Marriage Customs in Georgian and Regency England

Friday, October 9, 2009


Courtship
The hunt for a husband in Georgian and Regency England was serious business and the upper class families would likewise invest serious money to give their daughters a 'season' in London.
Almack's, that exclusive club of the social world, became known as 'the Marriage Mart' as it was the essential venue for introducing a young lady into society.

Marriage Requirements and the Ceremony

According to Hardwicke's Marriage Act of 1753:

  • a couple needed a license and the reading of the banns to marry;
  • they needed parental consent if under the age of 21;
  • the marriage must be performed in the morning hours between 8 and 12;
  • it must take place within a public chapel or church by authorized clergy; and
  • the marriage had to be recorded in the marriage register with the signatures of both parties, the witnesses, and the minister.
This new law put an end to the 'Fleet Marriages' that had allowed a couple to be legally married with only an exchange of vows (1694-1754). However, after 1754, there were ways to get around the new marriage requirements.
  • Elopement to Gretna Green in Scotland allowed a couple to be married without parental consent.
  • You could also purchase either a common/ordinary license from a local clergyman or at Doctors' Commons in London to 'skip the banns' or a 'special license,' issued by the archbishop of Canterbury, permitting the couple to marry after noon and at a location other than the church. Because of the expense, marriage by special license was reserved for the very wealthy and well connected.
There are other "can't do thats" to consider regarding marriage laws including the fact that prior to World War I, it was illegal in England to marry a deceased spouse's sibling.
Wedding Fashion Note: It was not yet essential for the bride to wear white, although white was gaining popularity. Alternatively, she might wear another light color such as silver or blue, and she would also wear her bonnet inside the church.

Related links:  (Links checked February, 2014)

the archive for the 'regency wedding' category at Jane Austen's World. 

Historical Inspiration: the Special License - by author Miranda Neville

Marriage, Hardwicke Act and Dissolving a Marriage - by Nancy Mayer, Regency Researcher

Courtship and Marriage in the Regency - lots of info in two parts by guest author Cheryl Bolen at Donna Maloy's blog Building Worlds

The Pinterest board: Jane Austen Regency Wedding Inspiration

Marriage at Gretna Green - by Jane Lark

Marriage and the Alternatives: The Status of Women - from the site Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice (pemberly.com).

Regency Life - Georgian Marriage - from the Regency Collection site. Describes banns and licenses.

Jessamyn's Regency Costume Companion: Regency Wedding Details & History - great information covering traditions such as The Engagement, Making It Legal, The Invitations, The Ceremony, The Wedding Ring, Bridesmaids, The Wedding Clothes, Flowers and Other Decorations, The Wedding Cake, The Wedding Breakfast, and Music.

The English Bride: Marriage in Eighteenth Century England

The Quest for Mr. Right - meant to be an interactive experience of attending an 18th century ball from choosing your dress to proper etiquette, but one page seems to be missing if you proceed in order - use the links at the bottom of the page.

From Fleet Street to Gretna Green: The Reform of "Clandestine Marriage" under Lord Chancellor Hardwicke's Marriage Act of 1753 - A Paper By Jennifer M. Payne, submitted to the Southwestern Social Science Association Conference, Dallas, Texas, March 24, 1995.

Common Regency Errors - with a section on marriage after the title usage information.

Regency Weddings: The White Wedding Dress

Regency Weddings: St. George's, Hanover Square

Eloping in Regency England

If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home, Lucy Worsley -- at Jane Austen's World.  Not just the home...also a very interesting post on the courtship practice known as bundling.

A Regency Marriage Primer - at the blog Impuslive Hearts

Gretna Green and the Runaway Regency Bride - SD's Random Fresh Ink

Print Resources:

Pool, David (1993) In What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew, pp. 180-186. Simon & Schuster, New York.


7 comments:

Skittles said...

your site may be helpful to me, if I decied to write a romance novel. But thanks for posting the informaton.

Melissa Bryant said...

You're welcome! I love the history, whether for reading or research for writing. Maybe you will write that romance novel...you just never know. :) Thanks for stopping by!

Anonymous said...

Thank you :D Just what I need

Ksa said...

Very helpful, both for my own writing and for some school work.

Unknown said...

Did the bride and Groom kiss at the end of these ceremonies?

Melissa said...

Thanks, Ksa!

Unknown, as for the bride and groom kissing at the end of the ceremony, I've read that this tradition dates back to Roman times, but I don't have a direct link. I would say yes! :)

Anonymous said...

Was there such a thing called social upward mobility in this era?

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