On a Regency chat list we got talking about weddings at the same time as I was researching aspects for my MIP Too Dangerous for a Lady. (Out next April.) I thought I'd share some of what I learned here. None of it was entirely new to me, but there were aspects that were interesting.
The law about weddings changed in 1753/4 so this is about the situation after that and not in Scotland, which kept its old ways, leading to Gretna Green etc.
The law relating to weddings was designed to prevent abuses such as bigamy and the marriage of underage people without the consent of parent or guardian. Everything should be public and clear.
The simplest method was by banns. "The banns of matrimony shall be published in the church where they dwell three several Sundays or holidays, in the time of divine service." If the couple live in different parishes then the banns must be published in both, so everyone who knows them knows what they're up to.
Whether by banns or licence, the marriage had to be "openly solemnized in the parish church where one of the parties dwelleth, or the church mentioned in the licence, between the hours of eight and twelve in the morning." If the marriage wasn't celebrated in the church of one of them, I think there would be questions if there wasn't a good reason. The word "openly" is important. It meant that the wedding couldn't be private. Anyone could enter the church and witness it. Again, it had to be open to the scrutiny of those who knew them.
This was why the Special Licence was very popular with the beau monde. As the law book I'm quoting from says, "But by special licence or dispensation from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Marriages especially of persons of quality, are frequently in their own houses, out of canonical hours, in the evening, and often solemnized by others in other churches than where one of the parties lives, and out of time of divine service, &c."
I suspect that the main attraction wasn't evening or other churches, but the private home. There the lord and lady could wed without hoi polloi gawking at them. My impression is that they didn't often marry at their country estates, perhaps because there everyone around would expect to take part?
Once I looked, I found a number of announcement of marriages by Special Licence.
By special licence, at the earl of Albemarle's, in St. James's-square, Mr. Coke, of Norfolk, to lady Anne Keppel, second daughter of his lordship. (I peeped behind the pages of history to find that she was 50 years his junion, but it was apparently a love match. There's more here.)
By special licence, at lord Westmoreland’s house in Berkeley square, by the bishop of Cloyne, Lord Boringdon, to Lady Augusta Fane, second daughter of the earl of Westmoreland.
At St. George's church, Hanover-square, by special licence, James Ogilby, Esq. second son of John Ogilby, Esq of Ardnargle in the county 'of Londonderry, to Miss Rush, daughter of the late George Rush, Esq. of Farthinghoe, Northamptonshire
They might have had a Special Licence in order to marry in a fashionable London church which was the parish of neither, but I believe they could have done that with an ordinary licence. Anyone know? They may have wanted to marry in the afternoon, or it might simply have been the cachet. (He was 29, she was 21, so rather more normal, except she died the next year. Childbirth? He never remarried.)
In looking around I stumbled on this one. At Gretna Green, the Hon. Mr. Lambton, to Miss Cholmondeley, of Cholmondley in Cheshire. The gentleman has 60,000 a year, and the lady a fortune of 20,000.Why Gretna?
Enough of diversions. There we have the basics. Banns, licence, special licence.
How do you like the weddings in your historical romance? Church in the morning or private home in the evening? Better with banns in the village church? Or even an elopement to Scotland?
Do you have a favorite elopement romance?
I found this reference to a marriage which sounds a lot like the grand wedding of Beth and Lucien in An Unwilling Bride.
This evening, at the house of lady Perth, in Grosvenor-square, by special licence, the right honourable the earl of Moira, to the countess of Loudon. The ceremony was performed by the bishop of London; the prince of Wales gave away the bride's hand; and the nuptials were attended by a brilliant circle of the nobility, their friends.
In A Shocking Delight, David and Lucy were planning to marry in her parish church. In Too Dangerous for a Lady I think they're heading for a Special Licence for lack of an attractive parish. But we'll see. It's not quite there yet.