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The original bundlers: Boaz and Ruth, and seventeenth-century English courtship practices.

On 12, December, 1969, Time magazine featured an article on The Society to Bring Back Bundling, which had been formed in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. Appearing in the religious column, it recounted tongue in cheek, that Christianity Today saw in the new society the "renascence of a fine old Puritan practice":

In Pottstown, Pa. teenagers have banded together in the Society to Bring Back Bundling, as a distinct improvement over the variable climate and other distractions of, say, the drive-in theater and dead-end street. Reports the magazine [Christianity Today]: "Parents and Preachers, roused by a badly bungled moral code, banned bundling: better heating in larger homes cooled it. Bundling has been rekindled by a spark from a new moral code." (1)

The supposed "revival" of bundling in the sixties was not part of the sexual revolution of those days. On the contrary, it was a nostalgic attempt to provide a warm, safe and "decent" alternative to the sexual encounters of young couples taking place in parked cars or deserted places.

However, these conservative and controlling aspects of bundling are not a twentieth-century innovation. To trace their sources one can turn to sixteenth-and seventeenth-century Puritan thought and practice. This paper offers a new tentative research orientation attempting to interpret the social place and meaning of bundling in early modern England. It will examine the socioreligious sphere of that era in an attempt to clarify the role played by godly preachers in their efforts to shape their own, and their audience's, ideas and attitudes toward premarital courtship practices. Rather than relating the question of bundling in early modern England to diaries, life stories or the church courts, as has usually been done, the interpretation will focus on a different source--namely, the contemporary understanding and representation of the biblical story of Ruth and Boaz.

The paper will try to demonsrtate how the night meeting of Ruth and Boaz at the threshing floor (Ruth 3) could have served as a kind of biblical example of pious, virtuous bundling. But first some clarification of the historical concept and practice of bundling would seem to be in order.

The Oxford English Dictionary offers as one of the definitions of the term "bundle": "To sleep in one's clothes on the same bed or couch with (as was formerly customary with persons of opposite sexes, in Wales and New England)." (2)

In her book on the history of American forms of courtship, E. K. Rothman defined bundling as a courtship practice in which an unmarried couple spend the night together, usually in bed, without undressing. Bundling was thus in many cases practiced with either explicit or implied parental permission. (3)

Lawrence Stone presented a similar definition of the custom in early modern England: "The practice of staying up all night together in the women's place of residence, after the old folks had gone to bed, either without their knowledge or with their tacit consent". (4) The custum of bundling gave a couple a socially approved means of assessing their sexual and general compatibility before entering into marriage. Bundling also had an obvious economic benefit in premodern times. On long, cold winter evenings, lying together under the bedcovers could save the cost of the candles and fires that would otherwise have had to be lit for the couple. In the words of an eighteenth-century ballad:

Since in a bed a man and maid,

May bundle and be chaste,

It does no good to burn out wood,

It is needless waste. (5)

In theory, bundling did not involve full sexual intercourse and should not have entailed the possibility of pregnancy and its consequences--namely, the need to marry. (6) In practice, however, the couple did not always remain chaste, and the distinction between innocent bundling and full penetrative sex was not always easy to maintain. (7) The vague line between, on the one hand, bundling that included merely "getting acquainted," through stimulation and mutual gratification and, on the other hand, bundling that culminated in penetration, is one reason for the terminological and statistical confusion about the custom in early modern Europe and America.

Scholars have attempted to either prove or refute the existence of bundling by checking the rates of premarital pregnancy and concluding from these satistics a parallel shift in mores. (8) But this approach reflects a rather narrow and perhaps "modern" perception of the sexual aspect of bundling. As Barry Reay has recently concluded, the anticipated marital relationship in early modern England offered "considerable room for maneuver,"

There is growing evidence of tolerance of sexual activity other than heterosexual sexual intercourse. References to kissing, mutual fondling and groping suggest that unmarried couples may well have limited their sexual activity within that frame, and that intercourse may not have had the centrality in people's desires that it has (for many) today. (9)

Bundling, like many other traditional customs, was not documented (and later calculated by scholars), as were premarital pregnancies. But the wealth of evidence regarding premarital sexual activity should serve as a reminder that full prenuptial sexual intercourse that ended in pregnancy is only a part of the whole picture, and the research on bundling should not rely merely on pregnancy satistics.

It is not the purpose of this article to offer a comparative study of premarital nonpenetrative sexual customs in early modern Europe. Yet it is worth paying attention to its prevalence and permutations. In Netherlands, for example, 'queesten' would probably be the comparable word for bundling; it is described as "the singular custom of wooing, by which the doors and windows are left open, and the lover, lying or sitting outside the covering, woos the girl who is underneath." (10) The Swiss-German counterpart was probably Kiltgang, signifying a noctural rendezvous, and the custom was also known in eighteenth-century Scandinavia (11). A variant of Kiltgang that shared the characteristics and purposes of bundling was the Fenstreln or Nachtfreien, widespread in early modern southern Germany. This was the practice of visiting one's sweetheart at night by climbing in through the window. (12) Like bundling, Fenstreln was a "communally accepted framework for ways of expressing desire, in which a woman did not risk pregnancy." (13) Additional references, anecdotes and stories about the custom of bundling are drawn from eighteenth-century America. (14) The first use the Oxford English Dictionary maintains for its definition of bundling is indeed from 1781. (15)

Despite the significant amount of evidence concerning eighteenth-century bundling practices, the question of their origin remains unresolved. Does it date back to the Middle Ages? Was it indeed equally widely practiced under the more stringent religious and moral codes of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in Europe? Or was this a new practice initiated by the more economically independent young couples of the eighteenth century? Could it be attributed to the growing demand for affection as the basis for marriage? (16) As a part from an ongoing research on social practices in early modem England, this paper will try to propose a tentative answer to some of these questions, concentrating for the time being on premarital nonpenetrative sex in late sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England.

"Bundling" in Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-Century England?

Until recently, two questions about sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English bundling were often mingled together. One was, did the practice exist at all in those centuries? Another was whether bundling was a custom of the lower classes only or was it found also in levels of society above that of servants and cottagers? A third question, one that has been generally ignored, was whether the label "bundling" can rightfully be applied to sixteenth- and seventeenth-century courtship practices. This is not a trivial issue, because the term "bundling" can only be accurately and precisely traced to the eighteenth century. (17) Is it possible to attribute a term to a period when, seemingly, English contemporaries were not familiar with it? This is a complicated question, with philosophical implications worthy of a separate discussion. (18) For the purpose of this article, however, suffice it to be aware of the fact that calling the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century custom of premarital sexual relations "bundling" is problematic--at least until some English evidence of the contemporary use of the word can be found. Nevertheless, by paying close attention to the transformation of the practice from the sixteenth century on, one can better understand the social mechanisms and impulses that lay behind the practice that began to be labeled as "bundling," probably at the beginning of the eighteenth-century, not with-standing that its main features had already been established earlier. (19)

A few years ago Lawrence Stone claimed that "There is now no doubt that British courting rituals [in the seventeenth century] involved the habit ... of 'bundling.'" (20) In his book about marriage in England between 1660 and 1753, Stone also demonstrated the existence of a bundling-like form of sexual courtship not just among the poor but also among middling and upper sorts. (21)

From another methodological standpoint, and in addressing themselves to sexual interactions in general and not exclusively to bundling, both Peter Laslett and Martin Ingram have come to a similar conclusion about the existence of a popular practice that included some kind of prenuptial sex. Although neither uses the label "bundling" to describe the practice, it is clear that aspects of the prenuptial sex they describe share features with what Stone and others prefer to call "bundling." Laslett has suggested that prenuptial sex, penetrative as well as nonpenetrative, was not just tolerated by society, but that local custom in some areas explicitly sanctioned and permitted sexual intercourse between couples before the marriage was solemnized in church. (22) Ingram is more cautious, stressing the ambiguity of popular attitudes as well as the church courts toward prenuptial sexual relations. Nevertheless, his research into the church court records of 1570-1640 have led him, too, to be convinced that a popular cu stom which included some kind of sexual relations between assigned couples existed in late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century England. (23) Richard Adair later concluded this line of argument by asserting that "the fact that pre-marital sex was common can hardly be denied, but the extent to which a spousal had to sanction it is more controversial." (24)

Preaching the threshing-floor

The historians and anthropologists who have written about bundling have used diaries, parochial registers and other types of "secular" materials. (25) Most of these scholars assumed that religious tracts would either merely disregard the custom, or condemn it, and that such sources would yield nothing meaningful about the practice itself. This assumption seems to be wrong, especially if one considers the way in which the biblical "example" of bundling--i.e., the encounter between Ruth and Boaz at night at the threshing floor (Ruth chap.3) was portrayed.

The Book of Ruth has often been described as one of the most literally "complete" short stories of the Bible. (26) The book begins with a background scenario of a Bethlehemite family, the parents (Naomi and Elimelech) and their two sons (Machlon and Chilion), sojourning in Moab because of famine in their homeland. The sons marry Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah. After ten years the father and both sons die, leaving three widows, Naomi, Orpha and Ruth. Ruth cleaves to Naomi and returns with her to Bethlehem, while Orpha remains in Moab. In order to support herself and Naomi in Bethlehem, Ruth, the poor Moabite stranger, gleans at the harvest, where she chances upon the field of Boaz, a wealthy and worthy Bethlehemite. Boaz gradually notices her and shows unexpected care for her. Naomi, encouraged by the success of Ruth's first steps, directs her on how to steer her relationship with Boaz toward a long-term resolution: marriage and offspring. She tells Ruth that Boaz is not just a worthy man but, as Naomi assumed at that moment, the next of kin to Ruth and herself. (27) As such, Boaz is obligated by the laws of the redeemer (28) to redeem Naomi--i.e, to marry Ruth and continue the family name and seed. Naomi presents Ruth with a detailed plan, and acting on this, Ruth goes at night, to Boaz, who is alone at his threshing floor. Ruth uncovers Boaz's legs and waits for his reaction. Boaz orders her to stay the night and promises he will marry her if the first of kin redeemer before him will give up his claim and responsibility. Ruth remains with Boaz until dawn. In the final scene Boaz, at a public forum at the town gate, maneuvers the other kin to yield his role by claiming that he is not interested in marrying Ruth. Boaz and Ruth marry and have a son, Obed. The story closes with a genealogy connecting King David through Obed and Boaz to Perez, Judah's offspring.

One can see in the threshing floor scene all the features of "bundling" as part of the coutrship ritual: the couple remain alone at night; the female partner's custodian is aware of the deed; the couple are together, probably without undressing; and marriage is the happy conclusion. Others have noted the similarities. In fact, the connection between premarital bonding and the Book of Ruth was treated in an interesting way in two significant collections of sermons on Ruth, published in London in the late-sixteenth- and early-seventeenth-century. Those two collections will serve as the main textual sources in the remainder of this paper.

The first collection, published in 1596, is a collection of sermons preached in East Hoathly, Sussex, by the divine rector and writer Edward Topsell, entitled "The Reward of Religion." (29) The second, published in 1628, was an adaptation of sermons preached by the popular Puritan writer Richard Bernard of Batcombe, Somersetshire, entitled "Ruth Recompense." (30) Their sermons on Ruth were far from the preacher's trademark. Topsell wrote mainly on zoological issues, and Bernard won his reputation for his catechisms and theological guides. (31)

What, then, brought Topsell and Bernard to choose the Book of Ruth as their point of departure? Ruth was not one of the more popular scriptural texts to be preached or written about (as compared to Genesis, Psalms, Job, etc.). One possible explanation may lie in the book's content, which deals with simple folk living a very simple life. There are no miracles in the book, no great theological or wisdom insights and only a very limited presence of God. Thomas Paine (1737-1809) noted with great irony, almost two hundred years after Topsell and Bernard, the nature of the book of Ruth:

The Book of Ruth, an idle, bungling story, foolishly told, nobody knows by whom, about a strolling country girl creeping slily to bed to her cousin Boaz. Pretty stuff indeed to be called the word of God! It is, however, one of the best books in the Bible, for it is free from murder and rapine. (32)

The reason both Topsell and Bernard chose to preach about such a "bungling" (and bundling) story lies, I belive, exactly in those features of the book highlighted by Thomas Paine and in the preachers' willingness to address such ordinary and prosaic themes as a "country girl creeping slily to bed." The pleasant, pastoral nature of the story on the one hand, and its special gender and class issues on the other, provided useful background for social and gender lessons, and both preachers made thorough use of these moitfs. (33)

Edward Topsell (1572-1625) was born in Sevenoaks, Kent. Thanks to the patronage of Lady Dacre (Margaret Fiennes), and her son, Sir Henry Leonard, he graduated his M.A. at Christ's College, Cambridge, in 1595. (34) In May 1596 he was appointed rector to East Hoathly and the same year sermonized there on the Book of Ruth. Two years later Topsell left East Hoathly to fill a long list of minor church offices, especially in the southeast. (35) In 1604 he received a tenural appointment as curate in St. Botloph, Aldersgate, London, where he died and was interred at the age of fifty-three. Although Topsell was not in any way a prominent figure in either the church or state, he won a considerable reputation thanks to his popular zoological works. (36) There is much in common between Topsell's zoological writings and his preaching: both were popularizations of complicated issues in order to draw practical lessons for contemporary social and religious reality. (37) Topsell's Reward of Religion was probably well receive d at its first publication in 1596, and was published three more times, in 1597, 1601 and 1613.

Topsell's sermons were preached in the midst of the economic and social crisis of the 1590s. 1596 was one of the most decade's severe years of scarcity, coming right after years of bad crops, disease and famine. The frontispiece of Reward makes the connection between the themes in the Book of Ruth and the sermons which are said to be: "Verie profitable for this present time of dearth, wherein many are most pitifuly tormented with want." (38)

The sermons are rich in detail concerning daily life, manners, morals, and insights into social and gender issues (39). The sermon dealing with the threshing floor scene is the eighth lecture and it focuses on Ruth 3:1 6.40 At the conclusion of this sermon Topsell tries to explain and justify Naomi's advice to Ruth to go by night alone to the threshing floor. The preacher was aware of the problematic associations and sexual connotations that could emerge from such advice:

"Let Not the man ..."(3:2).... Where it may seeme that Naomi counselleth her daughter an unlawfull thing, yea, rather to play the whoore, then to get her a husband by a lawfull meanes. (41)

All through his sermons Topsell tries to portray Naomi and Ruth as symbols of ideal womanhood who are guilty of no moral or religious offense. What should he do, then, with this "play the whoore"? Topsell deals with the problem by using a well-known preaching technique--namely, isolating a specific problematic scene from Scripture and placing it in a special context. Topsell argues that in the context of the Book of Ruth, there was nothing wrong with Naomi's advice or the behaviour of Ruth and Boaz. But what about applying it to the context of his own audience to the late-sixteenth-century? Topsell responds to this challenge by arguing that one should not draw a direct lesson, from Scripture on a specific point, as a behavior is only right and true according to the special conditions as they applied to a particular scriptural era:

And this may suffice any sober mindes, from suspition of Naomies connsell, Ruth dishonestie, or the religion of Boas ... But some will saye, if the matter will be so cleere as you will make it, then may we also follow the example and do the like. To which I answere, if any do so, it is much amisse: for we must not imitate every example wee reade of in the scripture ... therefore neyther must wee follow this example, not yet suspect the actions of eyther (42)

In the present context, claims Tosell, for a young woman to come to be with a man alone at night would be wrong: "If any do so it is much amisse."

If Topsell had finished his account of the nocturnal encounter between Boaz and Ruth thus, one could say that all we have here is a mild condemnation of some supposed "bundling" custom that Topsell is hinting at. But he goes on, making a distinction that is important for the present subject. Topsell argues that Ruth had no choice in selecting a husband because she had to marry her redeemer, Boaz. Refering of course to the Jewish biblical laws of redemption which see the marriage of the next of kin with his kinswoman as obligatory, Topsell draws a distinction between Ruth's era and his own. Unlike Ruth, says Topsell, we now have many choices: "we are free to many thousends." Because of that difference, Ruth could go to the threshing floor but we must not do so, warns Topsell, "except there bee a promise of marriage [between the couple]." (43) Thus, promise of marriage makes a significant difference here. What was true for Ruth and Boaz, who were, in a way, promised to each other (by the laws of the redeemer), may also be true, hints Topsell, for promised couples in his own day, but for them alone.

Behind Topsell's distinction between permissible "bundling" of promised couples and the sinful behavior of unpromised couples stand the tension and ambivalence of the end of the sixteenth century with regard to contracts of marriage, solemnized ceremonies in the church and promises of marriage.

From the twelfth century onward couples could contract unions using the present tense of the Latin words per verba de praesenti and be then considered married even without the presence of witnesses, parental consent or solemnization in the church. Such marriage contracts were called "spousals" or "handfastings" in England and were sometimes accompanied by a "sign and token" of kissing, money giving, etc. (44) The late medieval church fought against such secret contracts as well as against clandestine marriages, (45) and the decree of the council of Trent indeed invalidated all marriages not performed before a parish priest. (46)

In England similar marriage reforms were nor written into law until Lord Hardwicke's marriage act of 1753; (47) but in practice by the end of the seventeenth century most people from all ranks of society were being married in a formal public act and not by informal contracts. (48)

In place of the extra-ecclesiastical marriage contracts a new kind of commitment arose, one that included some kind of informal obligation but was not as binding as the former contract--namely, the "promise of marriage." (49) These promises were more a social convention than a recognized set of codes; they included a mere promise to marry, without specific words or actions. In many respects these promises corresponded to and replaced the spousal contracts.

It is reasonable to assume that exactly this type of promise, a less binding version of the earlier marriage contract, was in Topsell's mind when he portrayed Ruth and Boaz as a kind of biblical promised couple. But what were the moral implications of such a promise? Did it sanction the kind of "bundling" that had taken place between Boaz and Ruth? The answer is an ambiguous one. With regard to marriage contracts, moralists in the Middle Ages were usually in agreement, discouraging any kind of sexual relation before the marriage was solemnized in church. Nevertheless, voices of hesitation were heard from time to time and were manifested in the differing attitudes toward adultery and prenuptial sex." (50) It can be argued that by comparing the relationship of Boaz and Ruth to one not unlike that of a promised couple, Topsell implicitly permitted promised couples to bundle in the manner Boaz and Ruth did.

Topsell's sermons on Ruth were oriented to a comparatively low social classes. This is seen not just from his style but also from his ongoing concern for the problems of the weaker groups within the English society of his day, especially poor women, strangers and widows. His treatment of Ruth throughout his sermons and even his inventio were driven, first and foremost, by a care for the rights and status of the poor. It is in these very same lower strata of society, that one finds most of the evidence for the custom of couples staying alone together before marriage. In the words of one contemporary woman: "After a couple has talked of matrimony it is lawful for them to have a carnal copulation".(51) Obviously, this is not to claim that Topsell encouraged "carnal copulation" after a promise of marriage, but, rather, to suggest that he reluctantly accepted a kind of via media between penetrative premarital sex and unrealistic prenuptial purity.

A promise of marriage, as well as a marriage contract, put the young man and woman in a "liminal" and transitory stage, to use Victor Turners terms. William Gouge, who tried to clarify the contract position in 1622, said that ''contracted persons are in a middle degree betwixt single persons and married persons; they are neither simply single nor actually married."(52) Seen in that light one can speculate that Topsell's message, primarily addressed to the lower classes in East Hoathly, can be rightfully read as an edifying and fashioning text, a text which by using biblical exampla of Boaz and Ruth, could have laid before its licensers/readers a kind of legitimate option within the new religious boundaries for promised couples to practice a moderate version of physical intimacy--i.e., to practice bundling. By so doing, we assume, Topsell's teaching on the subject could have helped to clarify this cloudy period in courtship.

This fashioning of the prenuptial sexual norms was made much more explicit and complicated some thirty years later in Richard Bernard's sermons on Ruth, sermons designed for higher social classes. Richard Bernard, a prolific Puritan writer, was a significantly more prominent figure in the Jacobean church than Topsell had been before him. Bernard was born in Efworth, Lincolnshire, in 1586, and like Topsell, he graduated from Christ's College with the help of a patroness.(53) After graduating with a master degree in 1598, Bernard returned to Efworth, where he remained until 1601. His next stop was Worksop, Not-tinghamshire, where he was involved in an affair that ended with a quarrel with separatist groups that had settled around the area of Gainsborough and Scrooby. (54) Despite this and other quarrels, Bernard was considered a very popular preacher. During his stay at Worksop he wrote one of his more famous works, The Faithful Shepherd (1607), which was re-printed many times in the ensuing years.(55) This wor k, a practical guide to novice preachers, turned out to be, next to Williams Perkins's famous The Art of Preaching (1621), one of the most popular preachers' guides in England and the colonies.(5) In 1613 Bernard was appointed to the ministry at Batcombe, Somersetshire, where he eventually died in 1641. (57) While living at Batcombe, Bernard became a prominent figure in the gatherings of east Somerset preachers.

Bernard's most popular work from his Batcombe's days was the isle of Man (1626), which deals allegorically with the process of regeneration.(58) Two years after the first edition of Isle, Bernard's commentary on the Book of Ruth appeared in print, and it is reasonable to assume that Bernard hoped, on the basis of Isle's popularity, that his Ruth sermons should also be a great success. But, in contrast to Topsell's very popular sermons on Ruth, Bernard's appeared only once, in 1628. (59)

In Bernard's story, the hero is not Ruth, the ultimate "other," but Boaz, the rich and highborn landowner. Naomi too, but to a lesser degree, is portrayed as a heroine. In more ways then one, Bernard's messages are much more conservative and patriarchal than Topsell's, and they place more emphasis the hierarchical order of society. That said, one might ask what Bernard's inventio was in choosing so "plain" a story as the Book of Ruth. Why not choose, for example, the Book of Esther as a departure point for insights and lessons on gender, class and ethnicity? Were not his listeners more likely to be fascinated by and feel greater emotional identification with Esther and, in a way, even with the power and social status of Haman? Topsell had the "excuse" of hard times. But Bernard's sermons, as he explicitly asserted, were given during a time of relative prosperity.(60) It seems that Bernard's inventio lay more in his wish to deal not just with theological issues but also with "home[e]ly Historie" as he called t he Book of Ruth.(61) It is possible that searching for a means to preach about commonplace subjects to a social class whose social profile was on a par with the biblical Boaz, brought Bernard to concentrate especially on Boaz's behavior.

One of the main differences between Topsell's and Bernard's approaches lies in the way each explained Ruth's moral code in initiating the threshing floor scene. Topsell asserted that though Ruth's behavior was not to be imitated, in the scriptural context it was morally right. Bernard, however, claimed that even in her own context Ruth's behavior was wrong:

But here it may bee demanded, whether Naomi did well to advice Ruth to use this meanes, to trie Boaz his minde? The manner seemeth nor to bee good nor approoveable.... The example therefore of Ruth is not imitable.... It giveth no warrant for mothers to teach their daughters to play the harlots.... (62); A great show of evill: for she went to a wrong man, it was in night and alone to his alone, and after his feasting too; a too bold adventure ... (63)

The metaphor of the harlot is used once again, and Bernard does not bother to clear Ruth from the suspicion. He sees her nocturnal meeting with Boaz as a "too bold adventure," one that ought never to be imitated. With his audience in mind, Bernard worried not only about Ruth's sinful behavior but also about the implications of the gender dimension--namely, that a woman, Ruth, is the initiator here in a sexual tale. He warns his audience against adopting similar behavior:

Nor to allow young women to go to young men, and to give their bodies to be abused, in hope of marriage, nor to make night matches and meetings to procure husbands, whilest they hereby often make themselves whores, to their and shame and griefe of friends. (64)

The "night matches" Bernard refers to are not to be confused with "bundling." The former were conducted between couples who had no prior contract or even a "promise" between them; and although sometimes ending in marriage, these nocturnal meetings functioned as a getting acquainted device and as a way of "catching" a spouse, not as part of a courtship process. It was the sexual element in such "night matches" that Bernard considered a far greater sin than simple "bundling." The meeting of Boaz and Ruth however, was no "night match":

[Boaz] had an honest and true intent to marry her ... and rherefor hee would not offer her dishonesty; though many of unbridled affections make such opportunities, ready motives to themselves of abasing themselves one with another because (forsooth) they mind to marry. (65)

At first glance it might seem that Bernard is simply condemning here any form of sexual relations between couples before marriage. But a closer reading reveals a considerable amount of ambiguity in Bernard's words, an ambiguity that reflected the paradoxical gender and sexual codes shared by many Puritans.

The biblical story revealed that after Boaz understood Ruth's intentions in coming to him, he promised to marry her if the first next of kin would not (3:13). Bernard used this opportunity to speak about promises of marriage:

In that he [Boazi promise her marriage ... and so contracteth himself unto her, but yet de-futuro as it is said and conditionally ... we may note that it is lawfull to betroth and contract ourselves one to another before marriage.... This lawfull contracting is either conditioned, or absolute ... I take thee or I will take thee to be my wife. If conditional, then it bindeth no farther than one observing of the condition bindeth, for if that be not kept, the parties be free, unless they give their bodies in the meane space one to another. (66)

Two related points can be drawn from these last words. One concerns Bernard's attitude toward promises of marriage; the other concerns prenuptial connections.

Bernard draws here a very clear line between the "new" promises of marriage and the old medieval marriage contracts, and in so doing he gives "promises" the same legal weight as contracts. The difference lies in the de fururo and de praesenri tense, and not in the formal meaning of promise of marriage and marriage contract. Both Topsell and Bernard use the promise discourse for describing some kind of obligation between couples; but while Topsell maintained "promise" as a generalization, as an extension of the courtship relationship, Bernard was moving toward a clearer definition of "promises" and, in fact, traced its meaning back to the well--known "contracts."

Bernard was not alone in his approach. The formal practice of contracts was much preferred by many Puritans in the early seventeenth century, especially Puritans who were suspicious of the nonobligarory nature of the "promises. (67) Bernard's discourse on "promises" on the one hand, and the reference to "contracts" on the other, indicate the mingled use--in thought as well as in practice-- of these two social habitus, in the Bourdieuan sense, in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century. It is therefore intriguing to speculate, that there was a connection between the change in premarital nonpenetrative sexual customs and the transition between two types of marriage obligations. This suggestion calls for a much more detailed and regional research, but if holds true, the fluid codes of courtship behavior, the importance of premarital acquaintance, and the less-formal obligation connected to promises of marriage could have encouraged the use of controlled prenuptial sexual relationships.

This bring us to the second point: the calm way in which Bernard refers to the sexual relationship of promised couples prior to marriage. One might expect him not to miss this opportunity to speak against any kind of prenuptial relationship. But he passes over it--and nor by chance, I would argue. Moreover, right after mentioning those couples who "give their bodies," he claims the importance of knowing each other well before solemnizing the marriage:

These things are to be therefore considered of in contracts, used before marriage, for the parties better settling of their affections ... for the better acquainting themselves with the conditions and qualities of each other, and to fir themselves for house keeping, and more convenient living together, having made some honest provision before hand (68)

Bernard is not merely allowing some form of close relations after a promise of marriage; he is, in fact, emphasizing the necessity of such relations. Bernard is not alone in his attitude. Puritan literature concerning marriage and the right way to choose a spouse is vast. In many of the conduct books and sermons of Puritans the importance of the prenuptial acquaintance to ansure peace and harmony in the matrimonial situation is often emphasized. (69) In a society that sanctified the matrimonial state and lacked any real solutions for broken marriages, the possibility offered to the public in order to minimize this risk was to get to know the other person in depth before marriage. Jr is reasonable to assume, then, that this tension between early acquaintance and keeping some kind of physical distance before the actual marriage lies behind Bernard's ambiguous representation of the threshing floor scene. As long as the "bundling" is controlled, "innocent" and takes place between promised couples (as was the cas e with Boaz and Ruth), it was not seen as a sin. Moreover, one can regard it as a helpful way of making good matches that would last forever.

That Topsell's and Bernard's accounts of Boaz and Ruth's encounter at the threshing floor can be interpreted as representing a kind of "bundling" is supported by one more clue, a visual one, that comes from another direction. This interesting piece of evidence suggests also that Boaz and Ruth, as early as the seventeenth century, were perceived as the original "bundlers." In 1650 the Dutch artist Matthew Merian published his Bybel Printen, (70) an illustrated Bible with captions in Latin, German, English, and French, explanations in Dutch, and etchings by the artist to illustrate selected biblical scenes. To illustrate the Book of Ruth, Merian chose to represent Boaz and Ruth at the threshing floor. In the etching, Ruth is depicted wearing a see-through dress while stretching out alongside Boaz (see figure 1). Merian provided this caption: "Bold daring Ruth ... touches fire." The sexual nature of the etching certainly did not escape the public's attention. A contemporary Dutch pamphlet dealing with the origi n of bundling used the same etching as its frontispiece and gave it the title "The Original Bundlers." (71) Although not English in origin, this source points to what is proposed here as an associative connection between the biblical scene at the threshing floor and the contemporary understanding of bundling.

Sexuality, Social Class and Puritanism

Two important factors separate Topsell's and Bernard's teachings on Ruth as regards the bundling question: social class and a time lapse of three decades. While Topsell addressed himself mostly to the lower classes, Bernard had in mind a higher level of society. This is not to say that Bernard's commentary on Ruth is one more piece of evidence in support of the identification of Puritanism with the middle class, social control and polarization. (72) But as Reay claims:

The division between elite and popular does not loom large on the sexual grid: any notion of a coherent plebeian sexual culture in opposition to something called elite (or even middling-sort) respectability makes little sense in this period. This is not to deny social configurations, or the impact of the reformation of manners of those of middling status. It is rather to claim that the shared sexual culture of marriage and the assumption of reproduction ... were far more deeply etched in the social fabric. (73)

Following Reay, I would like to suggest that one cannot speak about a strict moral code that separated the middle from the lower classes, a code which included "bundling" as one of its features.

While the class difference does not loom large in this comparison, the three decades that separate Topsell's and Bernard's works on Ruth were important for the fashioning of Puritan beliefs. Peter Lake claims that the Puritans' words of that time should be read not just as a reflection of the practices and ideas of the godly but as the self-fashioning of their reality, social practices, ideas and behavior. (74) One can look on the way Bernard used the "bundling" example of Boas and Ruth as a part of this self-fashioning of the godly world. While Topsell was less interested in shaping a specific code of sexual behavior, Bernard, in his treatment of the threshing floor scene was in the process of defining for himself and his audience/readers a godly sexual code. Premarital nonpentrative sex as a part of courtship between promised couples could have had both positive and conservative connotations for sober Puritans in early modern England. Obviously, this is not to claim that nonpenetrative sex as a part of cou rtship was a seventeenth century English innovation. It can be probably traced back to the middle ages, and not just in England. However, since premarital nonpenetrative sex could help to ensure the perfect godly match, it could have been practiced in early modern England not merely as a compromise between the pious ethics and unlawful conduct, but also as a tool for fashioning the couple's sexual conduct before they entered the everlasting marital state. In that light, the "bundling" of Boaz and Ruth was in no way a one-dimensional negative example.

Lawerence Stone in his latter years declared that bundling was a "universal practice among the lower and the middling sort," and pointed to three special features of courtship practices in seventeenth-century England that would seem to be incompatible: delayed marriage, bundling, and the low level of bastardy. He maintains that the fear of social stigma and the Puritans' talk about damnation in the next world acted as contraceptive factors. Bundling in seventeenth-century England, as opposed to the eighteenth century, claims Stone, did not usually lead to full intercourse. (75) It seems that Stone was right when he connected the more innocent" bundling of the seventeenth century with Puritan ethics. By emphasizing only the repressive and "negative" side of the Puritans' teaching on bundling and its usefulness as a contraceptive factor, however, Stone overlooked the fact that the Puritans' self-fashioning on matters of sexuality was not onedimensional. Just as early modern sexuality as a whole was a "mix of c ontrol and self-control, ambiguity and contradiction, fluidity and unruliness, "76 50 too were the Puritan teachings about bundling ambiguous, complicated and rooted in contradictory impulses and rationalizations.

One is able to see bundling as an almost morally sanctioned option, and not just as a moral or legal offense, when one understands the custom as primarly a ritualized form of courtship, not just a social encounter: "Marriage, not sociability, was the issue," Laurel T. Ulrich points out. (77) If marriage was the issue, then one should not be surprised to learn that the Puritans reacted to the custom and maybe even tried to modify it so it would be appropriate to the changing social circumstances reflected in a number of spheres: in theological circles, which saw marriage as a kind of divine union; in contracts and marriage promises; in the growing demand for children's consent to matches being made for them; and in the Puritans' own tendency to regulate and control effectively all aspects of morality, including sexuality. Seen in this light, one can understand bundling not just as a subversive force in seventeenth-century England, but also a kind of protective force for parents and the couple, and a controlli ng and regulating one for godly preachers. (78)

An eighteenth-century New England songster pointed out to those "protective" features of bundling:

Care, Nance and Sue proved just and true,

Tho' bundling did practice;

But Ruth beguil'd and proved with child

Who bundling did despise. (79)

For the modern reader, who equates sexuality with intercourse, bundling may not seem an "appropriate" Puritan behavior. But in the early modern world, with its multisexual connotations, bundling could exist peacefully alongside harsh Puritan ethics.

"Tarry this Night"

Finally let us consider an etymological point that further illustrates the supposed connection in early modern imagination between the practical custom of bundling and the biblical example of Boaz and Ruth.

When Boaz asked Ruth at the threshing floor to stay the night (Ruth 3:13) the biblical writer used the Hebrew verb Lini which stems from the root lun meaning "to sleep, to stay for the night in one place." (80) Some Hebrew commentators, trying to explain the problematic sexual connotation of the threshing floor scene, used this particular form of the verb to exclude those connotations. Rashi (Rabbi Solomon bar Isacc; 1140--1105), the prominent medieval Jewish commentator, for example, who is known for usually emphasizing the literal sense remarked: "Lini ... lini (sleep) without a man." (81) The Volgata translated lini as quiesce , which means lying or resting in a bed. (82) The Volgata thus kept the original Hebrew connection between lun and sleep. But when looking at English Renaissance translations of the Bible, one can easily feel the uncertainty and hesitation regarding Lini. For example, Coverdale's Bible (1535) used the verb "sleep": "Sleep thou the night," while Rhemes-Douai (1582) used "Rest thou th e night." Translating Lini into rest no doubt causes Lini to lose some of its original meaning, which connects it to sleep and not just to rest. Do these nuances of translation suggest that some conscious or subconscious intentions were at work on the part of the translators (as was the case with Rashi) in order not to cast doubt and suspicion upon Ruth's conduct at the threshing floor or to avoid suggesting even the possibility that Ruth and Boaz slept together? (83)

The Geneva Bible (1560) and the KingJames version (1611) introduced anew verb to the roster: "to tarry": "Tarry this night." The English Oxford Dictionary offers several definitaions of "tarry," including one that relates to staying the night: "To abide, temporarily, to sojourn, remain, lodge (in a place)." (84) Ruth 3:13 is one of the few places where the word "rarry"--in the sense of passing the night--is used in the King James version. (85)

But what for the Geneva and King James translators had been a verb without sexual connotations became in later days nearly synonymous with bundling; "tarry" was defined in eighteenth-century America as "the practice of unmarried couples, partly undressed, occupying the same bed." (86)

The letters home of Lieutenant Anbury, a British officer who served in the American colonies during the American Revolution, point to the similarities between bundling and tarrying:

They still retain something similar, which is termed tarrying. When a young man is enamored with a woman and wishes to marry her, he proposes the affair to her parents.... If they have no objection, he is allowed to tarry with her one night, in order to make his court. At the usual time the old couple retire to bed, leaving the young ones to settle matters as they can.... They get into bed also, but without putting off their under garments, to prevent scandal. If the parties agree, it is all very well, the banns are published and they married ... if not they part and possibly never see each other again, unless, which is an accident that seldom happens, the forsaken fair proves pregnant, in which case the man ... is obligated to marry her, on pain of excommunication. (87)

One may assume that use of the term "tarry" for bundling or a bundling-like custom came from an effort to anchor the prevailing courting practice in the Scriptures--i.e., in the holy "tarrying" of Ruth and Boaz. This is not to imply anachronistically that the King James translators had in mind the later "tarrying" courtship custom when they chose the word "tarry" for lini, but to suggest that the cultural transformation of the term was connected in the early modern (as well as in the modern) imagination to the bundling story of Ruth and Boaz.

The threshing floor as a place with implicit sexual connotations in Topsell's and Bernard's sermons, in Merian's etching, and in the cultural transformation of the term "tarry" may be connected to a wider transition that is also reflected in the visual arts of that time. In the seventeenth century, the focus of artists' pastoral images shifted from the harvest procedures and equipment of the sixteenth century, to leisure activities related to the field--such as fishing, swimming, games and courtship, in the seventeenth century. Boaz and Ruth, too, tended to be depicted not only in their field meeting and conversation, with the tumult of the harvest around them, but, following Rembrandt in focusing on the pair, alone now, far from the harvesters; and between them the sexual tension is palpable. (88)

There were many ways in which one could have portrayed Boaz's and Ruth's behavior at the threshing floor. Between simply overlooking the sexual tension and plain condemnation of the night meeting, there was a wide spectrum of alternative exegetical options. By looking at the ways a few early modern English texts choose to depict the biblical scene and pointing to the cultural connection between "bundling" and Boaz' and Ruth's encounter at the threshing floor, this paper has tried to point to what can be seen as divines' increasing awareness of premarital non penetrative courtship practice. However, these preachers' words allow us to perceive not only this awareness but also what can be read as an attempt to modify the social practice so it would meet their socioreligious requirements. By offering a kind of conservative via media between full intercourse and no sexual contact at all, it seems that godly guidance, and not just economic needs or changes in Church legislation, could have had a potentially casual role in shaping, and in the same time, delimiting, sexual habits of popular as well as elite social classes.


I wish to thank Michael Heyd, David S. Katz, Avihu Zakai, Esther Cohen, Alon Kadish, Elisheva Baumgarten, Roni Weinstein, Daniel Baraz, Dror Yinon, Sharon Assaf, Ephraim Shoham, and especially Moshe Sluhovski for valuable comments and suggestions on drafts of this paper.

(1.) Time, 12 December, 1969, p. 36.

(2.) Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. "bundle".

(3.) E. K. Rothman, Hands and Hearts: A History of Courtship in America (New York, 1950), pp. 44-49; See as well the description in R. Goldson and K. Anderson, The Wordsworth Dictionary of Sex, (Hertfordshire, 1994), p. 33.

(4.) Lawrence Stone, Uncertain Unions and Broken Lives: Marriage and Divorce in England, 1660-1857 (Oxford and New York, 1995), p. 12.

(5.) "A New Song in Favor of Courting." Quoted in Henry Reed Stiles, Bundling: Its Origins, Progress and Decline in America (Albany, 1871), p. 92.

(6.) Lawrence Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800 (New York, 1977), p. 607.

(7.) As another 18th-century ballad says: "But bundler's clothes are no defence/ Unruly horses push the fence." Quoted in Stiles, Bundling, p. 88.

(8.) See, for example, D.S. Smith and M. Hindus, "Premarital Pregnancy in America, 1640-1971: An Overview and Interpretation," Journal of Interdisciplinary History 4(1975): 537-70; P. Caspard, "Conceptions prenuptiales et developpement du capitalisme dans la Principaute de Neuchatel (1678-1820)," Annales ESC 29 (1974): 989-1008. Cf. Peter Laslett, "Comparing Illegitimacy over Time and between Cultures," in P. Laslett, K. Oosterveen and R. M. Smith (eds.), Bastardy and Its Comparative History (Cambridge, Mass., 1980), esp. p. 59.

(9.) B. Reay, Popular Cultures in England, 1550-1750 (London and New York, 1998), p.11 and n.31; See also Tim Hitchcock's account of John Cannon's courtship practices, which included a variety of sexual encounters, and his conclusion regarding the nature of this "culture of non-penetrative sex," in his English Sexualities, 1700-1800 (New York, 1997), cap.3 esp. pp. 24-31.

(10.) Stiles, Bundling, p. 37, qouting Wieland's dictionary published in the 18th century.

(11.) Casperd, "Conceptions prenuptiales," p. 994-95.

(12.) See R. Beck, "Illegitimitat und voreheliche Sexualitsit aufdem Land: Unterfinning, 1671-1770," in R. Van Dulmen (ed.), Kultur der einfachen Leute (Munich, 1983), pp. 112-50.

(13.) H. Wunder, He Is the Sun, She Is the Moon: Women in Early Modem Germany (Cambridge, Mass., 1998), pp. 120-21.

(14.) Stiles, Bundling; Smith and Hindus, "Premarital Pregnancy in America"; Rothman, Hands and Hearts; L. T. Ulrich, Good Wives: Image and Reality in die Lives of Women in Northern New England, 1650-1750 (New York, 1982), pp. 122-23.

(15.) There is much evidence for eighteenth-century bundling from the northwestern fringes of the Old World: Wales, Scotland, the Netherlands and Scandinavia, and less from Germany, Switzerland and parts of France. For a general survey, see J.-L. Flandrin, "Repression and Change in the Sexual Life of Young People in Medieval and Early Modern Times," Journal of Family History 2(1977); E. Shorter, The Making of the Modern Family (New York, 1975), pp. 124; for France, P. Caspard, "Conceptions prenuptiales"; for Germany, R. Beck, "Illegitimitat und voreheliche Sexualitat". See as well the discussion on the European context in R. Adair, Courtship, Illegitimacy and Marriage in Early Modern England (Manchester, 1996), pp. 20-25. For the 19th century, see M. Drake, Population and Society in Norway, 1735-1865 (Cambridge, 1969) pp. 138-45 for Scotland, M. W. Flinn (ed.), Scottish Population History from the Seventeenth Century to die 1930's (Cambridge, 1977), pp. 350-67; T. C. Smouth, "Aspects of Sexual Behaviour in Nineteenth-Century Scotland," in A. A. Maclaren (ed.), Social Class in Scotland (Edinburgh, 1976); for Russia B. A. Engel, "Peasant Morality and Premarital Sexual Relations in Late 19th Century Russia," Journal of Social History 23(1990): 695-708. See also Stone's views on this issue in The Family, Sex and Marriage, p. 606, and 749 note 4; idem, Uncertain Unions, p.13.

(16.) On this last question, see Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage, p. 607.

(17.) Historians who wrote on bundling in the 16th and l7th centuries tended to ignore this problem. See for example, Stone, Uncertain Unions, p. 12-13.

(18.) On a similar methodological question, see the constructionist/essentialist debate over the epistemology of human sexuality in E. Stein (ed.), Forms of Desire: Sexual Orientation and Social Constructions Controversy (New York and London, 1990). See especially the essay by I .Boswell "Categories, Experience and Sexuality", pp. 133-73: "There is no Latin word for 'family' in the modern English sense.... Historians have not, however, concluded that there were no 'families' in Rome, but have concentrated instead on understanding the various consonances and dissonances of the ancient and modern concepts" (p. 143).

(19.) An interesting question connected to this issue is the precise point in time at which an ongoing custom gets a "name". Has it something to do with the spread of the custom? With the socialization and sanctioning of it?

(20.) Lawrence Stone, Road to Divorce: England, 1530-1987 (Oxford, 1990), p. 61. All of Stone's examples are from the period immediately after 1660; he does not refer to an earlier period

(21.) L. Stone, Uncertain Unions, chap. 3.

(22.) Peter Laslett, The World We Have Lost, 2nd ed. (1971) pp. 150-51; idem, The World We Have Lost Further Explored (New York, 1983), p. 168-69. Laslett wrote mainly on the middle class. As for the lower classes, G. R. Quaife, in a controversial work, claimed that among the peasantry free fornication as a part of courtship was the rule: Wanton Wenches and Wayward Wives: Peasants and Illicit Sex in Early Seventeenth-Century England (London, 1979).

(23.) M. Ingram, Church Courts, Sex and Marriage in England, 1570--1640 (Cambridge, 1987), pp. 227--30; see also, idem, "The Reform of Popular Culture? Sex and Marriage in Early Modern England," in B.Reay (ed.), Popular Culture in Seventeenth Century England (London, 1985), pp. 129--65. Ingram suggests that a change in attitudes regarding the practice took place around 1600 and was connected to the "broader pattern of the strengthening of public control over marriage entry and the hardening of attitudes towards sexual immorality" (Church Courts, p. 237). The articulation of that "strengthening of public control" was in the growing number of prosecutions for prenuptial sex and the emergence of prenuptial fornication as a distinct category worthy of punishment in some areas of England (p. 234--7). Ingram also points to a connection between the areas of growing persecution and the social and economic characteristic of those areas. See ibid., chap. 7.

(24.) Adair, Courtship, p. 146. While there is a consensus among social historians concerning the existence of sexual relations prior to marriage, not everyone is thoroughly convinced about the existence of bundling per se, especially among the middling sort. Eric Josef Carlson for example "found no example of the courtship practice of 'bundling'" at the time of the English Reformation." See E. J. Carlson, Marriage and the English Reformation (Oxford, 1994), p. 231. Richard L. Greaves also could provide no assurance and concluded that "the practice of bundling, if it existed in England in this period, received no comment." R. L. Greaves, Society and Religion in Elizabethan England (Minneapolis, 1981), p. 799 n.5. Other historians, among them David Cressy, have preferred to leave the existence and meaning of "bundling" in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England as unresolved matters. Cressy provided a vivid account of the courtship story of the Derbyshire yeoman Leonard Wheatcroft, based on Wheatcroft's mem oirs. At one stage in the long courtship period Leonard and his lady, Elizabeth Hawley, meet at Leonard's house and "for joy we so happily met together, we embraced each other all that night and the night after." This, remarks Cressy, may have been "bundling". see: D. Cressy, Birth, Marriage and Death: Rituals, Religion and the Life-Cycle in Tudor and Stuart England (Oxford, 1997), pp. 243-35.

(25.) See, for example, W. A. Champion, "A Case of 'Bundling' in Late-Sixteenth-Century Shropshire," Local Population Studies 35 (1986): 52; Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage, p. 606; Cressy, Birth, Marriage and Death, pp. 243--45; Carlson, Marriage and the English Reformation, p. 231. cf. Ingram, Church Courts, who did use some kind of religious tracts (p. 153--55), as well as Laslett, World ... Further Explored, p. 172.

(26.) See, for example, E.F. Campbell, Anchor Bible, Ruth, (New York, 1975), p. 3. Modem interpretation and criticism about the book of Ruth, especially from the feminist viewpoint, is very rich. See, for example, A. Brenner (ed.), A Feminist Companion to Ruth (Sheffield, 1993); P. Trible, God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality (Philadelphia, 1978), pp. 166--99; A. Phillips "The Book of Ruth: Deception and Shame," Journal of Jewish Studies 37 (1986): 1--17. For a detailed bibliography see F. W Bush, World Biblical Commentary (Austin, 1996), 9:2--4.

(27.) Naomi was wrong in this assumption, a fact revealed only when Boaz later tells Ruth that he is not her next of kin (Ruth 3:12).

(28.) The story of the Book of Ruth mingles two different laws of redemption. From Leviticus (Lev. 25:25--28), where the subject is the redemption of land, and from Genesis (Gen. 38), and Deuteronomy (Deut. 25:5--10), where the subject is the redemption of the family name. The writer of the Book of Ruth created an original new custom that corresponded to neither of them. On this point, see Y. Zakovich, Ruth, with Preface and commentary (Tel Aviv, 1990), pp. 22--24 (in Hebrew).

(29.) Edward Topsell, The Reward of Religion: Deliverd in sundrie lectures upon the Book of Ruth, wherin the godly may see their dayly inward and outward trials, with the presence of God to assist them, and in his mercies to recompence them..., published by John Windet 1596, further editions 1597, 1601, 1613. I have used the 1601 edition, which hereafter will be referred to as Topsell, Reward.

(30.) Richard Bernard, Ruth Recompence or a commentarie upon the Book of Ruth ... Delivered in severall sermons, the briefe summe whereof is now published for the benifit of the church of God ... published by Felix Kyngston, 1628, hereafter referred to as Bernard, Ruth.

(31.) This fact has led to some kind of scholarly distancing from both of these collections: they have been sporadically drawn upon but little research has hitherto been done on either of them. For examples of the occasional mention of selected paragraphs in these sermons, see Haller, The Rise of Puritanism (New York, 1938), p. 125, for Bernard's sermons. Keith Thomas "Cleanliness and Godliness in Early Modern England," in A. Fletcher and P. Roberts (eds.) Religion, Culture and Society in Early Modern Britain (Cambridge, 1994), pp. 56-83 (esp. pp. 62-67), is the only reference I could find in which both works are considered together, but only with regard to the very narrow question of cleanliness.

(32.) Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason, part 2, (London, 1795), p.23.

(33.) Another important feature of the Book of Ruth is the subject of ethnicity, though this was not one of the main interests of either Topsell or Bernard. The reason may lie in their emphasis on the topics more relevant to English society at that time.

(34.) DNB, s.v. "Topsell, Edward." The actual date of Topsell's graduation is questionable. See T. J. McMann "The Known Style of a Dedication Is Flattery: Anthony Browne, Second Viscount Montague and his Sussex Flatterers," Recusant History 19, no.4 (October 1989); and the introduction to a new edition of one of Topsell's zoological works: Edward Topsell, The Fowles of Heaven or History of Birds (1609), T. P. Harrison and F. D. Hoeniger (eds.), (Austin, Texas, 1972), p. xx.

(35.) During his ecclesiastical career a few other religious tracts and collections of his sermons were published, including an interesting sermon on the prophet Joel: Edward Topsell, Times Lamentation or exposition of the prophet of Joel, in sundrie sermons or meditations, published by E.Bollifant for G.Potter (1599).

(36.) His works included three books on animals based on the writings of the popular contemporary Swiss zoologist Canard Gesner. On Gesner, see Dictionary of Scientific Biography. s.v. "Gesner, Conard." On Topsell's use of Gesner's work, see C. E. Raven, English Naturalists from Neckam to Ray: A Study of the Making of the Modern World (Cambridge, 1947) pp. 217-26. On the nature of Topsell's zoological writings see the preface to the scientific edition of his book on the history of birds The Fowles of Heaven. In contrast to the scientific nature of Gesner's books, Topsell's were written with a popular audience in mind. They were intended--like many natural history works of the Middle Ages and the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries--to provide practical lessons for human behavior rather than information about the animals themselves.

(37.) Raven, English Naturalist, p. 220.

(38.) Topsell, Reward, frontispiece.

(39.) One of the most complicated methodological problems for scholars dealing with sermons as historical tool is the supposed gap between the oral "performance" of the sermon and the written text. A comparison between the language used in the dedication and the sermons themselves, as well as numerous inside indications in the written sermons about relevant local issues from the southeast of England in the 1590's, indicates that Topsell's sermons on Ruth did not change much in the transformation from one medium to the other. On the methodological question see for example, B.M.Kienzle (ed.), The Sermon (Turnhout-Belgium, 2000) p. 145-168; M. Saperstein, Jewish Preaching 1200-1800: An Anthology (New Haven, 1989), pp. 5-26. Saperstein deals mainly with methodological questions relating to Jewish preaching. But his discussion is relevant also in the Christian context. On preaching as a "performance," see P. Collinson, "Elizabethan and Jacobean Puritanism as Forms of Popular Religious Culture," in C. Darnton and J . Eales (eds.), The Culture of English Puritanism, 1560-1700 (Hampshire and London, 1996), pp. 46-50.

(40.) Topsell, Reward, pp. 154-71.

(41.) Ibid., p. 169.

(42.) Ibid., p. 170.

(43.) Ibid., p. 171.

(44.) Ingram, Church Courts, p. 132; Ingram, "The Reform of Popular Culture", p. 141. See also M. Ingram, "Spousals Litigation in the English Ecclesiastical Courts, c. 1350u c.1640," in R.B.Outhwaite (ed.), Marriage and Society: Studies in the Social History of Marriage (London, 1981), pp. 35-57, esp. pp. 53-54.

(45.) For a summary of the difference between spousals and clandestine marriage, see Adair, Courtship, pp. 139u48.

(46.) S. Ozment, When Fathers Ruled: Family Life in Reformation Europe (Cambridge, Mass., 1983), pp. 25-37.

(47.) Ingram, Church Courts, p.132 based on Cardwell (ed.), Reformation of Ecclesiastical Laws, pp. 39-40.

(48.) Ingram, Church Courts, 133; idem, "Spouslas Litigation," pp. 42-44, 52-53 and esp. p.55

(49.) Ingram, "The Reform of Popular Culture?" p. 143. Not everyone is in agreement with Ingram as to the exact moment of decline in formal marriage contracts. For a summary of the various opinions on the matter, see Adair, Courtship, pp. 142-48. Adair is right in claiming (p.146) that regional nuances are needed, and there are different levels of formality to be taken into account. Even if contracts of marriage were declining a bit earlier or later then 1560u1700, it is agreed that the early 17th century had features of a transitional period between contracts of marriage and informal promises. Adair gives one example among many of the ecclesiastical fight against spousals: Law 69 of the 1667 list issued by the bishop of Sodor and Man stated: "No use to be made of the words of matrimony, except during a legal service for the Solemnisation of the rite" (p. 145 n.86).

(50.) John Downame, in the 1609, for example, saw no problem in couples kissing and embracing before actual marriage, so long as it was done "after a civil and honest manner to express ... love one to another" Foure treatises tending to diswade all christians from swering (1609), pp. 196u201. See Ingram. Church Courts, pp. 154-56, 236; Laslett, World ... Further Explored, p. 172. Laslett points out, for example, that William Gouge, as well, took the direction of relative tolerance.

(51.) Quoted in S. D. Ammussen, An Ordered Society: Gender and Class in Early Modem England (Oxford, 1988), p. 110.

(52.) William Gouge, On Domesticall Duties (1622) p. 199. On Gouge's explanation Lawrence Stone comments: "If this was the best a professional theologian could do, it was hardly surprising that the laity were confused" See L. Stone, Road to Divorce: England 153 0u1987 (Oxford, 1990), p. 78.

(53.) He was supported by the two daughters ofSir Christopher Wray, one of the prominent high judges on the Queen Bench. The younger daughter, Francis, married the earl of Warwick, and as the countess of Warwick is mantioned in the dedication of a few of Bernard's works, including his commentary on Ruth. see, DNB, s.v. "Benard, Richard."

(54.) After this quarrel Bernard turned to more conformist ways, at least from the point of view of the authorities, while some of his former separatist colleagues sailed on the Mayflower in 1620. On his complicated relationship with the separatists, as seen in retrospect from New England a few decades later, see: P. Collinson, "Sects and Evolution of Puritanism," in F.J. Bremer (ed.), Puritanism: Transatlantic Perspectives on a Seventeenth Century Anglo-American Faith (Boston, 1993), pp. 158--59.

(55.) Richard Bernard, The Faithfull Shepheard ... Wherein is ... set forth the excellence and necessitie of Ministrie ... (1607); The Faithfull Shepheard ... Wholly transposed and Made Andew ... (1621).

(56.) On the Faithfull Shepherd, see, for example, J. Morgan, Godly Learning; Puritan Attitudes towards, Reason, Learning and Education, 1560--1 640 (Cambridge, 1986), p. 88; W.Haller, The Rise of Puritanism, p. 137.

(57.) On the circumstances of Bernard's appointment in Batcombe, see Fincham, Prelate as Pastor, The Episcopate of James I (Oxford, 1990), p. 193--94.

(58.) Richard Bernard, The Isle of Man: or, the legall proceeding in Man-shire against sinne ... (London 1626); (repeat editions 1627, 1628, 1629, 1630 ... 1640).

(59.) Over time, the work become very rare and expensive and in the 19th century it was reprinted in Nichol's series of Puritan commentaries. Ggrosart, in his preface to that edition, held forth on the merits of the work: "The work now reprinted is perhaps as perfect an example of all Bernard's merits as any that could be selected. It is expository, doctrinal, practical, 'savoury', and full of living applications to everyday experience and life. It abounds in apothegms and compressed thoughts that cleave to the memory. It has hitherto been excessively rare and costly." Grosart, in Nichol's edition of Ruth Recompence,

(60.) See, for example, Bernard, Ruth, p. 30. It is true that some areas, especially in the north and west, suffered economic crises in the 1620s (notably around 1623), but crises were local, not national, in character. See, for example, J. Walter and R. Schofield, Famine, Disease and Crisis Mortality in Early Modern England (Cambridge, 1989), pp. 3 1--32; K. Wrightson, English Society, 1588--1680 (London, 1982) pp. 144-45.

(61.) Bernard, Ruth, p p. 237--38. Bernard's willingness should be seen together with other Puritan preachers of his age who searched for the plain style. See P. Miller, The New-England Mind: The Seventeenth Century (New York, 1939), pp. 335--47.

(62.) Bernard, Ruth, p. 267.

(63.) Ibid., p. 274; emphasis mine.

(64.) Ibid., p. 267.

(65.) Ibid., p, 303.

(66.) Ibid., p. 294; emphasis mine.

(67.) See, for example, William Gouge's words on the subject of contracts in On Domesticll Duties (1622), pp. 198-199,202--3.

(68.) Ibid., p. 294.

(69.) That is of course one reason that many Protestants, including Puritans, give such importance to the child's consent to the marriage and limit the power of parent in choosing a spouse for their child. The literature on this topic is vast. See, for example, Rosmary O'Day's summary of the research: The Family and Family Relationships, 1500-1900: England, France and the United State of America (Hampshire and London, 1994), pp. 148-51; Adair, Courtship, pp. 133-39.

(70.) Matthew Merian, Bybel Printen, vertoonende de voormaemste historien der Heylige schrifture, konstigeh afgebeelt door Matthaeus Merian.... (Amsterdam, 1659?).

(71.) On that see W. E. Phipps, Assertive Biblical Women, (London, 1992), pp.66.

(72.) See P. Lake's article that mapped the different views on the connection between puritanism and the middling sort: P. Lake, "Defining Puritanism-again"?, Puritanism; Transatlantic Perspectives on Seventeenth Century Anglo-American Faith, (Boston, 1993), pp. 12-9; Lake touches on the works of Ingram, Underdown, Hunt, Spufford and of course, Collinson.

(73.) Reay, Popular Cultures, p. 34.

(74.) Lake, Defining Puritanism, pp.17-18. Lake is paraphrasing Pocock in this matter and is expressing the views of S. Greenblat. M.Todd, "Puritan Self-Fashioning", Puritanism: Transatlantic Perspectives (Boston, 1993), pp. 57-87 adopts this same methodological line when she offers a new reading of the diaries of Samuel Ward. She sees in them less a reflection of a Puritan reality than Ward's attempt to fashion Puritan identity for himself, an attempt influenced of course by the Renaissance inclination toward self-fashioning.

(75.) Stone, Road to Divorce, pp. 61-62

(76.) Reay, Popular Cultures, p.33.

(77.) Ulrich, Good Wives, p. 122.

(78.) The "protective" side of the custom of bundling is evident also in 18th century Puritan preaching which preferred bundling to 'sitting on sofa'. The Puritan preacher Samuel Peters (1735-1826) claimed that: "bundle ... a custom as old as the first settlement in 1634. it is certainly innocent, virtuous and prudent, or the puritans would not have premitted it to previl among their offspring ... I am no advocate for temptetion, yet must say, that bundling had prevailed 160 years in New-England, and I verily belive, with ten times more chastity than the sitting on a sofa. I had daughters and speak from near forty years' experience ... Quoted in Stiles, Bundling, p. 53-5. These features of "Puritan bundling" were very vividly interpreted in the 18th and 19th centuries. In Pennsylvania a wooden "center-board" was placed in the bed, between the bundlers in order to prevent the danger of too close physical contact. See the illustration on the cover of A. Monrose's pamphlet on bundling: Little-Known Facts about B undling in the New World (Pennsylvania, 1938). For more on the conservative aspects of bundling, although in the 19th century, see C. Smout, "Aspects of Sexual Behavior in Nineteenth-Century Scotland," in P. Laslett, K. Oosterveen and R. M. Smith (eds.), Bastardy and Its Comparative History, pp. 192-246, esp. p.211.

(79.) Stiles, Bundling, p. 98. See also Ulrich, Good Wives, p. 123.

(80.) A. Even-Shoshan (ed.), Hebrew Dictionary (Jerusalem, 1982), s.v. "lun"

(81.) Rashi, Commentary on Ruth 3:13.

(82.) Note that in other places the translation of the verb was not similar. For example, in Numbers 22:8 Linuo po Ha-Laila is translated as Manete hic nocte.

(83.) English translators of the Old Testament usually the choose "lodge" or "spend the night" for lun. See, for example, Gen. 32:21; Judg.19:13; Neh. 13:21. On this point and the whole subject of the English Renaissance biblical translations of Ruth see I. Rashkow, Upon the Dark Places: Anti-Semitism and Sexism in English Renaissance Biblical Translation (Sheffield, 1990), pp. 119-51.

(84.) Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. 'tarry."

(85.) Examples of other places are Gen. 1:.2, 24:25; 2 Sam. 19:7. See R. Young, Analytical Concordance to the Bible, p. 961. Young counted 29 different meanings for "tarry" in the Bible, only 10 of which have the sense of passing the night.

(86.) A Dictionary of Americanisms, ed. M.Matthews (1951) s.v. "tarry".

(87.) Lieut. Anbury, Travels through the Interior part of America; in a series of Letters (by an officer, a new edition, London, 1781), 2:37-40, 87-88, cited in Stiles, Bundling, pp. 70-71. Stiles is not in agreement with Anbury on the exact features of tarrying as opposed to bundling, see Stiles, Bundling, p. 72. One hundred years after Anbury penned his letter, the Victorian historian Daniel Dorchester described bundling and tarrying as two identical courtship habits: "The mode of courtship known as 'bundling' or 'tarrying' then prevalent in certain portions of New England, and which delicacy forbids us to explain, doubtless promoted unchastity. It was brought over by some of the early emigrants, and strangely flourished side by side with Puritanism morals through a considerable part of the colonial. ... Besides the Connecticut Valley, it prevailed among the people of English and German extraction." Daniel Dorchester, Christianity in the United States (New York, 1888), p.218. as cited in W. E. Phipps, Asser tive Biblical Women, pp. 66-67.

(88.) On this shifting emphasis and the reasons for it, see the interesting article of Linda Vardi, "Imagining the Harvest in Early Modern Europe," American Historical Review (December 1996): 1375-79.
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Author:Fischer-Yinon, Yochi
Publication:Journal of Social History
Article Type:Critical Essay
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Date:Mar 22, 2002
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