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Marriage Law in England

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Marriage Law in England

For a marriage to be valid in England and Wales (there are different rules for Scotland), there are set ways the proposed marriage is publicised and the format that it takes.

How your ancestors married can tell you a lot about their social circumstances.

Banns or Licence?

Banns by law had to be announced ("read") in the parish where each of the parties lived. If they both lived in the same parish, there was only the one fee. If they lived in different parishes, a fee had to be paid to each parish for the reading of the Banns. The Banns were read on three consecutive Sundays. If no objection was forthcoming from the congregation, the marriage service could then take place. The marriage service cost extra.

A Licence was issued by the office of the Bishop of the diocese where one or both parties lived. Usually the groom and another man pledged a bond to the Bishop that the information that they stated about the age and marital state of both parties was correct. A minor still had to have consent given by parent or guardian The Licence was issued for a given church. This did not have to be where the parties resided. Once the licence was issued, the marriage could take place. The licence cost more than a single set of Banns, but less than the two sets required by law if the parties lived in different parishes.

"By Banns" was the most common form of marriage, but a couple would be more likely to marry by licence if:

  • They came from different parishes (cheaper than banns)
  • They wanted to get married quickly (pregnancy, the man was travelling away at short notice)
  • They didn't want their marriage publicised in the local parishes
  • It was also seen as being more befitting members of a higher social class.

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