lost her husband’ (1777); another who’s ‘desirous of freeing herself from the control of a cruel and capricious guardian’ (1781); and one who was ‘compelled by loss of Friends and severe Misfortunes to solicit Protection from the most poignant sufferings’.The vast majority of these women describe themselves as widows; hardly surprising when life expectancy for men was less than 40 years old.Six dates later, he decided to marry her — and it was only then that he learned she was merely Lady Courtly’s servant. That was the trouble with lonely hearts ads: by meeting someone entirely out of context, there was no way of knowing that anyone was who they said they were. Certainly, the lonely hearts columns fuelled many a maiden’s hopes that her good looks might make up for her lack of fortune.Few, however, were likely to be servants, as most working-class women of that time were illiterate.Fortunately, Corder never got round to picking up their replies.He was dead himself a few months later — hanged for what became known as the Red Barn murder.At first, conversation was somewhat forced — but he was much impressed when his blind date revealed that she lived with a Lady Courtly.‘As her friend?’ he asked.‘Not exactly,’ she said, and changed the subject.In 1787, however, one brave soul bucked the trend by setting out a veritable shopping list of the qualities she desired in her future husband.‘He must never drink above two bottles of claret, or one of port, at a sitting, and that but three times a week.His education must be liberal, and his address captivating.