Spicksley, Judith Mary
Doctoral Thesis, Department of Economic and Social History, The University of Hull, June (2001)
Marriage, during the Tudor and Stuart periods, has been, and continues to be, the subject of a vast amount of literature. Celibacy, on the other hand, has drawn relatively little historical attention. In many ways, such a bias is understandable. Marriage formed the basic economic, social and political unit of early modem society, the estate through which goods were produced and consumed, children educated and nurtured and young people trained and supervised appropriate to their gender and status. Moreover, a reading of the contemporary literature suggests that the institution of marriage enjoyed quasi-universal acceptance: only a minority of individuals apparently lived out their days without ever having entered its boundaries.
Since the 1980s, however, it has been apparent that rates of marriage fluctuated dramatically over the course of the early modern period in general, and over the Tudor and Stuart periods in particular. Estimates of the proportion of those ever marrying suggest that numbers entered into a pattern of decline during the later sixteenth century that was not arrested until almost a century later. Yet despite such revelations, there has been little academic scholarship on the subject of celibacy in the intervening decades. Within the confines of historical demography there have been a number of attempts to isolate the factors that were instrumental in eliciting lower rates of marriage, on the grounds that the rising proportion of the never-marrieds offers the most probable explanation for the demographic stagnation of the seventeenth century.