An Honors Fellow and history major on her way to graduate school has researched courtship practices and the nature of love in England during the reign of Henry VIII.
By Caitlin O’Donnell ’13
It would seem that true love today might look much the same as it did hundreds of years ago.
Inspired by a hit cable television drama, an Elon University Honors Fellow is presenting research this week in which she sheds light on courtship and marital practices through the lenses of social class, gender and location in England from the late 1400s to the early 1700s.
Danielle Damren’s undergraduate research originally found its genesis in “The Tudors,” a fictional drama about the reign of Henry VIII. Damren was a fan of the show and wanted to compare and contrast Anne Bolyn and Jane Seymour, two of Henry’s wives, but the project soon morphed into a broader study of the nature of love in Tudor and Stuart England.
Those findings, the first to be featured this week in a series of E-net stories on students taking part in the university’s CELEBRATE! program, will be on display April 23 during the Spring Undergraduate Research Forum.
“Love throughout time is something that can exist,” she said. “It just has to exist within the confines of other things that are indicative of the time.”
For her Honors thesis, Damren studied letters exchanged between lovers as well as birth, marriage and work records, and her conclusions have challenged common preconceptions about the nature of love during the time period. While images of 14-year-old brides and planned marriages might come to the minds of many – Damren included – she found that real love was, in fact, present in relationships.
“It’s a very dynamic emotion and it’s something that people today will recognize within these relationships,” said Damren, a history major from Westwood, Mass. “Some relationships did experience love and some did not, the same ways we do now.”
Her primary case study included an analysis of correspondence between two young lovers named Maria and Thomas, as well as letters exchanged between the boy’s parents. The younger couple, both from the upper class, was clandestinely married at 16 and served as inspiration for the story of Romeo and Juliet. “Their relationship is so cute and very familiar,” Damren said. “They have sexual innuendos in all of their letters.”
Her work with court documents and other written records unearthed interesting realities about the nature of love during the time period. For example, she said, 30 percent of brides were pregnant at the altar.
In addition to the SURF presentation, Damren publicized her work earlier this month at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research at the University of Wisconsin at LaCrosse.
This fall, she will enter a one-year graduate program at the University of Oxford to pursue a degree in visual material and museum anthropology. Her ultimate goal is to consult at museums and historic sites to study how visitors are connecting with exhibits. Making content more relevant and accessible for the average visitor is important, she said.
“I think museums have this connotation of being boring and dull and I think a lot of them are, but I think there is a lot more that could be learned for the average person who isn’t a history buff,” Damren said. “History has important implications for everybody. It’s just a matter of how you take and receive them and that can influence your understanding of it.”
CELEBRATE! Is Elon University’s annual, weeklong celebration of student achievements in academics and the arts. For more information, visit elon.edu/celebrate.