Friday, May 5, 2017

Marriage in the reign of Queen Anne Stuart 1702-1714

The Captain and The Countess
By Rosemary Morris

I have written three historical romances, with strong themes set in the reign of Queen Anne Stuart and am writing a series of articles about life in the early 18th century.
The Age of Consent

In England, a fourteen-year-old boy and a twelve-year-old girl could marry without the consent of their parents or guardians. Even if the boy was poor and the girl a duke’s daughter once the knot was tied it would be impossible to untie it.
For example, without his father’s consent fifteen-year-old Sir George Downing married thirteen-year-old Mary Forester in 1714. In accordance with custom they were bedded in the presence of those who later testified that they did not touch each other.
After the marriage, George spent four years travelling abroad while Mary lived with her parents. When he returned to England he refused to live with his lawful wife and publicly declared that he would not consummate the marriage. Fourteen years later the couple who disliked each other wanted a divorce. They applied to the ‘Legislative Power’ to dissolve the marriage. The judgement was that in the words of the marriage service Those whom God has joyn’d let no Man put asunder. The verdict was that George and Mary were Man and Wife by the Laws of God and the laws of the Land and could not be divorced.

Valentines, Marriage Settlements and Wedding Rings

Young people could visit each other and meet in dancing academies. On St Valentine’s day, an equal number of maidens and bachelors got together. They wrote their names on papers called Valentines which were rolled up. These were distributed at random and the bachelors held Balls and gave treats to the maiden who was his valentine. Sometimes, they fell in love and married but the wild blood engendered in Charles II’s reign still ran hot and young men tended to avoid marriage.
Another reason to avoid wedlock were marriage settlements which were comparatively new. Previously widows were contented with the third part of their husbands’ property which the law allotted them. Now the sum of the wife’s pin money for her personal use was included in a marriage settlement. Apart from the marriage contract the bridegroom was obliged to give his bride a ring with ‘a posy’ (two couplets) on it. These are examples of those engraved on lost wedding rings advertised in the newspapers.
                                                    Two made one
                                                    By God alone.’
                                                   ‘God’s Providence
                                                    Is our Inheritance.’
                                                    ‘Vertuous love
                                                    Will never remove.’

What about unvirtuous marriage? In 1702 Haagen Swendson kidnapped Mrs Rawlins, an heiress and was convicted of a crime and executed. In another case Sir Alexander Cumming, Knight of the Shire, abducted Madam Dennis rumoured to be worth £16,000. There were no consequences either because of his rank or because Madam Dennis was content.

Public and Private Marriages

Reading the banns in church for three weeks to inform the congregation of a couple’s intention to wed had become unpopular. A letter in The Spectator newspaper published by Steele to the editor reads: ‘I was marry’d on Sunday last, and went peaceably to Bed; but to my Surprise, was awaken’d the next Morning by the Thunder of a set of Drums.’  The unfortunate bridegroom had to pay the drummers to go away.
To avoid the noise and riot of a public church wedding, which besides being very expensive because an open house was only a small part of the celebrations, marriage by license in front of witnesses became popular.
Private marriages for which a marriage license cost a guinea became popular. Some couples preferred to be married in their closets (small rooms) in the presence of two friends who were witnesses.  
This new custom could be subject to abuse. Clergymen accepted a fee instead of calling the banns or insisting on a marriage license. A bride and groom could marry in a chapel which required neither banns nor a marriage license. Bigamy could be concealed and matches that would probably result in a difficult life could take place between ladies of quality and footmen. Some couples married in taverns such as the Ship Tavern without Temple Bar and in both the Queen’s Bench Prison and the Fleet. Clandestine marriages conducted by defrocked clergymen and laymen at the Fleet and forged marriage certificates were an illegal curse.

Novels by Rosemary Morris available as e-publications and paper backs.

Early 18th century novels: Tangled Love, Far Beyond Rubies and The Captain and The Countess

Regency novels: False Pretences and Sunday’s Child, Monday’s Child and Tuesday’s Child. Heroines born on different days of the week.

Mediaeval Novel, Yvonne, Lady of Cassio, set in the turbulent reign of Edward II will be published as and e-book on the 9h May, 2017 and subsequently as a paperback.