Marriage Licences, Allegations and Bonds I have recently covered a number of records that would be found in the parish chest and now it is the turn of Marriage Licences, Allegations & Bonds. If a couple decided that they would prefer that banns were not called on three consecutive Sundays in their parish church then a marriage licence would need to be purchased to allow the wedding to go ahead. The reasons for this decision were many and varied. The groom may be soon going abroad on military service, the couple may be away from their home parishes so making it difficult to arrange for banns to be read, the bride may be pregnant with the birth imminent or it may have simply been that the families preferred to avoid the publicity of the whole parish knowing their personal business.
Most marriages were by banns as Marriage Licences, Allegations and Bonds cost more than paying for banns to be read, but if your ancestors weren’t from the wealthy classes of society don’t dismiss looking for licences, you may well be surprised just who paid for a marriage licence. The process of applying for permission to marry in this way generated three documents – Marriage Licences, Allegations and Bonds.
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There were two types of licences, one was known as a special licence and could only be issued by the Archbishop of Canterbury and allowed the marriage to take take place in any parish. They are extremely rare and very expensive. The second type was a common licence, much cheaper and usually named one or two parishes where the marriage could take place. Occasionally you might find a common licence naming two parishes only to find it took place in another non-named church, human nature is such that our ancestors didn’t always obey the rules!
Hardwick’s Marriage Act of 1753 confirmed that either the bride or the groom should live in the parish in which the marriage took place. Having said that the residence could be as little as 4 weeks, later being reduced even further to 15 days, Again this was ignored in some cases. A very full description of the rules of marriage licence law in given in what I consider to be the essential genealogy book “Ancestral Trails” by Mark Herber. If you wish to know all the intricacies then he is the person to consult!
The marriage licence itself was a document declaring that the marriage might go ahead and the details of where this could happen. It was generally given to the groom and his bondsman and for this reason not a huge number of them have survived, although some can be found amongst parish chest records where the cleric has taken charge of the document. The licences usually only give the name of both parties, the parishes where the marriage could take place and the date on which the marriage would occur.
Before a licence could be issued an allegation, a sworn oath in writing, had to take place. This allegation was sworn to the fact that there was no impediment why the marriage should take place. If banns are read then any person with reasons for why a marriage shouldn’t take place have 3 weeks in which to speak to the Vicar, but in a marriage by licence those who might have such knowledge aren’t going to hear about the event until after the marriage has taken place. Therefore an allegation is required, this document will have the names, ages, occupations and residences of both parties. It will also give their status, single or widowed, where and when the marriage is to take place and if either bride or groom is below the age of consent the name of the parents or guardian who gives their consent for the marriage.
Marriage Licences, Allegations and Bonds – Bonds
Bonds were also sworn statements that confirmed that there was no reason that the marriage should not go ahead, where and when the marriage was to take place and very importantly the amount of money that would be forfeited if the licence wasn’t complied with. The bond was sworn by one or more bondmen who would have to surrender the money to the Church authorities should anything untoward happen. The bondsmen were often relatives of the bride and groom and certainly will be someone who knew them both very well. The need for bonds was ended in 1823. The allegation and bond can sometimes be found as one document.
Just because banns have been called or a marriage licence paid for along with the allegation and bond does not necessarily mean the marriage took place. A brother of my 3 x great grandfather had banns read for the required 3 weeks, but no marriage took place, in fact the bride married another in less than a year. They all continued living in the same small village for the rest of their lives so one can only hope the decision not to marry was an amicable one!
Marriage Licences, Allegations and Bonds – Where can they be found online?
The Harleian Society, established in 1869 and still in existence have published quite a number of volumes of Marriage Licences, Allegations & Bonds. These are no longer available for sale by the society. The British Record Society have also published volumes of Marriage Licences, Allegations & Bonds, as have some county societies. Some of these publications can be found on the Internet Archive.org website by simply typing in marriage licences into the search box. However bear in mind that these are transcripts and therefore open to error and you should try and view the original record if at all possible.
If you search the Ancestry card catalogue using the term “Marriage Licences” you will find they have a number of the Harleian Society publications online, Ancestry also has 177 volumes of Crisps London Marriage Licences (click here for my post on Crisps Fragmenta Genealogica) as well as other publications regarding Marriage Licences. These cover Dublin, Ireland, Hampshire, London, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and the special licences issued by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Using the search term “Allegations”, you are offered a much greater number of databases including digitised images of the original document. Depending on where your ancestors might have applied for their Marriage Licence these databases would be well worth searching. Remember that some of these records will not come up as shaky leaves on your Ancestry Family Tree and they also may not come up when you undertake a general search. Ancestry has a huge number of databases and it is my experience that searches a few hours apart can bring up quite different records. I think their search engine can not possibly search each database quickly enough to include everything available. That is why getting to know the card catalogue is so important The same applies to FindMyPast and FamilySearch.
A search of FindMyPast’s A – Z of Record Sets (their card catalogue) brings up a mixture of publications of transcripts as well as original records. Their range includes Cambridgeshire, Leicestershire, special licences issued by the Archbishop of Canterbury plus quite a few publications. As mentioned above when using the FindMyPast A – Z of Record Sets put in a variety of search terms such as allegations, bonds and licences to make sure you pick up all that is available. I can see that I need to draw up a spreadsheet for readers giving details of who has which county Marriage Licences, Allegations & Bonds!
Using the FamilySearch catalogue search facility and entering a county brings up a long list of records. The Marriage Licences, Allegations & Bonds of a county come under Church Records and clicking on that allow you to work through the list identifying the documents you are looking for. Of course many of the original records filmed by the LDS Church aren’t available online at home, you will need to visit a Family History Centre or designated library to view the documents. It is just a matter of searching to see if you are able to view originals or indexes at home.
If you find a note in a parish marriage register that the marriage was by licence then it is well worth while following up on the licences, bonds and allegations. I find quite a few genealogists are unaware of the depth of information that these documents contain and of course if you find a licence then do make sure that the marriage actually took place. If a marriage failed to occur then do a search in FindMyPast’s newspaper archive as I have seen events reported in the local paper, nothing sells like a scandal!
I hope you have enjoyed learning about these documents and that you feel inspired to go searching for them. We will take another look in the parish chest in a few weeks time.
Here are links to other articles in this series on Parish Chest Records –
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