The Art of Making a Match

Patricia Haverton

If you’ve read my latest novel, Perfectly Mismatched with the Duke, then you already know that it revolves around a matchmaker who refuses to allow herself to fall in love…and a Duke, whose meddling mother is so determined to find him a suitable spouse as soon as possible, that she ends up employing our heroine to find him one!

Of course, nothing works out the way our dear Duchess wants, and our heroes are in for many a surprise before they finally reach their happily ever after.

As I’ve already mentioned, the heroine of this book, our dear Alexandra, is a matchmaker with a flourishing business. And while this is merely a historical romance novel, such businesses were indeed a thing!

Matchmaking is one of those elements that you know are there in historical romances, but you don’t get to see much of. It is understandable, considering what we want to see is the budding relationship between the heroes, but what these novels—mine included—often fail to show is how important a part matchmaking played in marriages.

Matchmaking goes as far back as human relationships go, and many consider it a form of art. I do too! It takes a considerable amount of forward thinking and insight to “read” two people and determine whether they are compatible or not. It demands a lot of practical thinking too, which is why I’d be a terrible professional matchmaker.

I’m such a hopeless romantic, you see, I’d simply want to match everyone!

As terrible as I’d be as a professional though, I’ve dabbled in a bit of matchmaking over the years myself and I’m pretty sure you have too. We all have a friend or two that we know would be great together.

Come on, don’t be shy!

We’ve all been there, I assure you! 

The point is, ss long as people have entered into relationships, people have been matchmaking. And the matchmakers who facilitated these matches, were figures considered worthy of respect.

Choosing a life partner was often viewed as far too complicated a decision for young people on their own, and from Aztec civilization to ancient Greece and China, their elders (often women) intervened to make sure they had the right kind of suitor. 

Britain’s early tribal groups arranged marriages as a strategic tool to ensure their inheritance of, and continued dominance over, land, wealth and status. Parents sought to match their offspring with partners at least as wealthy as themselves but often strived to make a profit. 

The consent of the future bride and groom was of little to no importance to these matchmakers, and all of the arrangements were simply made on their behalf. 

In 1140 however, the Benedictine monk Gratian brought the concept of consent into formalized marriages through his law book, Decretum Gratiani. This work would go on to inform the church’s stance on marriage throughout the 12th century. 

From here on, there would be more to marriage and matchmaking than just land and property. Matchmakers now needed a keen eye for a couple who could live together harmoniously and enjoy each other’s company—as well as each other’s inheritance. 

The first matchmaking agencies in Britain appeared in the 1600s when parish vicars played a crucial role in matching their parishioners with a spouse from the same social class.

Matchmaking didn’t relinquish its ties to religion until 1825, when the first non-religious dating agency opened its doors in London though the focus was still on matching clients within their own class. 

So far so traditional, I’d say!

But matchmaking throughout human history has had its irreverent moments…

Why don’t we have a look?

A Matchmaker Is Mentioned In The Bible And He Felt Strongly About Being Nice To Camels

The matchmaker, or shadchan, remains an important figure in some Orthodox Jewish communities, and has a pretty ancient lineage: the first example shows up in Genesis in the Bible, and is performed by a dude. The episode involves the servant of Abraham, Elizier, selecting a bride for Abraham’s son by observing women by a well. His ultimate choice was made based on what scholars now call “the camel test.” Rebekah, a young woman from the village close to the well came to fetch water from the well for her own family, but gave some to both Elizier and all his camels. Given that there were ten of them, this was some feat of generosity. Rebekah passed the test with flying colors!

-Rebekah at the Well with Eliser, the matchmakers on behalf of Abraham for Isaac, detail. Nicolas Poussin, 1648, oil on canvas, 118 × 197 cm, Paris, Musée du Louvre

Greek Matchmakers Were Master Gossipers

Ancient Greek matchmakers operated, essentially, as telegram-carriers or go-betweens. Always women, the promnestria, as they were called, did all the negotiations for two families wanting to marry; they made the approach, took messages, and, most importantly, reported their personal opinions of prospective spouses to hopeful brides and grooms. It’s likely that some pairs in this arrangement didn’t meet each other at all until the wedding day!

However, whoever said that such a profession does not come with certain risks?

If the marriage were to prove unhappy, the blame fell entirely on the promnestria, and that often meant going out of business or even being shunned by society!

Ancient Chinese Matchmaking Was Dictated By Swallows

The Ancient Chinese were very attuned to the changes of their environment, and many of their beliefs were heavily influenced by the seasons and the altering nature.

According to texts, the coming of the swallows every spring to raise their young symbolized to matchmakers that the “season” for setting up young people had begun, and that they could make the relevant sacrifices to the gods (an ox, a sheep and a pig).

As with other animals and plants, the eggs of swallows carried certain symbolism: fertility and nobility.

Have you ever heard of the legend of Jiandi? She was one of Emperor Ku’s many wives, and one of the best-known. Ku’s son Xie, born miraculously to Jiandi after she swallowed the egg of a black bird, became the predynastic founder of the ruling family of the Shang dynasty.

-WANG Xuetiao artist style. Original, Hand Painted Chinese painting.

In Ancient Japan, There Were Matchmaking Competitions

These competitions were massive, thus giving the participants the opportunity to meet potential spouses from outside their own villages or towns. These festivals took place in both spring and autumn as, similarly to the Chinese, the Japanese associated these seasons with new beginnings and the formation of new life.

Spring Blossom In Maldives. Flamboyant Tree I. Japanese Style is a photograph by Jenny Rainbow which was uploaded on March 29th, 2012

Aztec Matchmakers Did Everything!

Marriage for the Aztecs was considered a family affair. Individuals did not have any say in the selection process, and the parents would normally consult a fortune teller, who could, based on birth dates, predict the future of the marriage. Normally, a pair of older women, called cihuatlanque, would negotiate between the families. The tradition called, then, for a meeting of the girl’s family to assess the proposal and obtain permission of all the family members.

After this, the marriage ritual would be celebrated next to the home, with the bride and groom sitting next to each other while they received gifts. The old women would tie a knot in the shirt of the groom and the blouse of the bride. From that moment on, they were married!

Can you guess what else Aztec matchmakers did?

They put newly married couples to bed!

Now, whether that included solely leading the couple to their chambers or offering other types of advice, it remains unclear!

-Aztec Solar Calendar,

Victorian Matchmakers Were Tough Nuts To Crack!

If there was one thing the Victorians were good at, it was keeping a tight watch on the behavior of young women of marriageable age.

The “season” was declared open around Easter in Court and closed on the 12th of August.

If they didn’t make a match between those dates…things were grim!

Even more so if the young ladies did anything that put their reputations under scrutiny. Being seen with the wrong person at the wrong place could mean a life of spinsterhood, even for daughters of esteemed members of the ton. Many matchmakers would turn down such clients, as they were considered “hopeless cases.”

During the Victorian Era, women were allowed extremely limited contact with the men who courted them. Matchmakers often played the part of chaperone for potential spouses and they were often the ones serving as go-between, asking the questions and driving the conversations.

Well, well! Have I put you in the mood for love?

Perhaps a walk along a tranquil river with an interested party?

Sounds good, right?

But hey…

Hey, wait!

Take your matchmaker with you, hon!

Written by Patricia Haverton

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