Hostname: page-component-7d684dbfc8-d9hj2 Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-10-01T06:43:26.324Z Has data issue: false Feature Flags: { "corePageComponentGetUserInfoFromSharedSession": true, "coreDisableEcommerce": false, "coreDisableSocialShare": false, "coreDisableEcommerceForArticlePurchase": false, "coreDisableEcommerceForBookPurchase": false, "coreDisableEcommerceForElementPurchase": false, "coreUseNewShare": true, "useRatesEcommerce": true } hasContentIssue false

When the Present Became Future: The Ambiguity behind the Consent in the Marriage Rite of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 February 2018


In a preparatory essay for the International Anglican Liturgical Consultation 2011, on the topic of marriage, Thomas Cooper questioned the long-held view that the question of consent in the Prayer Book tradition was derived from the older betrothal vow. Arguing from the Latin of the Sarum Use, ‘Volo’, he argued that ‘Will you ..?’ and ‘I will’ reflects the Old English present tense and is part of the marriage vow. This article questions Cooper’s argument, and instead argues that the use of ‘will’ as a future tense already in Middle English and used in betrothals pre-dates the Latin text. As a result, the separation of the consent (understood as an immediate future intention) from the qvow as in the 1979 American Book of Common Prayer and the Church of England Common Worship 2000 is entirely justified.

Research Article
© The Journal of Anglican Studies Trust 2018 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)



The Revd Dr Bryan Spinks is the Bishop F. Percy Goddard Professor of Liturgical Studies and Pastoral Theology at Yale Divinity School.


2. Charles Wheatley, A Rational Illustration of the Book of Common Prayer, and Administration of the Sacraments, and other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church, according to the Use of the Church of England … (London, 3rd edn, 1720), p. 402.

3. Clarke, Laurence, A Compleat Exposition of the Book of Common-Prayer and Administration of the Lord’s Supper, According to the Use of the Church of England (London, 1737), p. 190 Google Scholar.

4. Thomas Cooper, ‘“Wilt thou have this woman?” – Asking God’s Blessing on Consenting Adults’, in Kenneth W. Stevenson (ed.), Anglican Marriage Rites: A Symposium (Joint Liturgical Studies 71; Norwich: Hymns Ancient and Modern, 2011).

5. Onions, C.T., An Advanced English Syntax (London: Kegan Paul, 1911), pp. 107-112 Google Scholar, 135-38, quoted in Cooper, ‘Wilt thou have this woman?’, p. 28.

6. Boethius, Ælfred, De Consol. Philos X, in Samuel Fox, King Alfred’s Anglo-Saxon Version of Boethius De Consulatione Philosophiae (London: H.G. Bohn, 1864), p. 28 Google Scholar. My thanks to Dr Hugo Mendez for these references and advice on the change from Old English to Middle English, to modern English.

7. Krapp, George P., The Paris Psalter and the Meters of Boethius (New York: Columbia University Press, 1932), p. 35 Google Scholar.

8. See, for example, first person usage in: Heuser, W., ‘With an O and an I’, Anglia 27 (1904), p. 287 Google Scholar; Thomas Hampton to Thomas Stonor, 31 August 1462 in Carpenter, Christine (ed.), Kingsford’s Stonor Letters & Papers 1290–1483 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), pp. 59-60 Google Scholar.

9. Nakayasu, Minako, ‘Towards a Pragmatic Analysis of Modals Shall and Will in Chaucer’s Language’, Studia Anglica Posnaniensa 46.4 (2011), pp. 73-96 Google Scholar.

10. Arnovick, Leslie K., The Development of Future Constructions in English: The Pragmatics of Modal and Temporal Will and Shall in Middle English (New York: Peter Lang, 1990)Google Scholar.

11. Carlson, Eric, Marriage and the English Reformation (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994), p. 20 Google Scholar.

12. Molin, Jean-Baptiste and Mutembe, Protais, Le Rituel du Mariage en France du XII au XVI Siècle, Théologie Historique, 26 (Paris: Beauchesne, 1974)Google Scholar.

13. Brown, T.J. , The Durham Ritual: A Southern English Collectar of the Tenth century with Northumbrian Additions. Durham Cathedral Library A.IV.19 (Copenhagen: Rosenkilde and Bagger, 1969)Google Scholar.

14. Essays in Anglo-Saxon Law (London: Macmillan, 1876), pp. 171–73.

15. Richard Greenham, ‘A Treatise on a Contract before Marriage’, in Kenneth Parker and Eric Carlson (eds.), Practical Divinity: The Works and Life of Rev’d Richard Greenham (St Andrews Studies in Reformation History; Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998), p. 338.

16. Abbott, Mary, Life Cycles in England, 1560–1720: Cradle to Grave (London: Routledge, 1996), p. 107 Google Scholar.

17. Molin and Mutembe, Le Rituel du Mariage, p. 306.

18. Searle, Mark and Stevenson, Kenneth, Documents of the Marriage Liturgy (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1992), p. 150 Google Scholar.

19. Stevenson, Kenneth, ‘Marriage’ in Paul Bradshaw (ed.), The SCM Dictionary of Liturgy and Worship (London: SCM Press, 2002), p. 300 Google Scholar. My italics. Cooper, ‘Wilt thou have this woman?’, refers to this in note 19, but only to the first part of the sentence. See also Stevenson’s comment in ‘Cranmer’s Marriage Vow: Its Place in the Tradition’, in Ayris, Paul and Selwyn, David (eds.), Thomas Cranmer: Churchman and Scholar (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 1993), pp. 189-198 Google Scholar (189) where consent is derived from the old form of betrothal.

20. Manuale et processionale ad usum insignis ecclesiae Eboracensis (Surtees Society 63; Durham: Andrews, 1875), p. 26.

21. York Manual, BL, ESTC S108611. Accessed on Early English Books Online, 6 January 2015.

22. Winroth, Anders, ‘Marital Consent in Gratian’s Decretum ’, in Kathleen Cushing and Martin Brett (eds.), Readers, Texts and Compilers in the Earlier Middle Ages: Studies in Medieval Canon Law in Honour of Linda Fowler-Magerl (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2009), pp. 111–21Google Scholar.

23. Lombard, Peter, The Sentences Book 4: On the Doctrine of Signs (trans. Giulio Silano; Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 2010), p. 161 Google Scholar (Book 4, Dis. 27, ch. 3).

24. See also Duggan, Anne J., ‘The Effect of Alexander III’s “Rules on the Formation of Marriage” in Angevin England’, in C.P. Lewis (ed.), Anglo-Norman Studies: XXXIII. Proceedings of the Battle Conference 2010 (Woodbridge: Boydell and Brewer, 2011), pp. 1-22 Google Scholar.

25. Bryant, Geoffrey F. and Hunter, Vivien M., ‘How thow schalt thy paresche preche’: John Myrc’s Instructions for Parish Priests (Barton-on-Humber: Workers Educational Association, 1999), p. 56 Google Scholar.

26. In Farge, James K. and Sheehan, Michael M. (eds.), Marriage, Family and Law in Medieval Europe: Collected Studies (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997)Google Scholar.

27. Farge and Sheehan, Marriage, Family and Law, pp. 56-57.

28. Farge and Sheehan, Marriage, Family and Law, p. 57

29. Farge and Sheehan, Marriage, Family and Law, pp. 57-58.

30. Farge and Sheehan, Marriage, Family and Law, p. 57.

31. Helmholz, R.H., Marriage Litigation in Medieval England (Cambridge Studies in English Legal History; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1974), pp. 39-40 Google Scholar.

32. Helmholz, Marriage Litigation, p. 38.

33. Swinburne, Henry, Treatise of Spousals or Matrimonial Contracts (London: 1686), p. 12 Google Scholar.