Today, the Dashing Duchesses are pleased to welcome Regency author (and attorney) Ella Quinn. Ella has agreed to share with us some fascinating tidbits about estate law, Regency style. So, pull up a leather chair in the study, dears, and let’s learn about the law.
During the Regency period, the Hardwicke Marriage Act of 1753 was in effect. The purpose of the Act was to regularize all aspects of marriage and the ending of a marriage. The Act itself was not very specific about many matters except that it had to be performed by clergy of the Anglican Church. The Church rules were specific as to marriages.
There were three ways to marry: reading the banns, buying a license, and elopement.
All marriages had to preformed by Anglican clergy, only Jews and Quakers were exempt and only if both parties were either Jewish or Quaker.
Banns: If banns were to be read, they had to be read in the parishes of both bride and groom (if they belonged to different parishes) for three consecutive Sundays. Which meant a wait of about two and a half weeks. The ceremony had to be held before noon in a church, any day but Sunday. If one or both the parties were minors (under the age of twenty-one), and/or one of them did not have a guardian, including an illegitimate minor, banns were the only way, other than elopement, to go. Marriage by license was void. To avoid parental notice, some couple had the banns read in a different parish. Once the marriage took place, the law prohibited anyone from questioning the residence of the couple.
Illegitimate children were deemed to have no guardian unless one was appointed by the court. Married women were not guardians and could not give consent for a minor to marry.
Licenses: Buying a license sped up the process. A regular license, obtainable by any bishop, allowed the couple to marry after a week, however, all the other requirements still had to me met. A special license, obtained at the Archbishop of Canterbury’s office in Doctor’s Commons, allowed an immediate marriage, anywhere, anytime. If one or both of the couple was a minor, the consent of a guardian was required or the marriage was void.
Elopement: Among the ton and middle classes, elopement to Scotland was scandalous. The main reason was that the couple were together for five days (if leaving from London) to reach Scotland. In an era where a young unmarried lady was not allowed in a closed coach with a man, this was bad indeed. Once in Scotland, they could be legally married, but they should not count on being received by the highest sticklers, or obtaining vouchers for Almacks. For a few years, one could also elope to the Isle of Mann, but in 1797, the government there passed an act similar to the Hardwicke Act which stopped the traffic.
In England, there were very few grounds for divorce. One was adultery, but very few women succeeded in prosecuting their husband except if the husband had slept with her sister. The other was for extreme physical abuse. Divorces were very messy and, afterward, the woman was usually not received, nor could she marry the person with whom she committed adultery. Another option was Scotland where women could successfully sue their husbands for divorce on the ground of adultery.
Separation was much more common and not as socially hurtful as a divorce.
Annulment: There were only two grounds for annulment and lack of consummation was not one of them, unless it was proved that the husband could not perform, the wife suffered from extreme frigidity, had a physical blockage and would not have it surgically removed, or the marriage was voidable. An example of a voidable marriage is one in which the parties were closely related by blood or marriage, for example a man marrying his sister-in-law. Although not technically illegal, the Church did not allow those marriages, which begs the question of how the couple got around it. One of Jane Austen’s brothers married his dead wife’s sister. Whether the clergy member didn’t know of their relationship or just didn’t care we will never know.
OTHER SUNDRY FACTS
Sadly, the actual service was usually attended by a small group, which may be because many private and parish churches were very small. The bride did not typically walk down the aisle. I’ve heard that the father or guardian gave the woman to the husband at the church door. If a special gown was made, it would be used again. After the ceremony, the groom was not told to kiss the bride, and it was not expected that he would. The couple signed the parish register before leaving the church. A ring was required. If a woman was given a ring at the time of the engagement, it was usually used as the wedding ring.
After a morning wedding a wedding breakfast was held for any number of people.
For a month after the wedding, the newly married couple to precedence at any social gathering. So when entering the dining room, which was done by rank, they would go first. They were also supposed to go away somewhere.
A widow who took her rank from her husband and subsequently married a lesser ranking man, was then addressed by the title associated with her new husband. The only exception was a duchess who, after having been married for many, many years and producing an amazing number of children, married her children’s tutor and was still addressed as duchess. But that was not normal. So if a lady had been a Miss before her marriage to a peer, and then married a Mr. She would be a Mrs. If she had the rank of Lady Firstname before her marriage and re-married a Mr. She would be Lady Firstname Husband’s Lastname.
Any child born of the marriage was considered legitimate as long as the father didn’t object. If the husband died, any child born of the un-remarried widow within two years of the death(I don’t know how long that rule lasted) was considered legitimate issue of the marriage. Parents had to be married at the time of the birth. If not, the child was illegitimate. Illegitimate children could not inherit the title or entailed property.
Ella Quinn’s studies and other jobs have always been on the serious side. Reading historical romances, especially Regencies, were her escape.
When they were dating, Ella’s husband convinced her he was really a Viking warrior, that was thirty-one years ago. They have a son and granddaughter, Great Dane and a Chartreux. After living in the South Pacific, Central America, North Africa, and in Europe, she and her husband decided to make St. Thomas, VI home.
Ella is a member of the Romance Writers of America, The Beau Monde and Hearts Through History. She’s extensively researched the Regency era, immersing her stories with the flavor and feel of the era . She also belongs to the Regency Romance Critique Group.
Ella is represented by the lovely Elizabeth Pomada, Larsen-Pomada Literary Agency.