Part Two--Courtship & Marriage

by Michelle J. Hoppe 

I have heard it said that a title does not make a gentleman, but rather his manners. Truthfully, any titled male is a gentleman, but that does not necessarily means he acts appropriately. And there are those of the lowest birth who are the truest of gentlemen.

So what exactly is a gentleman?

A true gentleman is true to himself, is of moral strength and is thoughtful of others. He regards the rights and feelings of others, sometimes at his own expense. So how does this translate into manners? We saw the early part of his life in Part One of this article.  Let's follow him into courtship and marriage....


Perhaps the most important time in a man's life for him to exhibit proper behavior is when he is courting a young woman.  This is his opportunity to impress both the girl and her family.  He must take care not to do or say anything that would harm his chances for marriage, if in fact, that is what he wants. 

During the early stages of a gentleman's adulthood, he is free to socialize with young ladies and invite them to parties and outings.  He need not center his attention on any lady in particular.  It is only when he is serious about a young lady and contemplating marriage that he should single out her attention.     

Likewise, it is injudicious of a gentleman to make a proposal after too brief an acquaintance.  There should be thorough knowledge of the young lady before matrimony is ventured upon.  If during courtship he discovers they are not suited for each other, he can withdraw his attention as long as no promise binds them.  If, however, he decides upon marriage, he should not seek out the attention of other women.  His attentions must now be centered upon the woman he chooses as his wife.

A gentleman should defer to the lady's feelings, as well as her family's, when offering his hand in marriage.  He should not propose to a girl if she or the family opposes the union.  And neither would a gentleman carry on a clandestine courtship behind the family's back.

It is preferable that a gentleman propose in person.  If the lady turns him down, he may ask her again, for her feelings may change.  But he should never press the issue past two or three attempts.  If the lady agrees to marry him, he should seek out her father or nearest friend to ask approval.  If the father does not agree to the union, the gentleman must respect his decision and rescind his offer of marriage. He should never allow a lady to enter into a union of which her father doesn't approve.

Once an agreement is reached, the gentleman buys the lady an engagement ring.  It should be as handsome a present as he can afford.  Once they are engaged, he is duty bound to spend most of his leisure time with her.

No man should drag a girl into a long engagement, but neither should he propose until he is prepared to provide for her.  He should not assume a masterful or jealous air during their betrothal.  Trust and confidence should guide his actions. 

A lady should not be too demonstrative of her affection during the engagement.  Nor should the gentleman pressure her into any such demonstration, lest by some chance he does not become her husband.  It would harm her reputation.  A gentleman's demeanor remains respectful and decorous throughout their engagement.

A gentleman should never break an engagement.  However, if the lady wishes it, he must comply with her decision with dignity.  All gifts, letters and portraits should be returned to the giver in this instance.


This part of the courtship is an article in and of itself as far as manners and dress.  For more detail, see the articles on Victorian Weddings.  (Links below)


A gentleman should provide a furnished home for his wife in which to start their future together.  His constant duty to his wife is to be ever kind and attentive, even sacrificing his own personal comfort for her happiness.  His evenings and spare moments should be devoted to her.

Business should not exclude attentions due to wife and family, although a proper husband should keep his wife informed of his business affairs.  She may be able to give him valuable advice.

In household matters, he defers to his wife.  But it is his duty to accompany her to church, to social gatherings, to lectures and other places of entertainment.  He should not go to a social gathering or entertainment at night without her.  In addition, if a place is not fit for his wife, is it not fit for him.

A gentleman should give his wife perfect confidence, and trust implicitly in her honor at all times and in all places.  He should remain faithful and constant to her, and give her no cause for complaint. 

To summarize a gentleman's behavior, I leave you with this quote from Etiquette: Rules & Usages of the Best Society.

"The husband, in fact, should act towards his wife as becomes a perfect gentleman, regarding her as the 'best lady in the land,' to whom, above all other earthly beings, he owes paramount allegiance."

Would we ask for anything more?


See also: Manners For Men--Part One--As a Single Man


Manners for Men by Mrs. Humphry, a facsimile reproduction of an 1897 publication. Reprinted by Pryor Publications, Kent, England,1993.

Etiquette: Rules & Usages of the Best Society, reprinted by the Promotional Reprint Company, Ltd., Leicester, 1995.

Similar books are available for purchase in our on-line bookstore in the non-fiction section.

Also see the Researching the Romance page of Literary Liaisons for more suggestions.

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