Published online by Cambridge University Press: 09 February 2009
This article sets out the incidence of clandestine marriage in Restoration London. Analysis of parish registers of large suburban parishes suggests that such private unions peaked twice in the capital's history, immediately after the Restoration and again in the first half of the eighteenth century. Understanding the phenomenon is important since the increase in private weddings on the scale encountered was unique to London. Historians have failed to explain the growth in such unions satisfactorily. The practice is unlikely to be explained by the growth of religious dissent, by a desire to save money or to circumvent parish or parental control over choice of spouse. The custom's popularity can be explained more convincingly by reference to wealthier Londoners′ traditional predilection for private weddings, which was sanctioned by the church, and to emulation of the habit by those lower in the social scale. Adoption of the practice was further facilitated by increasing levels of disposable income and by the commercialization of the wedding ceremony after the Restoration.
I would like to thank Anthony Benton, Brian Outhwaite, Tony Wrigley, Richard Wall, Roger Schofield, seminar audiences in Cambridge, East Anglia and Liverpool and anonymous referees for this journal for their helpful comments. My interest in the subject arose from discussions with the late Amanda Copley, to whose memory this paper is dedicated.
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8 The Hardwicke Act removed the legal validity of clandestine marriages by laying down that only a wedding celebrated in church according to the proper form would have legal force.
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43 For details of London parish fees see Boulton, ‘Itching after private marryings’, passim.
44 Guildhall MS 25665. Lambeth Palace Library CM7/105. The parish of Stepney charged 6s 8d from 1684. The lowest fees charged in Restoration London were, in addition to those of Cripplegate, those of St Sepulchres, 3s, and Whitechapel, 3s 6d. See Guildhall MS 9531/18, fos 19v, 124r-v; 9531/16, fo. 200v.
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