I called Henry, because I recall when -- more than a dozen years ago -- we were planning a wedding that the rules in England are vastly different than here in the U.S. Henry and I did visit All Hallows Church in Hampstead where Henry was resident, but neither of us was a churchgoer, so it seemed impertinent to marry there, even if we were were entitled to by sheer geography. (In the end, we were married by the federal judge I clerked for, in her chambers in Philadelphia.) But this is just the sort of intricate legal morass Henry loves, so I asked him to explain all this. As you'll see, even The Great Betty got it wrong!
Hey Henry -- Here's the question. I was reading a Betty Neels romance the other day and it had the hero saying that he had a special license. Now, this might have been the one where the couple has agreed to marry at the church in Stourton, which is not the parish the heroine lives in, although she points out that her regular vicar is willing to co-officiate. Would they really have needed a special license?
And I realized, not for the first time, that I totally don't understand the need for, and use of, banns, licenses, and special licenses. But then I remembered that you do!
So could you explain how a couple in England in 1820, 1900, and modern day get married? For example, when Ross and I got married at Fountains Hall (a National Trust property licensed to host weddings), we just needed a license, right? If we'd wanted to get married in a church, we'd have had more trouble as neither of us was resident in a specific parish. And there are places where one simply cannot marry, no matter what sort of license you have, right?
P.S. Extra credit if you can work in the Marriage Act of 1753, the Marriage Act of 1836, and any other law you can think of.
I believe, though I am not certain without researching it, that the marriage had to be in one of the parish churches in question. That was seldom a great hardship, since the bride was conventionally married from her mother's house, and an unmarried woman was automatically deemed to be resident with her parents. (By the 1980's that no longer applied, and one friend of mine had to go and spend a two-week vacation with her parents to establish legally sufficient residence there before her wedding.)
2. An ordinary licence was granted by the diocesan bishop. It dispensed with the reading of the banns, and with the accompanying three-week delay, and with any requirement for the marriage to be in one of the parties' home parish. However, the wedding still had to be in a parish church or other church regularly authorized for weddings, between 8 am and noon on a weekday, with the doors open to anybody who did want to rush in and object, and not in lent or advent.
A licence was commonly used by the gentry, who considered having the banns read out to a church full of tradesmen and servants to be undignified. It was also used if there was some reason for urgency. Because the banns were not read, the licence application required proof that the people likely to know of an impediment (such as the parents of an under-age girl) assented. One of Heyer's heroes simply swore a perjured oath that he had her parents' consent. In later years, actual counter-signatures by the assenting parties were required. An ordinary license would have been sufficient for your Stourton bride.
A friend at work in the late 1970s got a special licence from the archbishop of Canterbury to be married in a nonconformist protestant church, because they realized that the church was not licensed for weddings too late in the proceedings for any other solution. Another of Heyer's heroines needed a special licence to be married at her dying father's bedside, because he was too ill to get to the church.
5. The Act of 1836 changed the whole system, and required all marriages to be performed by, or in the presence of, the Registrar General or his appointed deputy. Instead of banns, a notice was posted on the notice board at the local register office for three weeks.
Under one of those peculiarly British fudges that is totally indefensible in theory but worked very well in practice, all Anglican parish priests were automatically Registrar's deputies. I think the Jews and Quakers were given a similar privilege from an early date, but it was only gradually extended to other denominations. If your particular priest or shaman was not approved, he could still marry you provided that the approved forms of wording were used, and provided that the local registrar was there to witness it.
I remember in the 1970s the registrars staged a work-to-rule and refused to work on Saturdays, so all those with religious weddings on the Saturday had to have a separate register office ceremony on the Friday. The Roman Catholic church issued a special reminder to its flock that they were not allowed to consummate the marriage until after the church service on the Saturday, so at that date their priests were still not routinely accredited as registrar's deputies. (I think the RC priesthood were deputized shortly after.)
The Act of 1836 broadened the list of places where weddings could be held to include register offices (duh!) and a progressively increasing number of non-Anglican churches. Note that the church might be approved even if the priest was not: most Roman Catholic churches in the 1970s were clearly in that position. In general, however, the wedding still had to be in a recognizable church with open doors.
|Ross and I sign the register, with Jill, a "duly authorized equivalent"|
7. Strictly speaking, I believe the Church of England is still required to marry anybody resident in the parish, though they can exclude divorced people (my sister in law fell foul of that rule) and if you are not a regular Anglican they may be as strict as the rules allow about whether you are actually resident. However, if you are not in a class they are compelled to marry, a lot will depend on the charity of the parish priest in question.