Her father privately married again—his cook, I rather think."

Category: Custom & Law | Type: Historical | Title: Great Expectations (in Context) | Author: Charles Dickens | Ch: Chapter XXII

The proud Mr. Havisham, ashamed of marrying his cook yet wishing to legalize his relationship with her and legitimate their son, had a private marriage in Scotland, probably Gretna Green (Search).

The Marriage Duty Acts of 1694 and 1695, were under the administration of the Church of England as canon law. They sought to regularize marriage by requiring that the banns were to be read in the Anglican Church, irrespective of the couple's religion, that all couples get a marriage license, and that the marriage be performed by an Anglican clergyman. But should the first two of these conditions not be met, the marriage was still considered legal and binding. The 1753 Act for the Better Preventing of Clandestine Marriage was a statute of civil law and demanded a formal, public ceremony of marriage.

The law was in part a response to marriages in Scotland, where minors did not require parental consent or banns. While exempting Quakers, Jews, and Scottish marriages, the 1753 act specified that marriages must take place in an Anglican church, stated whom one could not marry (siblings, etc.), required one of the couple to be resident in that parish, and required that at least two people of age witnessed the ceremony. However, the effect of the Act was to force couples who wished to marry but did not meet the conditions to abscond to Scotland and, famously, in the 1770s when a toll road was built through the village of Gretna Green, just over the border, which did a brisk business in marriages by circumventing English law. A couple in Austen's Pride and Prejudice elope there.

return to text