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A Marriage of Minds

The pioneers of friendship as we know it today. Dr Thomas Dixon's absorbing history of friendship over the centuries. From March 2014.

Social networking appears to be expanding our circles of friendship just as our sense of community is contracting: Dr Thomas Dixon presents a timely history of how the meaning and experience of friendship have changed over the centuries.

Episode Two: A Marriage of Minds

Having launched the series by exploring the close-knit but instrumental friendships which most people experienced in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Dr Thomas Dixon turns to the elite ideal of friendship as expressed in classical writers such as Aristotle and Cicero, and as lived out by Renaissance men such Thomas More and Erasmus.

He looks into the continuing influence of these emotional "friendships of choice". Today we take such friendships for granted but in the seventeenth century they were available only to those who had the time, money and education to pursue them.

It was commonly believed that only men had the capacity for such friendships but Thomas Dixon reveals how women too were beginning to spread their social wings. He tells the story of the Welshwoman Katherine Philips, a published poet and the wife of a wealthy landowner, who argued that since the soul has no gender, then friendship - a mingling of souls - was equally available to both men and women.

Producer: Beaty Rubens.

Available now

15 minutes

Further Reading

Alan Bray, The Friend (University of Chicago Press, 2003)


Laura Gowing, Michael Hunter and Miri Rubin (eds), Love, Friendship and Faith in Europe, 1300-1800 (Palgrave, 2005)


Frances Harris, Transformations of Love: The Friendship of John Evelyn and Margaret Godolphin (Oxford University Press, 2002)


Keith Thomas, The Ends of Life: Roads to Fulfilment in Early Modern England (Oxford University Press, 2009), Chapter 6: ‘Friendship and Sociability’

The History of Emotions blog

Read a series of specially commissioned blog posts supporting the BBC Radio 4 series ‘Five Hundred Years of Friendship‘.

Mark Vernon, ‘Philosophy and the art of friendship’

Laura Gowing, ‘Friends without words’

Amanda Herbert, ‘Female alliances’


What makes friendships last?

What makes friendships last?

How familial, instrumental and emotional bonds keep people connected over many years.