Bourgeois marriage in the 19th centurye century

Bourgeois marriage in the 19th century<sup>e</sup> century

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  • Signature of the marriage contract of Prince Jérôme Bonaparte and Frédérique-Catherine of Wurtemberg.

    REGNAULT Jean-Baptiste (1754 - 1829)

  • Extract from the marriage certificate of George Sand and Baron Casimir Dudevant in September 1822.

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Title: Signature of the marriage contract of Prince Jérôme Bonaparte and Frédérique-Catherine of Wurtemberg.

Author : REGNAULT Jean-Baptiste (1754 - 1829)

Creation date : 1810

Date shown: 22 August 1807

Dimensions: Height 400 - Width 646

Technique and other indications: Oil on canvas. Full title: Signature of the marriage contract of Prince Jérôme Bonaparte and Frédérique-Catherine of Wurtemberg in the presence of the imperial family at the Tuileries, August 22, 1807.

Storage place: National Museum of the Palace of Versailles (Versailles) website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - D. Arnaudet / C. Jean

Picture reference: 78-000217 / MV1558

Signature of the marriage contract of Prince Jérôme Bonaparte and Frédérique-Catherine of Wurtemberg.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - D. Jean

To close

Title: Extract from the marriage certificate of George Sand and Baron Casimir Dudevant in September 1822.

Author :

Creation date : 1822

Date shown:

Dimensions: Height 0 - Width 0

Technique and other indications: September 1822.

Storage place: Carnavalet Museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: © Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

Picture reference: 04-506273

Extract from the marriage certificate of George Sand and Baron Casimir Dudevant in September 1822.

© Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

Publication date: March 2011

Historical context

The secularization of marriage

Marriages concluded in the upper middle class in the 19th centurye century allow us to realize the importance of the religious ceremony in relation to the civil ceremony and to measure the weight of arranged marriages. This situation specific to the Ancien Régime has hardly changed since its end, despite the many changes that have taken place in matrimonial legislation under the Revolution and then the First Empire.

On September 20, 1792, putting an end to the Church's millennial monopoly on matrimonial jurisdiction, the National Assembly endorsed the secularization of marriage, now viewed as a civil contract concluded in the presence of a civil officer. These revolutionary measures were not adopted ex nihilo : they have well-known antecedents. The ideas launched by the philosophers of the Enlightenment and the Gallican jurists in favor of a marriage free from religion influenced the positions of the Assembly, but it was above all the indignation aroused in 1790 by the Talma affair, an actor who was refused the right to marry by the parish priest of Saint-Sulpice, who played the role of trigger.

If concessions were subsequently made to the law of 1792, in particular during the Concordat of 1801 which re-established religious marriage, the Civil Code of 1804 nonetheless confirms the main provisions: it reaffirms the primacy of civil marriage over religious marriage, its compulsory celebration by a civil officer in the municipality of residence in the presence of four witnesses, and fixes the course of the ceremony, borrowing certain features from religious marriage. The documents analyzed here clearly show that the new matrimonial legislation had very limited consequences in the wealthiest social strata.

Image Analysis

Marriage formalities

Marriage records are full of information about the institution of marriage itself. Such is the case of the one which was drawn up on September 17, 1822 on the occasion of the marriage of Aurore Dupin, future George Sand, descendant of one of the largest families in Europe, with Baron Casimir Dudevant, also rich heir. This union, decided upon when the young woman was only eighteen, took place in accordance with tradition: publication of the banns (here in two churches, whereas they should in principle be at the gates of the town hall), engagement, nuptial blessing, celebration of the marriage by the civil officer in the presence of witnesses, written recording of the event.

As a rule in the nobility as in the upper bourgeoisie, the marriage contract, a legacy of the Ancien Régime, also serves to preserve family interests. Drawn up and signed before a notary before the actual ceremony, it specifies exactly the contribution of each spouse, the fate of their property during their lifetime and after their death, and sets the financial provisions that will govern their life together. The marriage of Napoleon I's younger brotherer, Prince Jérôme Bonaparte, just placed at the head of the Kingdom of Westphalia, with the daughter of the King of Württemberg, Princess Frédérique-Catherine, on August 22, 1807 gave rise to such a contract. His signature, all the more important as this union brought diplomatic and territorial interests into play, was the subject of an imposing ceremony, which Jean-Baptiste Regnault (1754-1829) immortalized in 1810: the Seated Emperor on his throne in coronation habit, alongside the Empress Joséphine, welcomes the future spouses who advance towards him in the presence of the entire imperial family gathered at the Tuileries. This sumptuous work in monumental format is a good illustration of the splendor with which Napoleon surrounded himself at the height of his power.


Silver marriage called into question

Matrimonial deeds and contracts show that, in most cases, the ruling classes seek to maintain or even increase their fortune through marriage. In a context increasingly marked by the bourgeois ideal and by the reign of money, unions are concluded between individuals of equivalent status and fortune, and misalliances are rare.

XIX literaturee century is abundantly echoed by this bourgeois spirit, in often virulent terms. Thus Balzac with the short novel entitled A marriage contract (1835), where he denounces the financial negotiations that underlie social and romantic relationships, or even George Sand who, quickly disappointed by his own marriage, championed gender equality and demanded the right for women to love.

Relayed by doctrinaires like Marx, these criticisms formulated against money marriage do not however succeed in shaking the foundations of bourgeois moral conformism, and it will be necessary to wait until the following century for marriages of love to become commonplace. and that the woman is emancipated from the marital tutelage. In this regard, the text by Léon Blum, Marriage, published in 1907, marks a turning point, although it has aroused great controversy. In this book, which constitutes a formal attack on the institution of marriage, he calls for gender equality and sexual freedom for both women and men.

  • bourgeoisie
  • imperial dynasty
  • Bonaparte (Jerome)
  • wedding
  • alliance policy
  • Bonaparte (Napoleon)
  • Blum (Leon)
  • gender equality
  • Sand (George)


Honoré de Balzac, A marriage contract, 1835.Fernand BRAUDEL, Economic and social history of France, volume III "The advent of the industrial era, 1789-1880", Paris, P.U.F., 1976. Jean-Claude BOLOGNE, History of marriage in the West, Paris, Lattès, 1995. Jean GAUDEMET, Marriage in the West, Paris, Ed. du Cerf, 1987.Francis RONSIN, The sentimental contract: debates on marriage, love, divorce, from the Ancien Régime to the Restoration, Paris, Aubier, 1990.

To cite this article

Charlotte DENOËL, "The bourgeois marriage in the XIXe century "

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