When a Woman Hates Her Husband: Love, Sex and Fruitful Marriages in Early Modern England

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If spouses’ ‘hearts be not united in love’, their seed could not ‘unite to cause Conception’, the seventeenth-century astrologer-physician, Nicholas Culpeper noted. The authors of early modern medical and conducttexts argued that marital compatibility and harmony were necessary for a union to be fruitful. But wherehistorians of sexuality have assumed that such exhortations spoke to the centrality of sexual pleasure, maleand female, to conception, this article contends that having a happy and procreative marriage required farmore than achieving a certain measure of enjoyment in sex. Working out whether a prospective spousewould be suitable was a complex process that took into account social, financial, emotional, bodily, reli-gious and astrological similarities. Drawing on conduct manuals, childbearing guides, medical casebooksand the accounts of two unhappy wives, Anne Dormer and Sarah Cowper, this article shows that while theframeworks of compatibility and incompatibility in medical and conduct literature seemed to offer a wayfor talking about unavoidable and conscionable disagreements and childlessness, there was considerablepressure on women, rather than men, to overcome unhappiness and ensure fruitfulnes
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)523-541
Number of pages19
JournalGender & History
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • early modern
  • Gender
  • marriage
  • Fertility
  • Medicine


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