A few months ago, I read an interesting blog post on Frances Hunter's American Heroes Blog that talked about William Clark and his two wives (sequential, not concurrent, by the way). Clark met the girls who became his wives when they were tweens (11 and 14, to be specific) and he was "just past 30," according to the blog. He eventually married the younger of the girls, Julia Hancock, when he was 37 and she was 16. As the blog author said, "...we may recoil with a certain ick factor today...."
The book I just finished had a similar "ick factor."
The book was The Chataine's Guardian by Robin Hardy, which is about a young princess whose father assigns a soldier as her guardian. The Chataine (Deidre) is 10 when the soldier (Roman) takes up his duty; he's 22. Over the course of the book, they fall in love and eventually marry. The first time in the story that there is an indication that Deidre and Roman will have a romantic relationship, I believe she was 12, which would have made him 24. I definitely felt the "ick" of the moment, even though I think Roman is an admirable character and an appealing romantic hero. I mean, that's like my daughter dating one of my students - ICK!
Today we would call a 28-year-old who dates a 16-year-old a pedophile (hey, I watch enough Law & Order: SVU to know, lol!). But as the blog post about William Clark points out, such marriages were nothing out of the ordinary throughout history. I also read Karen Cushman's novel Catherine Called Birdy, about a young girl who wants nothing to do with the marriage her father is arranging for her to a 40-year-old man for financial reasons. I suppose young wives would be preferred because they might have a longer time to produce an heir and because women had a shorter lifespan. It's not that far back into history when these May-December marriages were happening, either; William Clark married a woman 21 years younger only about 200 years ago. I wonder when the shift happened to having a man and woman be close to the same age when they marry. It would be interesting to find out. I bet it has something to do with economic conditions.
One reason I guess this issue caught my eye is because the relationship in my story borders on "ick." The main female character is 15, and the main male character is 21. Six years is not that much difference, but there have still been times when I thought, "He could go to jail if he did that today!"