Sunday, January 24, 2010

Some English Marriage and Divorce History

The following is from the Times (London) Literary Supplement's review of The English Marriage by Maureen Waller. I thought it might be sof some interest.
Meanwhile, common law disregarded all that gothic canon law and refused to confer the usual marital property rights on couples who had not gone through a public church ceremony. The state had a vested interest in the proper procedures too, mooting a tax on marriages in the 1690s and levying a stiff stamp duty on marriage licences. Above all, rich parents believed they had the right to dispose their offspring as they saw fit and as rank, blood and inheritance demanded. The rage of property owners when errant daughters eloped with penniless adventurers helped to fuel the passing of Hardwicke’s Marriage Act in 1753, which made the marriages of those under twenty-one illegal without the consent of their guardians.

The Act legislated that only a marriage in the parish church of one of the lovers performed by an ordained priest of the Church of England was valid. Jews and Quakers were exempt, but not Nonconformists, who had to swallow their denominational pride or be seen to live in sin. Famously, the Act had no purchase in Scotland, and inadvertently sparked a panting rush for the border to the accommodating vicars of Gretna Green. But it would be decades before older ideas of informal marriage would be stamped out entirely in England.

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