In my book, MR. DARCY’s BRIDEs, by mistake Elizabeth disrupts Mr. Darcy’s marriage to his cousin, Anne De Bourgh. Our daring heroine is in disguise (NOTE: I drape her with a heavy veil attached to her bonnet, which would not be likely in the Regency era, but it was not forbidden. No one can say for certain; therefore, I took some “liberty” in this case because it made a nice plot point.) and does not realize she is at the wrong wedding until it is too late. Afterwards, the legality of the wedding in which she participated with Darcy comes into place. If it is legal, in the Regency, that meant FOREVER unless one wished to seek a annulment. But, in truth, that legal statute was not so easily achieved.
So how did one go about earning an annulment? Annulments were only granted if (1) one or both of the couple were not of age, (2) were too closely related (Remember first cousins could marry, but a man could not marry the sister of his late wife, so “related” was not always as clear cut as we might think in modern times.), (3) the gentleman was impotent at the time of marriage (hard to prove unless the marriage was consummated), (4) one of the pair had committed fraud, (5) one or both could be considered insane at the time of marriage, (6) or one of the pair was already married to another. Even if one of the couple was not of age, if they did not stop living together when they became of age (12 for women and 14 for men), then they were still considered married.
I think it’s worth mentioning that the fraud, force, or lunacy had to have occurred during the wedding ceremony (or before, if it pertained to the permission granted to a minor), NOT after the couple were lawfully wed. One could not claim coercion after he had pronounced his vows. Even wealthy peers were stuck with a spouse if problems arose only after the ceremony. For example, both the 11th Duke of Norfolk and the 4th Earl of Sandwich were stuck in unfortunate marriages when their wives went insane. In the Duke of Norfolk’s case, his wife was locked up before giving him an heir, so that the dukedom eventually passed to his cousin.
In the Regency period, fraud as a means to voiding the marriage rested in the question of parental permission. The fraud was not the type where a person misrepresented himself by saying he owned property that he did not own or held a title that he did not possess. Lying about circumstances was not fraud. Being drunk at the wedding was not a cause as long as one knew what he was doing. And insanity had to previous to the wedding–simplemindedness came under that category as well.
Also the idea of forcing someone into a marriage changed over the 19th century. At first, force was considered physical force only as more than a reasonable man could withstand. Over the period of time, the courts acknowledged that women were weaker and less physical force was necessary to overpower them. One had to run, literally, away or protest at the ceremony or at the signing of the register or in some other way express one’s denial of acceptance to void a marriage. Witnesses to one’s refusal were required as proof. The court did not take into consideration such things as a threat as being “forced” into a marriage.
Marriages could be annulled if the spouse was a previous in-law or if one was impotent. I know you have seen in numerous romance novels where the man and woman decide not to consummate their marriage so they can later get an annulment and marry another, but non-consummation was not grounds for an annulment. Consummation could strengthen a claim of marriage in Scotland and could throw doubt over a claim of being forced into marriage, but non-consummation was not grounds. The church always assumed that the couple would get around to it sooner or later if they were able.
Impotence and real frigidity, on the other hand, were grounds as was a physical deformity of the necessary parts. An impenetrable hymen was also grounds, though that could be fixed by a surgeon.
Invalid marriages were those by minors by license without proper permission or the situation involved bigamy.
English law did not require consummation. Scottish law used it as proof in clandestine marriages, but only if the other forms were not followed. The Consistory court of the Church of England handled annulments. This was located in London. The Courts within Doctors Commons were very much associated in the public mind with the making and unmaking of marriage from the 17th Century forward. Gradually the London Consistory Court assumed a virtual monopoly in matrimonial suits and became the most important matrimonial court for the whole of the country. It became the court of first instance for most matrimonial cases.
I much prefer the sharpest criticism of a single intelligent man to the thoughtless approval of the masses.
ELIZABETH BENNET is determined that she will put a stop to her mother’s plans to marry off the eldest Bennet daughter to Mr. Collins, the Longbourn heir, but a man that Mr. Bennet considers an annoying dimwit. Hence, Elizabeth disguises herself as Jane and repeats her vows to the supercilious rector as if she is her sister, thereby voiding the nuptials and saving Jane from a life of drudgery. Yet, even the “best laid plans” can often go awry.
FITZWILLIAM DARCY is desperate to find a woman who will assist him in leading his sister back to Society after Georgiana’s failed elopement with Darcy’s old enemy George Wickham. He is so desperate that he agrees to Lady Catherine De Bourgh’s suggestion that Darcy marry her ladyship’s “sickly” daughter Anne. Unfortunately, as he waits for his bride to join him at the altar, he realizes he has made a terrible error in judgement, but there is no means to right the wrong without ruining his cousin’s reputation. Yet, even as he weighs his options, the touch of “Anne’s” hand upon his sends an unusual “zing” of awareness shooting up Darcy’s arm. It is only when he realizes the “zing” is arrives at the hand of a stranger, who has disrupted his nuptials, that he breathes both a sigh of relief and a groan of frustration, for the question remains: Is Darcy’s marriage to the woman legal?
What if Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet met under different circumstances than those we know from Jane Austen’s classic tale: Circumstances that did not include the voices of vanity and pride and prejudice and doubt that we find in the original story? Their road to happily ever after may not, even then, be an easy one, but with the expectations of others removed from their relationship, can they learn to trust each other long enough to carve out a path to true happiness?
Excerpt from chapter 1 of MR. DARCY’S BRIDEs…
Elizabeth knew she would not be able to see much from behind the veil draping the curve of her bonnet, and she held no doubt that her head would itch from the scraps of a cut up wig she had attached to the straw bonnet. Before she left her childhood home, she had discovered the wig in the attic at Longbourn. Mr. Hill, her father’s man servant, seemed to think it had belonged to her paternal grandfather, a man of “peculiar tendencies,” Mr. Hill had said with diplomacy.
“It does not matter if the wig were nicer,” she had assured her sister. “It will be enough to provide the impression that my hair is blonde, and the veil will cover my face until it is too late for Mama to realize it is not you who has married Mr. Collins. The morning shadows in the church will do the rest. If we are fortunate, it will be cloudy on the day of the ceremony.”
“Are you certain this is best?” Jane pleaded with tears forming in her eyes. “As much as I have no desire to marry the man, neither do I wish you to be attached to Papa’s cousin.”
The fact that Jane had participated willingly in this charade spoke a great deal of her sister’s dismay at their mother’s ultimatum that Jane marry Mr. Bennet’s heir, Mr. Collins, a man none of them knew by countenance.
“I am certain.” Elizabeth squeezed the back of Jane’s hand to comfort her sister’s growing anxiousness. “Even if Mr. Collins would suddenly switch his promise to marry one of the Bennet sisters from you to me, grounds for an annulment would still remain, for I shall take my vows as Jane Bennet. The marriage will be void. You must simply escape to Aunt Gardiner’s relations in Derbyshire. I will stall as long as possible so you may be several hours upon the road before anyone discovers our deception. As only you and I and Aunt Gardiner know of your whereabouts, you should be safe until Mama’s vengeance has wained.”
“More likely, the devil’s disciples will be wearing nothing but their unmentionables before our mother’s ire dissipates.”
Elizabeth agreed, but she would not give voice to her concerns. Jane’s agreement to escape to the northern shires was uncharacteristic enough. “The only thing that worries me is that you will travel so far and alone.”
“I assure you, in these circumstances, I can be as strong as is required, but do not fret of my traveling unchaperoned, for Aunt Gardiner will send a maid with me. But what of Papa? How shall Mr. Bennet react when he discovers what we have done to thwart Mama’s plans?”
After his horse had thrown him during a thunder storm, their father had experienced a long bout of consumption, which had turned into lung fever. Such was the reason Mrs. Bennet had decided that Jane must marry their father’s heir presumptive in order to save the family. It was almost as if their mother had decided that Mr. Bennet would leave them at the mercy of the “odious” Mr. Collins, as Mrs. Bennet was fond of calling the man. As Jane was considered one of the prettiest ladies in the Hertfordshire, their mother had thought that Mr. Collins would accept a comely wife immediately. Their mother assumed that if Mr. Bennet passed from his afflictions, Collins could drive the Bennet family from Longbourn. Therefore, Mrs. Bennet meant to secure Mr. Collins’s patronage by marrying off her eldest daughter to the man.
“Papa is improving, but he is not yet well enough to bring a halt to Mama’s manipulations, and, in truth, I feared speaking to him of this matter. He would insist upon leaving his bed before Doctor French says it is safe. However, I have recruited Mary to watch over him, and I have made some bit of explanation to our sister. She has promised her silence unless we meet difficulties.”
“You realize our mother will be enraged by our actions?” Jane asked in tentative tones.
“I shall be viewed as the architect of this plan,” Elizabeth said with a shrug of resignation. She often knew her mother’s disfavor. Fanny Bennet rarely had a kind word for her second daughter. “But better Mrs. Bennet’s temper than a lifetime of drudgery with Mr. Collins in a cottage in Kent, bowing and scraping to know the pleasure of his benefactor. Papa calls the man an obvious twit. I am not certain Mr. Bennet has ever met the man, but Papa considered Mr. Collins’s father a candidate for Bedlam. Naturally, he would transfer his opinion of the late Mr. Collins to his son.”