Clandestine/Irregular Weddings in Scotland
A clandestine wedding plays a key role in solving the mystery that occurs in my latest Regency romantic suspense, The Earl Claims His Comfort: Book 2 of the Twins’ Trilogy. But exactly what constituted a clandestine or irregular marriage during the Regency Period?
A clandestine/irregular marriage is what we today might call a “de facto” (describing practices that exist in reality, even if not legally authorized) wedding or even a “common law wedding.” Irregular marriages were considered legal in Scotland up until the mid 1900s. The laws in Scotland varied greatly from other European countries. Marriages in the European Catholic countries were only legal if they were conducted by a priest of the Roman Catholic Church. In England, marriages were only legal if conducted by an Anglican clergyman. The Hardwicke Act of 1753 saw to that. A couple wishing to marry in England agreed to both a religious sacrament and a legal contract. English couples had to have the consent of one or both parents if they were under the age of 21, and the wedding ceremony had to take place in a parish church and conducted by a man ordained by the Church of England.
But in Scotland, we have a totally different structure. A regular marriage did not require a church as the setting for the wedding or parental consent. It did require the proclamation of the banns in the parish church and an authorized clergyman from the Scottish Church.
Four forms of irregular marriages were considered valid marriages in Scotland until 1 July 1940. An irregular marriage could be considered valid (1) if there was mutual agreement between the man and the woman, a declaration of per verba de presenti—declaring before two witness to take someone as one’s wife or husband, (2) if there was a public promise of per verba de futuro subsequente copula followed by consummation, (3) if the marriage was contracted by correspondence, or (4) if there was cohabitation and repute.
The first two conditions were abolished by the Marriage (Scotland) Act of 1939. All four forms included the agreement of the couple to be married and some form of witnesses or evidence offered as proof of the agreement. Any citizen could witness a public promise. Thus, the reason many English couples rushed to Scotland to be married by a “blacksmith.” The marriage did not actually have to be performed by a blacksmith, just by a citizen of a Scottish border town or village. A marriage of cohabitation and repute was still acceptable until the 2008 Family Law (Scotland) Act. “Repute” was the part upon which divorces were granted or not. This was a common law marriage, and Scotland was the last of the European countries to abolish it. For this law to apply, the minimum time the couple had lived together continuously had to exceed 20 days. Until this act, the only regular marriage available in Scotland was a religious marriage. Irregular marriages were not socially acceptable, and many people who decided to contract them did so where they were relatively unknown.
According to Eleanor Gordon in “Irregular Marriages: Myth and Reality,” “The distinctive marriage arrangements of Scotland and England had very real consequences, most notoriously, the vogue for runaway marriages to Scotland, particularly Greta Green and other border towns, by young English couples seeking to avoid the need for parental consent for their marriage and to take advantage of the more flexible and informal marriage laws. Although Lord Brougham’s Act of 1856 attempted to stem the flow of young couples across the border by extending the residential qualification so that one of the parties had to be resident for 21 days, Gretna marriages continued to excite the disapproval of the authorities on both sides of the border into the twentieth century. Indeed it was the resurgence of these border marriages that prompted calls for reform of the marriage laws in the 1920 and 1930s. Although Dr. James Stark, Superintendent of Statistics under Scotland’s first Registrar General, William Pitt Dundas, described Scotland’s marriage laws as simple in comparison with “the complicated marriage laws of England,” they were in fact characterized more by ambiguity and uncertainty than clarity. For example, there were innumerable legal wrangles about whether particular situations demonstrated sufficient proof of exchange of consent as well as general misunderstanding of the nature of consent required, that is whether it needed to be expressed, written or tacit. Indeed when Scotland’s marriage laws were reviewed in both 1868 and 1935, it was the legal ambiguities surrounding irregular marriage that was one of the key reasons proffered for abolishing it.” [W. D. H. Seller, “Marriage by Cohabitation with Habit and Repute: Review and Requiem?” in D. L. Carey and D. W. Meyers (eds.), Comparative and Historical Essays in Scots Law (Edinburgh, 1992): 117–36.]
If contested, marriage by cohabitation was never legal in England. The fact was that most of the marriages by cohabitation or that of wife selling were invalid made little difference to the majority of the populace. Such distinctions only mattered when a child was declared legitimate or not and when a parish had to decide whether or not to give assistance to a woman in need. A couple who were married by cohabitation were, generally, not considered “respectable.” To be valid a marriage had to be started with a wedding in front of a clergyman. That is why so many went to the Fleet to get married by clergymen debtors. Women who lived with their betroths or declared themselves married without more than consummation, in England, found themselves unable to claim any property, any money or any benefits for themselves or the children because they were not considered legally married.
The world wars of the 1900s put a greater demand upon having a regular marriages. Inheritance and widows’ pensions required proof of a marriage beyond two witnesses marking a public commitment between a man and a woman. Registry offices served the need to legitimatize a marriage.
Nicol Warren on the Family Ancestry Detective Website suggests, “The National records of Scotland holds some irregular marriage information, on their website they have a pamphlet that gives the contact details of local society’s that may have more specific records. At the time of the marriage records may have been kept by priests and the couples, however it’s the kirk sessions where couples come before their local parish church that are the most kept records of an irregular marriage. With the birth of the first child meant paperwork would become an important part of legitimising the birth and registration generally happened hastily around that time. Kirk sessions like the South Leif kirk sessions recorded 1500 marriages. With the digitalisation of records all the time, it is always good to search through paid subscription sites to see whether the information is there.”
In this example from 1773 (National Records of Scotland reference OPR 818/2) a couple made a public acknowledgement of their irregular marriage and paid a fine of a guinea to the poor. The entry is followed by a note of the kirk session’s concern at the frequency of irregular marriages in the parish and their decision to increase the fine!
Gordon, Eleanor. “Irregular Marriage: Myth and Reality.” Journal of Social History, Volume 47, Issue 2, 1 December 2013, pp. 507-525. https://academic.oup.com/jsh/article/47/2/507/1325355/Irregular-Marriage-Myth-and-Reality
Leneman, Leah, and Rosalind Mitchison. “Clandestine Marriage in the Scottish Cities 1669-1780.” Journal of Social History. Oxford University Press. Vol 26, No. 4 (Summer 1993), pp. 845-861. https://www.jstor.org/stable/3788783?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents
Nicol Warren. “Irregular Marriages in Scotland.” The Family Ancestry Detective. 31 March 2015. http://familyancestrydetective.com/irregular-marriages-in-scotland/
“Old Parish Registers – Marriages and Proclamation of Banns.” National Records of Scotland. © Crown copyright, 2014. https://www.nrscotland.gov.uk/research/guides/birth-death-and-marriage-records/old-parish-registers/marriages-and-proclamation-of-banns
The Elopement, or Lovers Stratagem Defeated. Courtesy of the British Museum. from All Things Georgian https://georgianera.wordpress.com/2015/10/01/an-irregular-marriage-arthur-annesley-powell-did-he-go-willingly/
Irregular Marriage from The Family Ancestry Detective http://familyancestrydetective.com/irregular-marriages-in-scotland/
Introducing The Earl Claims His Comfort: Book 2 in the Twins’ Trilogy, releasing September 16, 2017, from Black Opal Books
– a 2016 Hot Prospects finalist in Romantic Suspense
Hurrying home to Tegen Castle from the Continent to assume guardianship of a child not his, but one who holds his countenance, Levison Davids, Earl of Remmington, is shot and left to die upon the road leading to his manor house. The incident has Remmington chasing after a man who remains one step ahead and who claims a distinct similarity—a man who wishes to replace Remmington as the rightful earl. Rem must solve the mystery of how a stranger’s life parallels his, while protecting his title, the child, and the woman he loves.
Comfort Neville has escorted Deirdre Kavanaugh from Ireland to England, in hopes that the Earl of Remmington will prove a better guardian for the girl than did the child’s father. When she discovers the earl’s body upon a road backing the castle, it is she who nurses him to health. As the daughter of a minor son of an Irish baron, Comfort is impossibly removed from the earl’s sphere, but the man claims her affections. She will do anything for him, including confronting his enemies. When she is kidnapped as part of a plot for revenge against the earl, she must protect Rem’s life, while guarding her heart.
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Also Check Out Angel Comes to the Devil’s Keep: Book 1 of the Twins’ Trilogy
– a 2017 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense finalist
– a SOLA’s Eighth Annual Dixie Kane Memorial Award finalist for Historical Romance
Huntington McLaughlin, the Marquess of Malvern, wakes in a farmhouse, after a head injury, being tended by an ethereal “angel,” who claims to be his wife. However, reality is often deceptive, and Angelica Lovelace is far from innocent in Hunt’s difficulties. Yet, there is something about the woman that calls to him as no other ever has. When she attends his mother’s annual summer house party, their lives are intertwined in a series of mistaken identities, assaults, kidnappings, overlapping relations, and murders, which will either bring them together forever or tear them irretrievably apart. As Hunt attempts to right his world from problems caused by the head injury that has robbed him of parts of his memory, his best friend, the Earl of Remmington, makes it clear that he intends to claim Angelica as his wife. Hunt must decide whether to permit her to align herself with the earldom or claim the only woman who stirs his heart–and if he does the latter, can he still serve the dukedom with a hoydenish American heiress at his side?
Actually, he received two letters upon the same day. The first was from Comfort, and Rem relished her newsy letter that not only announced the arrival of Lord Swenton’s daughter Iróna, but also the confirmation of Isolde’s and her father’s presence for their joining. “Despite his dislike of Isolde being so far from Ireland, uncle is exceedingly pleased to welcome a new granddaughter. He claims Iróna has the look of Isolde’s mother. Meanwhile, my father is speaking of our claiming a family soon. He has asked of my affections for you, and I have assured him that you own my heart. That I love you ardently.”
Her written words ripped the air from Rem’s chest. “She writes of loving me,” he whispered. He realized belatedly that his fingers trembled. He closed his eyes to capture the moment. “I must write Comfort to speak of my deepest regard.”
Yet the letter was not written, at least not for several days, for the second letter, the one from Malvern, set Remmington a task. As with Lord Swenton, the marquess took great pleasure in the announcement of the birth of his son, Henry Thomas Cadon McLaughlin, a sennight prior.
“Devilfoard struts about as if he was the one to birth the child,” Malvern wrote. “To have the dukedom secured brings both the duke and the duchess great happiness. Lady Malvern charges me with telling you that she hopes one of your daughters will take a liking to our Henry.”
Rem held no objections to a daughter of his marrying into the dukedom. “But only if she admires Lord Henry as much as she does his title,” he said with a nod of his head. “Affection is important to a successful marriage.”
Rem’s eyes returned to the page. Malvern wrote, “Now for news of a different sort. Devilfoard reports that Sir Alexander has yet to return to the Home Office. The duke spoke of how Sir Alexander’s superiors are at a loss in discovering his whereabouts. They covered his absence with tales of his secret stratagems in the government’s name. Yet as we both are aware, Sir Alexander departed for Scotland at the beginning of September to investigate the tale of your imposter. Plainly, there is a likely connection for Lord Angus’s estate is in Scotland. I cannot leave Lady Malvern. Moreover, you are better suited for finding the baronet. From your previous occupations, you have sources I have yet to develop.”
And so Rem had spent some three weeks along the Scottish border and in the west central lowlands before a rumor brought him to a small hospital on the outskirts of Glasgow.
“I have discovered your whereabouts at last,” he said in concern when he noted the many bandages wrapped about Sir Alexander’s body.
“Remmington?” the baronet asked.
“Did you expect another? A fetching female perhaps?”
The baronet frowned. “My vision is still recovering. It is difficult to see with this patch over one eye.”
Rem pulled a straight-back chair close to the bed. “Everyone worries for your absence,” he said softly. “What occurred?”
The baronet spoke in secretive tones. “A carriage accident. Broke my leg, my opposing ankle, and both arms. Took a blow to the head.”
Rem’s eyes traced the splints and bandages marking Sir Alexander’s injuries. “That explains why you did not write, but why not ask another to pen a letter?”
“The way I understand things, I was unconscious for a little more than a sennight. When I came about for several days I held no memory of what occurred or even who I was. Those who described the accident said I was fortunate to survive. Neither my coachman nor the footman did. When my senses returned, I recalled my mission to Scotland, and I worried someone planned for my carriage to leave the road in such a violent manner. I did not know if I could trust those who tended me to send word. What if I sent you a message, and then I discovered I dragged you into some sort of trap?”