The Role of Male Friends in Early Modern Romantic Relationships

Henrickson, Ashley. 2017. “The Role of Male Friends in Early Modern Romantic Relationships.” Meeting of the Minds Graduate Student Journal 1 (March). doi:10.5281/zenodo.399295.

Keywords: Youth, Relationships, England


It is well established that parents played an important role in their children’s marital decisions in early modern England, as they could bless or condemn matches. Acting in an equally significant capacity, a young couple’s friends could also bless or condemn a potential romantic match. However, few historians of early modern England have explored the role of male or female friendships during the formation of romantic relationships. This essay will examine the role that male youths played in their friend’s romances and will focus on their significance during pre-marital sexual interactions, courtship, rejection, and post-marital difficulties.

The examination of male youth’s role in their friends’ romantic relationships represents an intersection between the study of courtship and youth history, specifically youth masculinity and friendship. While early modern marriages have been a topic of examination since the 1960s, numerous debates have divided scholarly opinion. Disputes include whether marital relationships were oppressive or affectionate, whether they were constructed around affection or social and economic improvement, and the extent to which individuals could choose their partners. Of special relevance to this essay is the debate regarding individual choice specifically if parents and community members controlled the marriage of their children, or if couples had agency in the decision. Historian Diana O’Hara has addressed this debate with a nuanced approach by suggesting that youth had agency in marital decisions, but the opinions of family and friends were also an integral part of the process. This paper will apply this theoretical view and expand on it by considering the support that friends provided for males as they navigated romantic relationships.