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24 Feb 2018

The Teenagers

When I first heard that Henry VII's mother was only 14 at the time she have birth to him I was understandably appalled.

It is very rare in my family for couples to marry below the age of 21, and I can only think of one example where the bride was below 18. That was Mercy Haine an orphan who married at 16 in East Pennard, Somerset, sailed to Prince Edward Island and gave birth to her first child the following year, 1834 age 17. She was a remarkable lady having 12 children in all and becoming the first lady of the Island.

Consequently, I was highly sceptical of the published dates of Hannah Bagshaw (1792) and her eldest son John (1808). Was she only sixteen? I ignored the problem as she was a healthy 34 when my ancestor Milly came along in 1826.

We eventually found the marriage for Hannah to Mr Bagshaw and it was in 1807 so she was in fact only fifteen. I had never heard of such a marriage. It took place in Rotherham where the records were shockingly bad. Money must surely have changed hands with the clergy here.

Hannah's daughter Milly and Milly's daughter both had their first child age 19/20. So this makes already the generations of young relationships, 15, 20, 19.

Going back into Hannah's past was going into the unknown. Her father's mother was only sixteen when she got married back on Christmas Day 1767 in Dudley.  Dudley at Christmas would be bad enough perhaps... (I'm sure its lovely!)

Hannah's mother marries at the church of the unusual spire, Chesterfield, and the record is beautifully kept - unlike that of the next generation at Rotherham. We don't know her age for sure but with a husband of 23 she has to be fairly young. The handwriting says as much. We think she was 17, as a candidate of that age fits all the naming patterns and biographical setting.

So we have Ellen 19, mother Milly 20, mother Hannah 15, mother Ann 17?, mother in law Sarah 16 (and her mother 19). At least five generations of inexperienced women becoming wives and mothers, surely a recipe for disaster and social ills.

I am absolutely not condoning the circumstances under which these women might have lived, but they were not sixteen forever. They lived, mostly, to become wise elders offering counsel and guidance to the next generation.

This series of episodes remained hidden in our family tree until last year but covers I suppose the periods 1767-1808 plus 1846-65. I am aware that at least two of the girls were in service when they fell pregnant, while two may have been romances and the other a rational choice to escape a family situation.

Sarah has then the dubious honour of being my youngest six x great-grandmother. I recently walked in her footsteps of the family move in south Staffordshire from the 1750s.

There is more yet to find about these folk.

Research on age at marrying:
From Average Age at First Marriage for Women in Mid Nineteenth Century accessible by NFR Crafts, 1976, shows the estimated median age at first marriage for women in Staffordshire (1861) was 22.4, whilst for women in Derbyshire it was 23.2, a full year older. Those in the Westcountry and the Welsh borders added another year on top before marrying. Habakkuk (1971) found that urban classes married earlier than their rural counterparts, adding that urbanisation is therefore a major cause of population growth. Crafts argues against this believing that infant mortality (in the time in question) countered out the earlier marriage dates.

Even in 2014, women in Wolverhampton were still marrying at an age two years younger on average than those in Derbyshire. Fertility across the two areas is dauntingly higher in Wolverhampton, too, see here and here. The younger relationships which happened in Derbyshire can be explained by illegitimacy.

Further reading:
Population Growth and Economic Development since 1750 in History Review. Habakkuk, 1971
Age at Marriage in England from the late Seventeeth to the Nineteenth Century in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society. R B Outhwaite, 1973.
Age Patterns of Marriage, Population Studies. A J Coale, 1971.