Today I continue my five-part series on marriage during the Georgian to Regency Eras. This segment, #2 of the series, will discuss the differences between banns and licenses. If you missed the #1 of the series, click the link below.
Marriage requirements in England according to Hardwicke’s Marriage Act of 1753–
- a couple needed a license and the reading of the banns to marry
- parental consent if either was under the age of 21
- the ceremony must take place within a public chapel or church by authorized clergy
- the marriage must be performed between 8am and noon before witnesses
- the marriage had to be recorded in the marriage register with the signatures of both parties, the witnesses, and the minister.
Essentially these five “rules” were the law as applied to legal marriages in England. There were, however, a few caveats and legal options. Number one, for instance, had three different options, as noted below. Which path was chosen depended on the circumstances and wealth of the persons involved.
A. Calling of the Banns. This was the cheapest way, ie- it cost nothing. For three consecutive Sundays prior to the wedding, the Church of England clergyman in the parish where the groom and bride lived would announce the intended marriage from the pulpit. The following is what would be recited—
“I publish the Banns of marriage between Groom’s Name of–his local parish–and Bride’s Name of–her local parish. If any of you know cause or just impediment why these two persons should not be joined together in Holy matrimony, ye are to declare it. This is the first [second, third] time of asking.”
If the persons marrying came from separate parishes, the curate of one parish could not solemnize the wedding without a certificate from the other curate stating the Banns had been “thrice called” and no objections had been lodged.
The “objections” mentioned were the point to the Calling of the Banns. Banns were not to inform the parishioners of the coming union or as an invitation to the wedding, but to ask of those citizens who presumably knew the couple if there were any impediments to the marriage. This is the origin of the objection line in modern ceremonies. The difference in the Regency was the allotted time — two weeks at least — for anyone to come forward. If there were objections, the person would go to the clergyman directly and give evidence of why one or the other was not free to wed.
Once the three Banns were called, with no objections, the couple then had ninety days to finalize the ceremony. If not done for whatever reason, the Banns would need to be called again.
B. Common or Ordinary License was the second option. Clergyman of the Church of England could issue a marriage license for a few shillings to a pound. This license was valid for fifteen days, and the couple could marry in either of their resident parishes. Other stipulations applied, such as being a resident of the marrying parish, and a sworn statement had to be given by both that there were no impediments.
With a common license there was not the two-week delay while waiting for the reading of the Banns. However, the ceremony still had to take place in a sanctified church by a clergyman between 8am and noon. The other requirements also had to be met.
C. Special License was obtained from the Archbishop of Canterbury in Doctors Commons in London. The big differences between the “special” license and the “common” license were the cost – over 20 guineas plus a £4 to £5 Stamp Duty for the paper – and that the couple could be married at any time of the day and anywhere they wanted. All the other requirements were the same.
As you can imagine, only someone very wealthy with a very good reason to pay the money, and go to the trouble of traveling to London and gaining an audience with the Archbishop of Canterbury, would hassle with it. Not an easy task even if rich.
Those were the three legitimate avenues in England for a couple to marry. Briefly I should mention that the only exception to the Church of England rule were for those of the Jewish faith who married in a synagogue, and Catholics, Dissenters, and Quakers who married in churches of their own faith.
And of course we all know about the famous Gretna Green. Indeed, Scotland had different laws, and minors could marry without parental consent. The town of Gretna Green was not special, as far as the laws go, it was simply the closest town over the border via the main coaching road from London. Fast to reach if a couple were eloping! All that was required was to pledge your troth in the presence of another person. Any person. As it happens, historically the first place reached once crossing into Scotland was a blacksmith. Elopement to Scotland came to be known as “marrying over the anvil” by these “anvil priests.”
Last, but not least to the marriage legalities portion, was the official newspaper announcement. This was for the social aspects rather than an actual law, but if one was of the upper classes it was a crucial step.
Return next Monday, March 24 for a post on the ceremony preparations.