Marriage Act 1836

marriage act 1836

This act came into effect from January the 1st 1837 and legally applied only to England. It marked the first time a record of all marriages in England and Wales began to be kept in one place. From this date all marriage records were sent to The General Register Office for England and Wales (GRO), a newly created body responsible for the civil registration of births, adoptions, marriages, civil partnerships and deaths in England and Wales. Any couple intending to be married would now receive a marriage certificate from the parish registrar, and could not marry until 21 days had passed from delivery of this certificate. Unless permission was given by a parent, the minimum age of marriage was 21. The act also laid out other major reforms:

Notice of Marriage
An example of the required format for notifying the parish registrar of a marriage, taken from the original act
  • Marriage could take place in any legally recognised place of worship, such as a register office, upon signed confirmation from at least twenty householders that it was their primary place of worship.
  • A requirement for the registrar to record in a Marriage Notice Book the first name, surname, occupation, age, address & time at the address for both parties.
  • The registrar and a minimum of two credible witnesses must be present at the ceremony.

The 1836 Marriage Act would replace the Marriage Act of 1753 which originally dictated that only marriages within England and Wales that were performed by the Church of England as well as Jews and Quakers would be legally recognized. This meant that many different religions had to conform to the Anglican rites and ceremonies in which they did not believe or follow. Some notable religions affected by this included the Roman Catholics and other Christian congregations, Atheists, Muslims, Hindus and many other members of religious bodies.
All the marriages that took place within these religions not only conformed to the Anglican rites and ceremonies, but they were also carried out by a priest whom to these religious bodies had no authority or meaning to their marriage traditions. This caused quite some controversy when it came to the religious bodies that had a completely different outlook on wedding ceremonies some notable bodies include the Muslim Religion and the Hindu religion which are drastically different from the typical Marriage Ceremony enforced by the 1753 Act. However there was also some controversy regarding the Roman Catholic body as they were often recommended by priests that parishioners be married within a Roman Church but have their marriage legalized in a Anglican Parish Church, this ensured that they could have their traditional marriage and still have it legally recognized within England and Wales. However this generally meant more expense for such individuals as it involved two marriage ceremonies just for being part of a specific religious body.
As well as the implementation of legalized civil marriages the 1836 Marriage Act also allowed for all records within England and Wales to be stored in one specific location, from the date of 1st January 1837 all marriage records were sent directly to the General Register Office for England and Wales formally recognized as (GRO). This was a body that allowed for the storage of records noting civil registration births, adoptions, marriages, civil partnerships and deaths within England and Wales. However this also implemented a 21 day marriage certificate which could be reduced to 7 days at the expense of £3 in 1837 which translates to roughly £500 in modern times. It also enforced a minimum age of marriage this being 21 unless there was consent given by a parent or guardian with the authority to do so.

Marriages had two main requirements however, this included the ceremony being open to the general public as well as taking place from 9am – 3pm. If these requirements were not abided by then the marriage that took place dismissing these requirements would instantly become void for not abiding to the Marriage Act. This was later abolished in the 1949 Marriage Act in which times extended to the range of 8am to 6pm this allowed for marriage before work and also allowed for marriages after work. However this was also abolished in October 2012 and allowed for a marriage to take place at any time of the day/night this allowed for evening venues and early morning marriages to take place all across England and Wales.

The act contains a few other fascinating points –

every such Marriage shall be celebrated with open doors, between the hours of Nine in the Forenoon and Three in the Afternoon.

If you married outside these hours, or you didn’t let the public in, your marriage would be void!

this Act shall extend only to England, and shall not extend to the Marriage of any of the Royal Family.

Interestingly, it didn’t apply to royalty. Good news for Prince Charles.

no Marriage unless by License, shall be solemnized or registered in England until after the expiration of Twenty-one Days after the day of the delivery of such certificate of notice…

If you bought a license for £3 (between £150 and £500 in todays money, depending how you calculate it) then you only needed to give 7 days notice of intended marriage.

The act also says how the vows should be worded, with the familiar line –

I call upon these persons here present to witness that I, A. B. do take thee, C. D., to be my lawful wedded Wife [or Husband].

Marriage Act 1836
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