My sincerest thanks to Maria Grazia for hosting me on My Jane Austen Book Club today. It is an honor to be here, and a great pleasure to share a bit of my research with your readers, as well as my latest novel. Darcy and Elizabeth: Hope of the Future is the second book in the two-volume Darcy Saga Prequel Duo, which began with Darcy and Elizabeth: A Season of Courtship. These two novels perfectly fit with my Darcy Saga Sequel to Pride and Prejudice, the series now including nine lengthy novels and one novella.
Three Ways to Wed during the Regency
Today I thought I would talk about the legitimate avenues for a legal marriage in England during the period our beloved characters lived. As a result of the Hardwicke Marriage Act of 1753, the rules and requirements were strictly detailed, in large part to prevent the rash marriages of the prior decades.
The five major points of the 1753 Marriage Act were:
1. A license and/or the reading of the banns were required to legally marry.
- Essential parental consent if either person was under the age of 21.
- The ceremony must take place in a public chapel or church where at least one of the two resided AND by an authorized Church of England clergyman.
- The marriage must be performed between 8am and noon, AND before designated witnesses.
- The marriage had to be recorded in the marriage register with the signatures of both parties, the witnesses, and the minister.
As a law pertaining to the Church of England, the only clear exception to the Hardwicke Act was for those of the Jewish faith—who married in a synagogue—and Catholics, Dissenters, and Quakers—who married in churches of their own faith. For those within the Anglican faith, there was scant wiggle room, and primarily this involved how the couple chose to fulfill the first point noted above: Banns or License.
A. Calling of the Banns
“I publish the Banns of marriage between Groom’s Name of–his local parish–and Bride’s Name of–her local parish. If any of you know cause or just impediment why these two persons should not be joined together in Holy matrimony, ye are to declare it. This is the first [second, third] time of asking.”
The word “banns” derives from the late 12th century Old English bannan meaning “to summon, command, proclaim.” As applied to marriage—in the official “proclamation or notice given in a church of an intended marriage” usage—banns were made part of ecclesiastic legislation by the fourth Lateran council in 1215.
Per the legislation, for three consecutive Sundays a Church of England clergyman would announce the intended marriage from the pulpit, the wording precisely as noted above. Only the priest assigned to the parish of residence for the man and woman could call the banns. If both of the persons resided in the same parish, then the banns were read in that parish. If the two people came from different parishes, the curate of one parish could not solemnize the wedding without a certificate from the other parish curate stating the banns had been “thrice called” and no objections had been lodged.
By simple math, the shortest span of a betrothal for this method was just over two weeks. A few days to a week longer if a distant certificate was needed. Under normal circumstances, two to three weeks from proposal to marriage was perfectly acceptable and necessary to plan for even the simple, understated wedding ceremonies of the era. The prime benefit of the banns option, however, was the ease, since no license was required, and that there was no cost.
From the ecclesiastical standpoint, the most important reason for calling of the banns were the declared requests for objections. Banns were not called to inform the parishioners of the coming union or invite them to the wedding. Rather, the only purpose was to ask of those citizens who presumably knew the couple if there were any impediments to the marriage, the wait between the three callings allowing time for someone with an objection to speak with the clergyman and give evidence.
Once the three banns were called and met with no objections, the couple then had ninety days to finalize the ceremony. If not done for whatever reason, the banns would need to be called again.
B. Common or Ordinary License
Clergyman of the Church of England could issue a marriage license for a few shillings to a pound. This license was valid for fifteen days and the couple was required to marry in their resident parish. Prior to granting a common license, the clergyman required each person to submit a sworn, solemn statement that there were no impediments.
The benefit, obviously, was not having to wait for two or three weeks. The negative was the cost, which was not easy for many working class folks. Additionally, all of the other rules from the Hardwicke Act remained, so unless extreme haste was necessary—and this might raise eyebrows—a common license held few perks.
C. Special License
Don’t let Regency romance novels fool you because this option was extremely rare and not as “special” as the name implies.
A special license could only be obtained directly from the Archbishop of Canterbury at the Doctors Commons in London. Aside from the inconvenience of traveling to London and gaining an audience with the Archbishop, the hugest deterrent was the cost—over 20 guineas plus a £4 to £5 Stamp Duty for the paper. For this reason, only the very wealthy could even consider it, but the real question is, why would they?
A special license did not preclude any of the stipulations of the Hardwicke Act save one: the couple were allowed to marry at any time of the day. This was the only alteration and an unlikely need in the vast majority of cases.
Read an Excerpt
Lizzy burst out laughing. “What my sister is too polite to say, Miss Darcy, is that aside from Mr. Bingley’s specific rooms, it was garish and cluttered. Miss Bingley has been mistress of the house for some time now, has she not?” Georgiana affirmed with a single nod. “Oh, my dear Jane! I foresee endless fun and challenges ahead! Do not fret over my sister managing, Miss Darcy. We are quite familiar with Miss Bingley’s peculiar personality.”
Lizzy went on to amusedly describe the Bingley townhouse decor as Jane had revealed to her in shocked dismay. Jane added the random comment, always with a tone of kindness even when reporting something ghastly, and soon all three of the women were laughing.
“I must beseech you to change the subject or I shall surely say something unkind, earning more scolding from my brother! Tell me about the wedding plans. That should be a safe topic, yes?”
“You would think so, yes.” Lizzy wiped at the tears pooling in her eyes. “Then again, you have yet to meet our mother.”
“Now, Lizzy,” Jane began, but Lizzy forestalled her by clasping her hand.
“I am teasing. Mama has been surprisingly reserved, once she finally accepted that neither Mr. Bingley nor Mr. Darcy intended to apply for a special license or insist on being married in Winchester Cathedral.”
“There was no need for the expense of a special license, of course,” Jane added, ignoring the Winchester Cathedral nonsense. “Plenty of time to announce the banns. In fact, the first call was this past Sunday in Meryton, as I presume it was at Saint George’s for Mr. Bingley.”
“I cannot say on that, but the first banns were called by Reverend Bertram two Sundays past.” Georgiana pressed her palms against her chest, smiling radiantly at Lizzy. “Oh! I cannot begin to express my joy at hearing them read. ‘I publish the banns of marriage between Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy of Lambton Parish, and Miss Elizabeth Bennet of Meryton Parish. If any of you know cause or just impediment why these two persons should not be joined together in Holy matrimony, ye are to declare it. This is the first time of asking.’ And of course, no one had a word of objection, only delight. I was overwhelmed with congratulations and thankful Cousin Richard was at my side to assist.”
“Well,” Lizzy murmured, feeling fairly overwhelmed herself, even hearing of it second hand. “I am pleased to learn that the local citizens enthusiastically greeted the news of Mr. Darcy’s betrothal.”
“Indeed so! Stability and continuity of the Darcy family are essential for so many who depend on us. Granted, they are probably not as concerned about my brother’s personal happiness as they are the technicalities.” Georgiana reddened, belatedly remembering certain aspects of the “technicalities” involved with family continuity, then rushed on. “You will adore living at Pemberley, Miss Elizabeth, I know you will. Now you must describe your wedding gowns. Is the train four feet and of the spun silk you wanted?”
Lizzy snorted a laugh, nearly spewing a gulp of tea. “Mr. Darcy told you about that? Oh my!”
“He was utterly amused, of course. As he is with everything you say.”
Darcy and Elizabeth: Hope of the Future (Darcy Saga Prequel Book #2) by Sharon Lathan
Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet will soon be joined in Holy Matrimony!
The initial month of their Season of Courtship has passed. Together, the lovers strengthened their bond through honest communication, as they dealt with adversity, jealousy, and distrust. Ever growing in mutual love and understanding, a dramatic confrontation broke through the final barriers.
Now their Hope of the Future “happily ever after” is assured!
As long as Lady Catherine can be stopped in her scheme to interfere, that is. Or, will Mrs. Bennet’s bad advice ruin future marital felicity? Might increasing liberation lead to overwhelming passions that cannot be controlled, with catastrophe a result?
Continue the journey begun in Darcy and Elizabeth: A Season of Courtship. Delight in their flourishing romance, ride along on their escapades in London, and be a witness at the wedding of the century.
The miraculous design of how Two Shall Become One begins before the sacred vows.
Darcy and Elizabeth: Hope of the Future is Volume 2 of the “prequel duo” for Sharon Lathan’s Darcy Saga sequel series to Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.
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About the author
Sharon Lathan is the best-selling author of The Darcy Saga sequel series to Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice. Her first novel, Mr. and Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy: Two Shall Become One, was published in 2009. Sharon’s series of “happily ever after” for the Darcys now totals nine full-length novels and one Christmas themed novella.
Darcy & Elizabeth: A Season of Courtship and Darcy & Elizabeth: Hope of the Future complete the “prequel to the sequel” duo recounting the betrothal months before the Darcy Saga began.
Sharon is a native Californian relocated in 2013 to the green hills of Kentucky, where she resides with her husband of over thirty years. Retired from a thirty-year profession as a registered nurse in Neonatal Intensive Care, Sharon is pursuing her dream as a full-time writer.
Sharon is a member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, JASNA Louisville, the Romance Writers of America (RWA), the Beau Monde chapter of the RWA, and serves as the website manager and on the board of the Louisville Romance Writers chapter of the RWA.
Sharon is the co-creator of Austen Authors, a group blog for authors of Austenesque literary fiction. Visit at: www.AustenAuthors.com
Connect with Sharon at the following places—
Facebook at Sharon Lathan, Novelist