Wedding Hotspots in Regency England

Naomi here, and we’re talking about weddings today. More particularly, wedding hotspots. In today’s society, destination weddings seem to be growing in popularity. A person can’t just get married in a church anymore. Oh no. We have to fly to Hawaii, trade vows on a Jamaican beach at sunset, or visit the Florida keys in order to have the perfect wedding. Does anyone get married in a plain old church anymore?

In Regency England, church weddings were all the rage. They had to be. It was illegal to get married anywhere else (unless you were super rich and bought your way out of the church deal, but we’ll get to that in a moment).

According to the Hardwicke’s Marriage Act of 1753, if a couple wanted to marry, they needed:

  • a license
  • banns read in church services for three consecutive weeks
  • parental consent if under the age of 21

Then the marriage itself had to:

  • be performed in the morning hours between 8:00 and 12:00
  • be held in a public chapel or church (Church of England church, Jewish synagogue or Quaker meeting)
  • be conducted by authorized clergy
  • be recorded in the marriage register with the signatures of both parties, the witnesses, and the minister.

As you can well see, the British Government was gracious to all those poor people wanting to get married two hundred years ago. And the sad thing is, England has so much lovely scenery. You know those beautiful White Cliffs of Dover? Do you want to get married there at sunset? Regular folk likely couldn’t have, though there were two ways around the tedious list of marriage regulations.

  • For a modest sum, you could purchase a license from the local clergy, which enabled the marrying couple to skip the banns.
  • For an exorbitant sum, you could purchase a special license from no less than the Archbishop of Canterbury, which enabled the marrying couple to skip the banns, get married outside a church, and marry after noon.

However, there was a more dramatic way to circumvent the Marriage Act of 1753: Elope. The Hardwicke Marriage Act was only law in England. Scotland didn’t adhere to such strict marriage regulations, and towns along the Scottish/English border became a popular place to elope, (especially if the bride or groom was under 21 and didn’t have parental consent). Today people fly to Vegas; in Regency England they rode four days (or more) from London to Gretna Green, Scotland. Or Coldstream Bridge, Lamberton, Mordington, or Paxton Toll.

Blacksmith's shop in Gretna Green

For those wealthy, law abiding citizens not wishing to circumvent the Marriage Act or do something so extreme as to marry out of doors, the place to get married was St. George’s, Hanover Square. Interestingly enough, St. George’s is not located on Hanover Square itself, but a block or two away. It was located in the fashionable place for the ton to live when in London: Mayfair.

The church held about 1,000 weddings per year in Regency times, which comes out to three weddings per day. And remember the majority of these weddings had to take place between 8:00 am and noon. Can you imagine getting married there? Maybe, if you were lucky, you would have had the church for a whole hour before getting get kicked out so the next bride in line could have her turn. Which makes me equate St. George’s to a modern day Las Vegas wedding chapel.  The record for marriages at St. George’s was set in 1816, with 1,063 weddings, including nine on Christmas Day.

The Most Fashionable Regency Wedding Church
Where everyone wanted to get married

So there you have it, Wedding Hotspots in Regency England, and the reason why those places were so hot: The Hardwicke Marriage Act.

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A mother of two young boys, Naomi Rawlings spends her days picking up, cleaning, playing and, of course, writing. Her husband pastors a small church in Michigan’s rugged Upper Peninsula, where her family shares its ten wooded acres with black bears, wolves, coyotes, deer and bald eagles. Naomi and her family live only three miles from Lake Superior, where the scenery is beautiful and they average 200 inches of snow per winter. Naomi writes bold, dramatic stories containing passionate words and powerful journeys. Her debut novel, Sanctuary for a Lady releases in April of 2012.

Love & Marriage

Hello, Jessica here! It’s February, and when I started thinking about Valentine’s Day during the Regency, I thought of a poem that many a Regency gentleman would have had in a volume on his bookshelves. It’s an epithalamion – or “marriage poem” – written by John Donne to celebrate a marriage that took place on Valentine’s Day. (If you want to read the whole thing, you can find it here.)

In the poem, Donne riffs on the legend that Valentine’s Day is the day when the birds choose their mates. He says, humorously, “Hail Bishop Valentine, whose day this is, all the air is thy diocese,” and goes on from there to make comparison between the marriages of the birds and the marriage of the human couple in whose honor his poem is written.


Photo credit: gracey from morguefile.com 

Marriage of the Birds

As I perused the poem in preparation for this blog entry, I admit that my first reaction was to geek out on all the cool literary and historical stuff in it – the use of avian and celestial imagery, the conceit that the whole poem is a speech to St. Valentine himself, the echoes of Chaucer’s “Parliament of Fowls” – but as I read further, my thoughts took a more devotional turn.

Even though the Regency was a time when the ideas spawned by the Enlightenment were changing the culture and a time when industrial progress was starting to creep over the landscape in the form of railroads and factories, it was still a time when the young minds of the landed gentry were saturated with ancient philosophy and poetry, thanks to the classical education so many of them received. The old idea of the natural world as a created, ordered system still held sway over the English imagination.

Thus, the idea of finding your spouse on the same day that the birds found their mates appealed not just because it was romantic, but because, in some mystical sense, it was right. Mankind was seen as a part of the natural order and it was fitting to let your own life reflect the order of the cosmos.


Photo credit: click from morguefile.com

First Comes Love . . .

Of course, even if getting married on Valentine’s Day was a good thing, no educated Regency gentleman would have said that it was necessary. But what most would have said is that there was an order to the cosmos and that humans were a part of it.

Romance and the Cosmos

Romance might be a small part of the cosmic order, but if it is a part of it, what does that mean? Well, it means what we’ve always known that it means: it means that romance is not something meant to stand alone. It’s a part of a bigger picture – it’s supposed to lead to and be a part of marriage. A wedding is the crowning glory of a romance. And then, over time, things shift, and romance becomes the warm affection of a faithful marriage. Romance is the gate a couple opens in order to walk down the path to their home – the home that was created when the two became one – and romance is the light and warmth that still adorn that home, months and years and decades after the wedding itself.

More than that, a good marriage becomes a window for us to understand the relationship between Christ and His church. Maybe the marriage of the birds was just a legend that provoked some beautiful poetry once upon a time, but the poetic relationship between human marriage and the wedding of the Lamb is a true reflection of eternity onto the skin of the natural universe. All good and true love is not only a gift from God:  it’s also an arrow that directs our gaze back to the greatest Lover of all.

Regency Reflections Welcomes You!

Welcome to Regency Reflections: The Inspirational Regency Reader’s Companion. Whether you are a long time fan or just discovering this wonderful time period, we hope to be a valuable resource for you. Here you will be able to reach out to your favorite authors, learn more about the history of the Regency, and connect with other readers.

Engraving of Vauxhall Garden, 1810

On Mondays you can sit back with a cup of tea and learn a little tidbit of history.  Ever wondered why the period is called the Regency? Maybe you would like to find out a little bit more about how people went visiting or what dances they did. You never know what you might learn!

Wednesdays are when we like to share a little bit of ourselves with you. You’ll learn about what’s going on in our lives and be able to share in the conversation yourself. We’ll also interview your favorite authors whenever they have new books coming out so you’ll always know when Regency titles are going to be hitting the shelves near you.

Fridays we want to take you on a journey of faith. We’ll post short devotionals or lessons God has been teaching us. Strengthen your faith by walking with us.

Periodically, we’ll also be telling you about some of our favorite other Regency related media, such as websites, movies, or classic regency novels that have inspired us to write.

Take a moment and look around. You can vote in polls about currently available books or troll around the links section and visit your favorite author’s cyber home. Move on over to our home site, www.inspirationalregency.com, and look up the answer to some historical question you’ve always had.

We are excited to start this project and are so glad you’ve decided to join us! If you want to know more about who we are and who will be sharing with you over the next month, go to the blog editors page. You’ll find the link under the Regency church picture above.

Is there something you would like to see us cover? Maybe you have a burning question for one of our authors? Just want to tell us how excited you are about the blog? Leave us a comment below. We’d love to hear from you.

In Christ,

Kristi Ann Hunter

Blog Coordinator, Regency Reflections