Table of Contents

Let's Go Back In Time
Secret Unions
Legal Advice
Why Marry?
Special Quiz
Bridal Fashion
A Gentleman Speaks
Conduct Manual
Sacred Ceremony
Religious Disputes
Why Quarrel?
An English Bride

  Only thirty-seven years ago, before the Marriage Act of 1753, it was very easy to get married in England, but very difficult to get out of a marriage, as your mother or grandmother might be able to tell you.1  In the first half of the century, couples wishing to spend their lives together as man and wife did not have to go through all of the tedious steps that we must go through today to enter that state of bliss called marriage.  According to canon law, the requirements for entering this state were as follows:  the two parties must exchange words of consent, two witnesses must be present for the exchange of vows, the vows must be said in the present tense (the future tense could be used only if consummation quickly followed), and the two parties must be of age (14 for men and 12 for women).2.

  While women of our class typically married publicly in a church or chapel, couples seeking to keep their marriage a secret might have chosen to marry according to the rules of canon law.  This often happened when a young person of wealth and high social standing fell in love with a person of the humble classes of servants, farm laborers, or shopkeepers. Such a system of marriage may at first sight appear to be preferable to the strict rules we must abide by today.  For example, people could get married younger, and without parental consent.  Marriage was also cheaper and a more expedient process. But ladies, as we all know from the stories passed on to us from this era of "free love," the lax rules concerning marriage in this period caused a heap of problems in our great nation, leading to the creation of the infamous Marriage Act of '53.  We can best understand these problems by looking at a type of common law marriage that we are all familiar with, the clandestine marriage.

This site was completed December 08, 2000, at the University of Michigan.

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