Lawrence Stone’s book ‘The family sex and marriage in England 1600-1800’ is one of controversy and contrasting opinions about marriage in the medieval era. As a medievalist historian, Stone puts forward a conflicting perspective when it comes to the medieval family unit in providing a new interpretation of the medieval family unit. In producing such a notorious argument, Stone provided the beginnings of the debate that has now surrounded the medieval family. His work, has had a mixed reception in the history community sporting conflicting ideas about his distant view on marriage. Lawrence's book challenges the aspects of the making of marriage and the patterns of family relationships that have never before explored so closely.
The main subject matter of the book, argues there were multiple reasons why relations between men and women changed in Medieval England. In his anthology, Stone opens himself to counter attack from other medievalist historian when he states that there was hardly any love in English marriages before the eighteenth century, famously taking a ‘hard line’ when it comes to the view of medieval marriages. Throughout his book he questions the factor of love present in matrimony and has came to the idea that marriage was seen more of a pack with mutual rights and individual tasks. Stone also demonstrates the modern relevance of these radical changes when he states that there are three key features of the modern family that can be clearly seen in the medieval family unit.1
According to Alan Macfarlane, Stone’s ‘book provides an interesting example of the way in which a set of assumptions shapes the historian's evidence.’2 Stone sets major themes throughout his book while examining social attitudes and how they influenced family relationships, successfully displaying this when he uses an amalgamation of public and personal documents. One review concludes that ‘Stone's book helps to confirm and add depth to the current paradigm of the development of the first industrial nation.’3 Although Stone has been criticised for using select information to frame his argument, he has self confessed his own mistake.4
One of Stone’s prominent views, was his interest to studying the mentality of society in the medieval era when he states that the most important change in ‘mentalite is to have occurred in the early modern period.’5 In accepting the Annales School’s view in which there was a larger stress on the social rather than the political or environmental themes Stone presented a new way to look at history. Although rejecting the creation of ‘laws’ of history in the manner of Karl Marx, Stone’s argues that the most anyone can conclude is a generalization about a particular century. In focusing on the social theme, Stone combines the ideas of sociology and anthropology in his book.
Individualism is a key theme in the book, Stone argues that it was in the sixteenth century that distinct roles formed in marriage that caused...