Wedding season is upon us. Are you getting ready to walk down the aisle in a few weeks? Are you newly engaged? Or are you thinking of taking the marital plunge with that wonderful man in your life?
Before you say "I Do" here's some timeless wisdom from two famous brides of the Revolutionary Era that today's brides will want to include in their wedding plans.
Meet the voluptuous Boston brunette, Lucy Flucker 1756-1824), the wife of General Henry Knox, and the blonde Philadelphia belle, Peggy Shippen (1760-1804), the bride of Benedict Arnold. Both were 18 when they wed and both enjoyed long, happy marriages. But despite youthful passions and the high-ranking positions of their men, each faced a series of daunting challenges. How did they cope and what did they learn?
Here are five marriages rules that stand the test of time:
1. Heed the opinions of well-meaning relatives and friends -- they may sense something you cannot in the heat of love. Chances are, you'll think their concerns overly critical. Yet there's probably at least a grain of truth to their comments -- more than you care to know.
Lucy's parents, for instance, warned her that Henry Knox was not a wealthy man and that if she married him, she would "eat the bread of poverty and dependence." Young Lucy scoffed but during and after the Revolution, as Henry scrambled to make ends meet, the words of Lucy's parents came back to haunt her.
2. Assess your potential mate's passions, interests, gripes and ethics.
In 1778, after the then-military American hero Benedict Arnold proposed to Peggy Shippen, her father worried about rumors that his daughter's boyfriend was unethical. Peggy, nevertheless, insisted upon marrying Arnold in April 1779. But Daddy was right: Not only did Arnold turn traitor against America, but enlisted young Peggy to help with his treason. As a result, Philadelphians rioted and exiled Peggy from the United States.
3. Don't plan on changing him. It's not necessarily so easy. In the first flush of passion, it's natural to assume that once you're married, you'll have the power to improve certain things about your man. While marriage can have a positive impact upon both spouses, certain personality factors are unlikely to change.
Just before Peggy wed, Arnold confided his bitterness towards his fellow human beings. " I daily discover so much... in gratitude among mankind that I almost blush at being of the same species." Peggy, a charming, sociable young woman, attempted to calm Arnold's vitriolic reaction to slights then and later when they lived in England and New Brunswick. But it was useless: Arnold continued to quarrel with his associates, engaged in a duel and remained a difficult man for the rest of his life.
4.Expect to compromise and ensure your mate is willing to do the same.
Lucy and Henry were both good compromisers. Even during the male-dominated era of the Revolution as Henry become a major general and Washington's Chief of Artillery, Lucy reminded him that there was "there is such a thing as equal command in marriage." In 1777 when Henry ordered Lucy to return to Boston to submit to a dangerous a smallpox vaccination, she did. During the historic Battle of Yorktown that essentially ended the Revolution, Lucy begged Henry to write. Amazingly, he addressed love letters to her from " Trenches before York." Extreme cases of compromise?
Of course! Still, they represent the essence of compromise -- an essential ingredient in a happy marriage.
5. Resolve to retain a healthy amount of independence in your marriage. For contemporary women, the ability to work and make independent decisions about our lives is assumed. But love is tricky and even today some women become excessively dependent upon their men.
For a traditional 18th century woman, Peggy was unusual. While she began married life as a dependent young women, Arnold's escapades and financial instability panicked her after her children were born. By the time she was in her thirties, she was stashing away her pension from the queen for her "services, which were very meritorious" to the crown, invested in bonds and funded the educations of her five children.
None of these bits of wisdom can guarantee a happy marriage but they can go a long way to creating one help build one. Luck and unpredictable life circumstances, of course, may intervene. As Peggy wrote towards the end of her life "Marriage is but a lottery."
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Based on the book Defiant Brides: The Untold Story of Two Revolutionary-Era Women and the Radical Men They Married by Nancy Rubin Stuart (Beacon Press).