In the civic world of late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century London, moral discipline made the sexual and marital lives of women and men a public concern. The invocation of moral rules in language and litigation reveals a culture in which ideas of honesty, virtue, and honour were the weapons of both gender relations and social relations. The business of the church courts, ruled as it was by the prescriptions of canon law, was also shaped by popular participation. Litigation about marriage contracts came to focus on the broader proofs of affection, words, and tokens that told a much fuller story of pre-conjugal relations. Plaintiffs for marital separation followed popular morals in suing cases distinguished rigidly by gender, enlarging on the basic allegations of adultery or cruelty with stories that covered a whole range of perceived violations of conjugal relations.
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