Getting Married in Regency England

Cobalt Fairy

Hi there my loves!

I know how much you all enjoy stories about couples that get their Happily Ever After. As for me, I can’t get enough of them. But how did couples actually get married in Regency England?

1818 engraving of the 1816 marriage between Princess Charlotte of Wales and Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, Public Domain

According to Hardwicke‘s Marriage Act of 1753, in order to get legally married in England or in Wales, you needed either to have a reading of the banns or have a license. Moreover, if you were under 21, you needed parental approval. Let me explain further.The most common way couples got married in Regency England was to “put up the banns”. Basically couples posted on the church wall, and then the clergy from both the bride’s and the groom’s parish read them for three consecutive Sundays. This way, if anyone wanted to publicly object to the marriage, they had plenty of time. (Oh, the drama!) The two parishes then sent letters to each other, confirming that both bride and groom were eligible for marriage. The couple then had to get married within 90 days, between 8 in the morning and noon, and before witnesses. Getting married is not a small deal, people!!This restriction in time, stating that couples had to get married between 8 in the morning and noon, is actually the origin of the “Wedding Breakfast” which is still used in Britain to describe wedding feasts. Since the ceremony took place that early in the day, the feast was…a literal breakfast. The priest would offer wine, cakes and sweetmeats after the ceremony, which would be shared between the company and the newlyweds.

Another option for couples to get married would be obtaining a Common License, but it cost money and had many of the restrictions that putting up the banns did.But if you had deep pockets, you would choose marriage by Special License. Reserved almost exclusively for titled lords and their ladies, this option gave you the right to get married anywhere and anytime you wanted. 

The Courtship, Charles Green, Public Domain

But what happened if you were really in love, and lacked parental approval? Or you just wanted to get married right away?Well, couples would have to travel to Scotland. It was faster than waiting three weeks for the reading of the bans and cheaper than buying a licence. Scottish law was pretty different, since you could get legally married with only two witnesses, and it was possible to get married when boys were only 14 and girls 12, with or without parental consent. The most popular town in which this took place was Gretna Green, just one mile over the English- Scottish borders. Couples eloping there was an occurrence so common that a “Gretna Green marriage” was used as a term in common law! It basically referred to a marriage that took place in another jurisdiction than the residence of the bride or groom, to avoid restrictions. How romantic!

A Trip to Gretna Green, Thomas Rowlandson, 1803Public Domain

Did you know about these processes? What do you think about them? Did all the trouble that couples had to go though to get married make the whole thing more romantic, or just a pain in the neck?I hope you enjoyed the article! If you have any questions or comments feel free to write them below 🙂

All my love,

Written byPatricia Haverton

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