Our new season is now open: Spring 1677 !
- “Like blood, like good, and like age make the happiest marriage.”
At the age of seven, a girl could be betrothed, and at twelve, she could be married. A boy had to wait until he was fourteen years old to legally wed. Upon marriage, the man and woman became one; that is to say, he took over the legal responsibilities of her father , and, with the exception of certain criminal acts she might commit, was entirely responsible for her. All that had been hers was now his, and he was allowed by law the "reasonable correction" of his wife's behaviour, should he deem it necessary. The new bride was, at the end of the wedding ceremony, along with every other married woman in attendance, reminded:
- "Ye wives, submit yourselves to your husbands ... be in subjection to your husbands."
While a woman could legally refuse to marry a man that her father or guardian had selected this was often very difficult, because she would be pressurized by the family of both sides. Vice versa if she wanted to marry a man but her family (most notably her father or guardian) was opposed she would have to wait till she was of age. In our game that is 21 years of age both for men and women.
Once one was betrothed, on paper or by doing so in front of witnesses, that was a binding legal contract that was almost as strong as a marriage contract. In affluent families, and certainly amongst the gentry, where more than money was at stake, marriage negotiations often took several months. This was generally conducted between the prospective betrothed couple's fathers/guardians, or between the woman's father/guardian and the prospective groom. Marriage, for the gentry, was a matter both of finance and dynasty, and perhaps also politics.
In order to discourage bigamous or otherwise invalid marriages, banns were announced in the parish of both the prospective bride and groom, on three consecutive Sundays.
Still, the traditional church wedding was not the only option for a valid, legal marriage. A 'special licence' could be had from the bishop of the diocese, that would allow for more immediate and less publicized nuptials. This required only two witnesses to the ceremony.
Lawful marriage did not require church blessing, although marriage by the Justice of the Peace that was the standard during the Interregnum was disallowed on the Restoration. In fact, all that was required was a declaration in the present tense by both parties to the marriage that they took one another in wedlock. Even a declaration in the future tense, if it was consummated, was valid. This was the common form of marriage among the poor and among the Quakers.
There were also clandestine marriages performed by clergy who would happily do the duty for a suitably large fee. This was known to occur at the Fleet Street Prison, where more than one young heiress awoke the next morning with a hangover and a new husband.