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The Rising Burgh: 1560 to 1770s

Everyday Life

The Family

By Irene Maver

Scotland's Protestant Reformation of 1560 reinforced the importance of marriage and the family in everyday life. All marriages were expected to take place in the Church and the intention to wed was publicised through the proclamation of banns. The Church encouraged simplicity in wedding ceremonies, but over time it proved impossible for the authorities to eradicate customary nuptial celebrations involving eating, drinking and dancing. The minimum legal age for matrimony was fourteen years for boys and twelve for girls, but couples tended to wait until their twenties. For the majority of Glaswegians security of income and a home were essential requirements for commencing married life and it could take much hard work to achieve these.

At a practical level, marriage consolidated business partnerships between families, and such connections were frequent in the expanding merchant city. By the mid-18th century an intricate network of kinship relationships had developed among Glasgow's transatlantic trading elites. The Church viewed parenthood within matrimony as furthering the cause of godliness and so large families were welcomed. The tobacco merchant William Cuninghame (1731-1799) was not unusual in marrying three times and fathering fourteen children. On the other hand, pregnancy could have serious risks for the mother with the possibility of death from protracted labour or puerperal fever. The prevalence of a range of diseases, most notably smallpox, also meant that many children did not reach adulthood.

According to her marriage vows, a woman was expected to be "in subjection and under the governance of her husband", but some relationships belied this image of subservience. In 1736 Robert McNair (1703-1779) and his wife Jean Holmes declared themselves equal partners in their successful grocery business. Yet there were also unhappy marriages as was recognised in 1635 when the Kirk Session agreed that a couple should "separate one from the other, till God send more Love into their hearts". The Church sanctioned divorce on the grounds of adultery and desertion and during the 18th century cases became more frequent. Of course, some Glaswegians never married, such as John Anderson (1726-1796), founder of the Andersonian University.

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