Regency Marriage ~ Licenses & Banns

Sharon Lathan

Sharon Lathan is the best-selling author of The Darcy Saga, a ten-volume sequel series to Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice.

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Informative post! Thank you so much! I have a lingering question, though. Was it at all possible to obtain a common license by sending a solicitor? I read that it wasn’t possible to do so if the desire was to gain a special license. But, in the event that only a common license was sought, what then? Did the person applying have to be present and swear under oath in person? Also, did the bride herself need to sign anything? Or could the bridegroom do everything for her on her behalf?


The only exceptions were for Jews and Quakers. Everyone else had to follow the rules including Catholics and Baptists and Methodist and Presbyterians. No ceremony in England for any one except Quakers and Jews that didn’t follow the rules was valid. Catholics had to be married in the church of England parish church for their marriages to be valid. Only bishops of the various Diocese or their representatives could issue common/standard licenses within tehir disocese. The Bishop of London couldn’t issue a license for some one to marry in Durham. There was a seven day wait.
There was no waiting period in Scotland during the first score of years or so of the 19th century. I think the waiting period was imposed sometime in the 20’s . I just know i there was no waiting during the regency period.
Death bed marriages were difficult to obtain without a special license. If banns had already been called and a man wanted to marry his mistress or housekeeoer or someone and there was no one to complain the pastor could conduct the service . If no one complained or contested her right the marriage would stand. It would be valid as far as the church was concerned but not by the letter of the law.
Byron wrote to the Archbishop about a special license and was told to apply to Doctors’ Commons. He was embarrassed that he didn’t know that. Then he applied in the afternoon but only had to come back the next day to pick it up. The license was all hand written Most people received theirs the same day. parents, and solicitors do appear to have been able to obtain the special license for a couple. Had to have some authorization and ability to swear to the truth of the information but it appears that they could obtain it. It was easier for many to just marry by common license when they weren’t near London as it would usually take more than the seven days for letters to be sent and messengers to arrive etc.


I was really happy to find this post. I love Jane Austen novels but have never known what they were talking about with the banns and special licenses. Thank you!!


I have always wondered just how long it would take to obtain the license once someone applied for it. I remember reading somewhere that Lord Byron was upset that it took over a certain amount of time (which I don’t recall offhand). I’m guessing it would depend on what time of year, and if the archbishop or his copying/recording clerk were very busy (or holding off because of the person applying). Is there any general waiting period involved, and once the document is prepared, how would one know?



I wonder if any exceptions were granted in cases of one person being near death. No quickie marriages then except for Gretna Green, and I’ve heard that today, even Scottish marriages must go through a waiting period. Thank you for the helpful info!!

Debra Brown

Great post, Sharon. Do you know if a person could send their solicitor to London to get a special license? Or did they have to go themselves?

Debra Brown


How nice of you to go to this trouble to find me a good solid answer. It is very much appreciated.

Best regards,

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