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NewKidOldKid
05-29-2012, 04:47 PM
I have two characters that need to get married quickly. She's not pregnant, but there are other reasons they need to make things legal within a matter of days of making the decision. He's wealthy and she's a high-society lady, in case that makes a difference.

Can they get married in a private ceremony, just the two of them? No party, no guests. I'm having trouble finding information about this. Google gives me a lot of info on courting and the legalities of marriage, but no details of the process itself.

mirandashell
05-29-2012, 05:20 PM
I think the only way they could do it would be to go to Gretna Green.

Google 'Gretna Green elopements' and you should get a lot of hits

NewKidOldKid
05-29-2012, 05:28 PM
I think the only way they could do it would be to go to Gretna Green.

Google 'Gretna Green elopements' and you should get a lot of hits

I read about that, but I thought it was just meant to be for characters who were too young to marry in England. Both of my characters are over 21, so I was hoping they could get married by having the priest come over to the house and say "ok, you're married."

Not that easy, huh?

Priene
05-29-2012, 05:28 PM
I have two characters that need to get married quickly. She's not pregnant, but there are other reasons they need to make things legal within a matter of days of making the decision. He's wealthy and she's a high-society lady, in case that makes a difference.

No. Banns (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banns_of_marriage) had to be published on three consecutive Sundays before the wedding. If they were Church of England, these had to be published in both their home parishes, though Catholics and non-Conformists had different rules by then. But in England has always been considered a public ceremony, so doing it privately would always have been problematic. Unless they went up to Gretna.

EDIT: Actually, the eloping rich, if there was such a thing, probably wouldn't have married at Gretna, since its only advantage was proximity to England. The rich probably would have somewhere like Edinburgh.

NewKidOldKid
05-29-2012, 05:35 PM
No. Banns (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banns_of_marriage) had to be published on three consecutive Sundays before the wedding. If they were Church of England, these had to be published in both their home parishes, though Catholics and non-Conformists had different rules by then. But in England has always been considered a public ceremony, so doing it privately would always have been problematic. Unless they went up to Gretna.

Ok, so I need to do more research on Gretna, then. Waiting three weeks and doing things publicly would not work for the story, so I guess they're eloping. It's sort of inconvenient, because I wasn't expecting them to travel and now I need to include that in the plot. Ugh.

Thanks for the link, Priene. Much appreciated!

jclarkdawe
05-29-2012, 06:29 PM
This is from Wikipedia, so take it with a grain of salt. However, I was aware of special licenses from long ago and far away, so I think it's pretty accurate.


A requirement for banns of marriage (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banns_of_marriage) was introduced to England (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/England) and Wales (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wales) by the Church in 1215. This required a public announcement of a forthcoming marriage, in the couple's parish church (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parish_church), for three Sundays prior to the wedding and gave an opportunity for any objections to the marriage to be voiced (for example, that one of the parties was already married), but a failure to call banns did not affect the validity of the marriage.


Marriage licenses were introduced in the 14th century, to allow the usual notice period under banns to be waived, on payment of a fee and accompanied by a sworn declaration, that there was no canonical impediment (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canonical_impediment) to the marriage. Licenses were usually granted by an archbishop (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archbishop), bishop (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bishop) or archdeacon (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archdeacon). There could be a number of reasons for a couple to obtain a license: they might wish to marry quickly (and avoid the three weeks' delay by the calling of banns); they might wish to marry in a parish away from their home parish; or, because a license required payment, they might choose to obtain one as a status symbol.


There were two kinds of marriage licenses that could be issued: the usual was known as a common license and named one or two parishes where the wedding could take place, within the jurisdiction of the person who issued the license. The other was the special license, which could only be granted by the Archbishop of Canterbury (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archbishop_of_Canterbury) or his officials and allowed the marriage to take place in any church.


To obtain a marriage license, the couple or more usually the bridegroom, had to swear that there was no just cause or impediment why they should not marry. This was the marriage allegation (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allegation). A bond was also lodged with the church authorities for a sum of money to be paid if it turned out that the marriage was contrary to Canon Law. The bishop kept the allegation and bond and issued the license to the groom, who then gave it to the vicar of the church, where they were to get married. There was no obligation, for the vicar to keep the license and many were simply destroyed. Hence, few historical examples of marriage licenses, in England and Wales, survive. However, the allegations and bonds were usually retained and are an important source for English genealogy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genealogy).

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marriage_Act_1753)
Hardwicke's Marriage Act 1753 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marriage_Act_1753) affirmed this existing ecclesiastical law and built it into statutory law. From this date, a marriage was only legally valid, if it followed the calling of banns in church or the obtaining of a license—the only exceptions being Jewish (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judaism) and Quaker (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_Society_of_Friends) marriages, whose legality was also recognized. From the date of Lord Hardwicke's Marriage Act, up to 1837, the ceremony was required to be performed in a consecrated building.
Since July 1, 1837, civil marriages have been a legal alternative to church marriages, under the Marriage Act 1836 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marriage_Act_1836), which provided the statutory basis for regulating and recording marriages. So, today, a couple has a choice between being married in the Anglican Church (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglicanism), after the calling of banns or obtaining a license or else, they can give "Notice of Marriage" to a civil registrar (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civil_registration). In this latter case, the notice is publicly posted for 15 days, after which a civil marriage can take place. Marriages may take place in churches other than Anglican churches, but these are governed by civil marriage law and notice must be given to the civil registrar in the same way. The marriage may then take place without a registrar being present, if the church itself is registered for marriages and the minister or priest is an Authorised Person for marriages.


The license does not record the marriage itself, only the permission for a marriage to take place. Since 1837, the proof of a marriage has been by a marriage certificate (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marriage_certificate), issued at the ceremony; before then, it was by the recording of the marriage in a parish register (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parish_register).

The provisions on civil marriage in the 1836 Act were repealed by the Marriage Act 1949 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marriage_Act_1949). The Marriage Act 1949 re-enacted and re-stated the law on marriage in England and Wales Gretna Green was not the only approach.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

NewKidOldKid
05-29-2012, 06:35 PM
This is from Wikipedia, so take it with a grain of salt. However, I was aware of special licenses from long ago and far away, so I think it's pretty accurate.

Gretna Green was not the only approach.

Best of luck,

Jim Clark-Dawe

Jim, thanks! A license would really solve the problem. I'm going to do more research on this and see what else I can find. But it seems a church license is the fastest way to do this and would require no waiting time.

Priene
05-29-2012, 09:31 PM
Jim, thanks! A license would really solve the problem. I'm going to do more research on this and see what else I can find. But it seems a church license is the fastest way to do this and would require no waiting time.

All English marriages had to be registered by the Registrar from 1837 onwards - this could be done at the ceremony if it was C of E - so I can't see how church licences would have helped your 1850s couple. Even today, upcoming marriages are displayed outside each registry office. Scotland, incidentally, didn't start civil registrations until 1855, and with the Kirk in schism, some births and marriages went unrecorded.

fireluxlou
05-29-2012, 09:35 PM
Don't they have to have witnesses to?

Buffysquirrel
05-29-2012, 10:57 PM
They'll need a special licence and two witnesses. Guests and party are entirely optional, although the omission might raise some eyebrows.

However, marriages in England are public affairs. You can't legally keep people from entering the place where you're getting married and watching the ceremony. On the contrary--if you tried to exclude people, the marriage would not be legal.

A better bet would be to go get married on the Continent, where nobody will care.

areteus
05-29-2012, 11:07 PM
Yes, you generally need witnesses...

As an aside, Gretna was not only for those who were too young but for anyone who wanted to marry but couldn't under English law. Catholics, for example, could not legally marry in England (not sure if this was repealed in the 1849 act or not but I know Catholic emancipation did happen at some point between 1800 and 1900) and so many of them went to Gretna.

One thing to bear in mind... it is not a legal issue but a society one... the families of two obviously well off people (one rich and the other noble) may not be too pleased at any short cut arrangements. There were proper ways of doing things and a 'quick' wedding, legal or otherwise, may be a scandalous issue to contend with and could lead to all sorts of issues (like being written out of wills or snubbed by influential relatives).

This was also, according to my wife who is knowledgeable in these things, a period of long engagements and weddings when necessary, at least among the commoners (higher ranks had more urgency for marriage for legal reasons - to tie up land and wealth claims properly). This could mean that a couple could become engaged, which was counted as a legal contract and live together as man and wife for many years and it would not be seen as unusual. Often they would wait until they could afford their own home and therefore move out of their parents' house (in order to have more room for children). Not sure that helps you, being more a commoner thing than the social level you are dealing with, but you may find it useful somewhere.

Priene
05-29-2012, 11:20 PM
As an aside, Gretna was not only for those who were too young but for anyone who wanted to marry but couldn't under English law. Catholics, for example, could not legally marry in England (not sure if this was repealed in the 1849 act or not but I know Catholic emancipation did happen at some point between 1800 and 1900) and so many of them went to Gretna.

They could marry, but they had to do it (http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/records/research-guides/catholics.htm) in a Church of England ceremony. Which obviously was a major obstacle for many. But that was ended by the 1829 Emancipation Act. By the 1850s many Catholic chapels and churches had opened and were performing weddings.

When people in my family wanted to marry without their parent's consent (or because they were underage), which happened several times, most of them took off to the nearest city and used a (probable) false address. The size of cities meant it much less likely that their names would be spotted by friends or relatives, and that was as close to anonymity as they could hope for.

NewKidOldKid
05-30-2012, 05:57 AM
Thanks for all the info everybody.

The marriage needs to happen quickly because of legal reasons (loss of land/property if it doesn't happen by a certain date). It's not so much about keeping it a secret (so witnesses are not a problem) and more about one specific person finding out (which is why I can't have them posting the whole thing and waiting for three weeks).

My idea was to have them get married and then have a party later, where they could announce the marriage and the fact that they "fixed" the legal/property issue by getting married. So it's not really about keeping the marriage a secret for the long term --I just need them to get married quickly and easily to solve that issue.

I'm guessing that wouldn't be possible if they just announce their engagement, right? Areteus mentioned that it was common for commoners to get engaged and simply live together, but I'm guessing this alone wouldn't be considered a legal agreement among the wealthy/noble class, so it wouldn't work for the story (to solve the property/legal issues at hand).

Sunflowerrei
05-30-2012, 10:00 AM
Well, they could get a special license (your characters would have to get that in London) and round up witnesses and get married quickly, as long as they were of legal age. A special license meant that they could basically get married anywhere--at home, at a friend's home, in a different parish. It was considered fashionable in the Regency period to get a license rather than have banns read, anyway, particularly for the upper classes.

I know that Scotland had a residency requirement to get married there--two weeks' residence or so. That might only be a 20th century thing, though, but you might want to look that up in case.

By your time period, engagements were just a social practice, like they are now. They weren't legally binding anymore.

Since you mention legalities and property, remember that anything the wife owns/inherits before the marriage becomes the husband's upon marriage. Also, you'll want to look into marriage settlements. This was done sometime before the wedding, to ensure that the wife had enough to live on in her widowhood and to settle on how much money their children would receive, blah, blah, blah.

Good luck!

pdr
05-30-2012, 10:17 AM
I think you need a common license from the local bishop. Both parties have to live in the area - the bishop's see - but that is the quickest legal and acceptable way.

As for witnesses can you have 2 friends or the coachman and verger of the church?

Shakesbear
05-30-2012, 10:21 AM
The Wiki article is posted by Jim is accurate as far as I know. Special licence and two witnesses and a priest were all you would need back then.

waylander
05-30-2012, 01:18 PM
If the wealthy bridegroom was socially connected to the bishop - hunted with him maybe - then I can't see this being a problem.

Once!
05-30-2012, 02:33 PM
My understanding is that Gretna Green was special because it was the first church you came to in Scotland. Scottish law used to be different from UK law - in the UK you needed parental consent below the age of 21 (I think). In Scotland you didn't. So underage eloping couples would head for the nearest scottish church, which just happened to be Gretna Green.

I've got a vague recollection of a Sherlock Holmes story with a forced marriage. Can't recall which one.

Couldn't the captains of ships perform marriages?

Buffysquirrel
05-30-2012, 03:10 PM
No, the special licence must be quicker than the common licence. Off they go to Doctors Commons!

Shakesbear
05-30-2012, 04:32 PM
Gretna Green marriages are explained very well here
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gretna_Green

Priene
05-30-2012, 05:13 PM
It seems special licences were still issued (http://search.ancestry.co.uk/search/db.aspx?dbid=1768) after 1837, though it looks like certain parishes (or possibly dioceses) discontinued the practice in the early part of the century, so they might have had to do some fishing to find a compliant clergyman.


Gretna Green marriages are explained very well here
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gretna_Green

Do they mention the fact that Gretna is horrible? A quickie down the local registry office after eight cans of Tennants has romance than the Blacksmith's Shop.

NewKidOldKid
05-30-2012, 05:31 PM
It seems special licences were still issued (http://search.ancestry.co.uk/search/db.aspx?dbid=1768) after 1837, though it looks like certain parishes (or possibly dioceses) discontinued the practice in the early part of the century, so they might have had to do some fishing to find a compliant clergyman.

Do they mention the fact that Gretna is horrible? A quickie down the local registry office after eight cans of Tennants has romance than the Blacksmith's Shop.

I'm not dead set on the date. If I need to move the story to 1836 or earlier, then I'll do that. Getting a license would be the ideal solution, because I didn't plan on the characters traveling anywhere (so going to Gretna would be inconvenient for the story).

Priene
05-30-2012, 05:58 PM
I'm not dead set on the date. If I need to move the story to 1836 or earlier, then I'll do that. Getting a license would be the ideal solution, because I didn't plan on the characters traveling anywhere (so going to Gretna would be inconvenient for the story).

Here's the list of those responsible (http://www.history.ac.uk/gh/marrlic.htm) for issuing marriage licences in London. Many seem to have stopped doing it by 1837, so they might have needed to go to the Bishop of London or the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Shakesbear
05-30-2012, 05:58 PM
Do they mention the fact that Gretna is horrible? A quickie down the local registry office after eight cans of Tennants has romance than the Blacksmith's Shop.

No mention of the horribleness of the place - lots of commercial stuff though about 5000 weddings a year and people come from all over the world to get married there. Which does sound pretty grim.

NewKidOldKid
05-30-2012, 06:02 PM
Here's the list of those responsible (http://www.history.ac.uk/gh/marrlic.htm) for issuing marriage licences in London. Many seem to have stopped doing it by 1837, so they might have needed to go to the Bishop of London or the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Great link, thanks!

frimble3
05-30-2012, 10:34 PM
No mention of the horribleness of the place - lots of commercial stuff though about 5000 weddings a year and people come from all over the world to get married there. Which does sound pretty grim.
The Las Vegas of Scotland? Without the drinking, gambling and bright lights?
Ah, well, presumably they're sober when they wed, at least.

fireluxlou
05-30-2012, 11:17 PM
My friend got married at Gretna. Her wedding photos were quite lovely and she had the nicest honeymoon sweet at the place.

ULTRAGOTHA
05-31-2012, 12:14 AM
Your couple could get a regular license and get married in his or her parish church. Provided your "villan" doesn't live in that parish, no reason s/he would find out about the license. You will need witnesses.

If your couple lives in London, then a special license shouldn't be too hard to obtain either.

Shakesbear
05-31-2012, 01:49 AM
The Las Vegas of Scotland? Without the drinking, gambling and bright lights?
Ah, well, presumably they're sober when they wed, at least.

LOL! I don't think being sober is a legal requirement of marriage! From what I have read the drinking certainly takes place!

jaksen
05-31-2012, 02:33 AM
Sure they can get married quickly. They can go to their parish priest, his or hers. Or they can invite a priest to their home, his or hers. Or they can go to a justice of the peace. Bring a friend for witness or ask the justice to ask his wife, or clerk or neighbor.

I am working on indexing old marriage records from this time period and earlier. Many of these couples were married in his or her home, with parents witnessing, or a friend, and the minister present. Or they were in a town hall or other town office. Quick and easy. What I noticed as I got further back in time is that they could get married under 'the banns' or a license. If they were young, they needed parents' permission.

I believe many of my ancestors did this and several of them had an 'early baby' seven-six or even five months later. I do believe it was 'no big deal.'

I just want to add something about the 'early baby thing.' I once asked my grandmother, born 1903, middle-class, old New England Yankee family, if being pregnant at time of marriage was so 'horrible' or if people would gossip, etc. (She had one of these early babies herself.) She laughed and said so many people did it, it would be hard to find a family who didn't have a cousin, sister, aunt, or someone in the same position. She said, yes, people might gossip a bit, but the woman you're telling might have had the same thing happen to her. It was common, in other words, probably as much as it was today and according to my grandmother, nothing to be shameful about.

(One more thing: there certainly was a stigma attached to an unwed mother, but a woman who entered marriage already pregnant became 'respectable' upon that marriage. In the society my grandmother lived in, the boy or young man, if reluctant, would be pressured to marry the girl by family, friends, his church, etc.)

areteus
06-01-2012, 04:21 PM
As far as I am aware, the ship captain thing is a misconception... at least in the UK...