Eighteenth Century

The Marriage Acts of Georgian England


The Significance of Marriage

          Marriage was a crucial aspect of Georgian Era life and has been described as “the most important moments in [an individual’s] life cycle” only comparable to life and death (Gillis 6). The significance of marriage resulted from cultural expectations that viewed marriage as a social and familial duty, especially for women (McMillen). Unfortunately, because of the extreme social stigma and anxiety of becoming an old maid, women were forced into the confines of marriage where their rights were nonexistent (McMillen). Specifically, in Commentaries on the Laws of England, William Blackstone writes, “By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in law: that is, the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least is incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband” (Blackstone, McMillen). In other words, once a woman was married, she ceased to exist; consequently, she did not have any legal rights and, thereby, was at the mercy of her husband who could easily exploit her dependence. As a result of its importance and potentially problematic situation, matrimony was highly regulated by the British Parliament and the Church of England, and these regulations affected all citizens including royalty. The two most significant laws were the Marriage Act of 1753 and the Royal Marriages Act of 1772.


Marriage Act of 1753

          Formally known as An Act for the Better Preventing of Clandestine Marriage, and popularly known as Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act, its main purpose was to formalize marriage in two ways (“An Act for the better preventing of clandestine Marriages [1753.]”). First, in order for a couple to be legally married they were required to publish public announcements called banns or obtain a license, then it was mandatory for the ceremony to be conducted by a minister in a Church of England establishment, which differed from the past when these two steps were voluntary (Gillis 85, “Marriage Act 1753,” “The Law of Marriage”). Second, the Act established mutually dependent age and parental consent conditions (Gillis 88). Specifically, if their child was younger than twenty-one, parents had an obligation to give their consent if the couple desired to be married by license, but if the couple chose to be married by banns, their marriage would be valid as long as the parents did not forbid it (“Marriage Act 1753,” “The Law of Marriage”).


Royal Marriages Act of 1772

          Formally known as An Act for the Better Regulating the Future Marriages of the Royal Family, its main purpose was to require the descendants of George II to obtain the consent of the reigning king or queen in order for their marriage to be valid (Royal Marriages Act 1772). Furthermore, the Act made it a crime to either perform or participate in an illegal royal marriage (Royal Marriages Act 1772). Significantly, the Act did not directly penalize the royal status of the successor (“Royal Marriages Act 1772”). Rather, because the marriage was invalid, the couple’s offspring were deemed illegitimate and, thereby, lost their right to inherit the crown. George III’s rational for proposing the Act arose from one of his brothers marrying a commoner, and another marrying the illegitimate daughter Sir Edward Walpole (“Royal Marriages Act 1772”).


Works Cited

Blackstone, William. Commentaries on the Laws of England. Michigan: Lonang Institute, 2005. LONANG Library. Web. 28 October 2012. <http://www.lonang.com/exlibris/blackstone/bla-115.htm&gt;.

Gillis, John R. For Better, For Worse: British Marriages, 1600 to the Present. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985. Google Books. Web. 27 October 2012. <http://books.google.com /books?id=t3kiLAQxrnMC&lpg=PP1&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false>.

“The Law of Marriage.” Parliament.uk. UK Parliament, n.d. Web. 27 October 2012. transformingsociety/private-lives/relationships/overview/lawofmarriage-/>.

“Marriage Act 1753.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 2 September 2012. Web. 27 October 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marriage_Act_1753&gt;.

McMillen, Krystal. “Re: Classism & Sexism in Volume III of Humphry Clinker.” The Edible Eighteenth Century. WordPress.com, 24 October 2012. Web. 28 October 2012. classism-sexism-in-volume-iii-of-humphry-clinker/#comment-102>.

Parliament of Great Britain. An Act for the better preventing of clandestine Marriages. [1753.].” Rotherhamweb.co.uk, n.d. PDF file. < http://www.rotherhamweb.co.uk/genealogy/marriageact1753.pdf&gt;

—. Royal Marriages Act 1772: 1772 CHAPTER 11 12 Geo 3. The National Archives, 2012. PDF file. <http://www.legislation.gov.uk/apgb/Geo3/12/11/data.pdf&gt;

“Royal Marriages Act 1772.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 16 October 2012. Web. 27 October 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Marriages_Act_1772&gt;.


2 thoughts on “The Marriage Acts of Georgian England

  1. Amy, this was very interesting and adds a lot of additional background to what we read in Humphrey Clincker. Its interesting too that the age for a women to need permission went all the way up to 22, especially when history tells us that women generally married very young. So, a women would go from being under the “protection” of her family, to being under the “protection” of her husband. Aren’t we glad that times have changes so much!!!:)

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