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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Marriage in the Regency

This is a subject that seems to give most writers of regency a lot of angst primarily because we can't do exactly as we want, when those of the medieval and viking eras can have all kinds of fun!

The most famous wedding during our era was that of Princess Charlotte and Prince Leopold, pictured here in wedding regalia.

The early 1800's were a period of change from the rather lax marriage laws and events of earlier eras. The Hardwick Act of 1753 was part of those changes.

After this act was passed, no longer could a fortune hunter run off and marry an heiress without her parents consent. Though if they made it to Gretna Green then the marriage was legal because the act did not apply to Scotland. but it gives the family lots of time to chase after them. No longer could a family betroth a couple at birth and force the marriage. A bride could not be married without her consent. Which is not to say she could not be pressured by her family to give consent.

For a marriage to be legal, bans had to be called for three successive weeks in the home parishes of the couple before a wedding could take place. So no instant marriages. And no more Fleet marriages.

The marriage was to take place in one of those two parish churches during the hours eight in the morning until noon.

Parental permission was required for children under twenty one.

A short cut? Couples could marry by license. These licenses meant no waiting for the banns to be called.

A standard license had a waiting period of seven days and the couple had to marry in church between the hours of eight and noon. In other words, a shortening of the waiting period by two weeks.

A Special License obtained from the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury at Doctor's Commons in London (and no where else and in person) required swearing the information given was the truth and paying five pounds. At which point one could marry anywhere, at any hour, provided one could find a cleric to officiate.

Licences were specific, had no blank spaces, i.e for the addition of a different name and could not be altered.

There was no provision fro proxy marriage, no matter how many times you have read of it in a Regency novel.

And divorce was extremely difficult.

Oh, by the way, a single female of age had all the rights of a single male, but once she was married, she was considered feme covert or that husband and wife were one person.

Now of course those are the basics. Beyond that are all kinds of wrinkles and nuances to do with clothing, kissing, legitimacy, inheritance, widowhood and so on.


kimmyl said...

Very interesting. If they made divorce more difficult here maybe theyre would not be so many young kids getting married and children without both parents.

Beth Elliott said...

Thank you for the roundup of marriage information - although I guess when the plot demands it there may be a bit of poetic licence [sorry for pun!] with the facts.

Your last sentence leads me to hope that you'll blog again on those areas as well.

Anonymous said...

Interesting. Cleared up the understanding of a few phrases I've read.

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