Parish Records

Forced Marriages

Dr Joseph Stevens in his book “A Parochial History of St Mary Bourne” mentions some interesting extracts from the parish books regarding forced marriages.

  • 1739, April 2S.-Pd for the marriage of Susan Hall and having her away £4 I5s. 4d.
  • 1782.-For a licence and ring for Charles Lewis, £2 minister and clerk’s fees, also for four men for a sisting Charles Lewis. (He seems to have been a very refractory bridegroom.) Afterwards “2S. 6d. for a horse to have Charles Lewis to Kingsclere”.
  • 1786.-Expenses of taking up and marrying George Admens and Wm. Swain, £9 11s., with other expenses for rings, licences, etc., and marrying at Whitchurch.

The “a sisting” Charles Lewis might I think be more truthfully rendered by the substitution of the word coercing. That these marriages were compulsory there can be no doubt, for in the next entry we find “expenses of taking up”, etc. Such transactions were wasteful of the poor-rates, and demoralising to the people; they were nevertheless of frequent occurrence under the old bastardy law, which positively gave encouragement to female unchastity. An allowance in money was made for each illegitimate child; so that the means increasing with every spurious addition, a woman with several such became as well provided for as a mother with a similar number of lawful children. The same law, further, subjected the putative father to punishment often at the woman’s discretion, rendering him liable to the alternative of marriage or the prison. Of course he commonly chose the former as the least of the two present evils. All this was however small compared with the consequences or such influence all the female character. Where these measures largely prevailed chastity ceased to be valued as a virtue. In short, the woman as well as her husband and parents became in a great measure indifferent to it.

The first entry mentions Susan Hall in 1739, there are not records of a marriage of Susan Hall in 1739 in Hampshire. It is possible that it should have said 1738 when a marriage between Thomas Partridge & Susannah Hall took place on the 19th September 1738. No baptisms of children of this couple have been found.

Looking at the second entry on the list for Charles Lewis the very reluctant groom was a labourer, he married Catherine Pearse on the 15th October 1782 in St Mary Bourne. Their son James was baptised in St Mary Bourne, 30th May 1783. This doesn’t tell us of course when James was born but his baptism is 7.5 months after the wedding.

Extract from Hampshire, England, Allegations for Marriage Licences, 1689-1837 for Charles Lewis and Catherine Pearse

When it comes to the third entry I haven’t found details of the licences mentioned but have found the marriages in the Hampshire, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1754-1921 both taking place on the 7th August 1786 in Whitchurch.

George Adams (Admens) married Mary Bright but no baptisms are found for children of George & Mary until 30th December 1787 when daughter Jenny (born 15th December 1787) was baptised in Itchen Abbas. Whether Mary was actually pregnant at the time she was forced to marry George we’ll never know.

William Swain married Elizabeth Bright but again no baptisms are found for children of William and Elizabeth until 28th December 1788 when a son William is baptised in Whitchurch. However, there is a possible baptism from 24th December 1786 in Whitchurch registered with parents William & Mary. I have found many entries where names of a parents are incorrect in the registers.

What connection the people mentioned in the third entry have to St Mary Bourne is not known, Mary & Elizabeth are likely connected in some way but I have not found a connection at present, one may come to light as earlier records in St Mary Bourne are worked.

For all these entries there is no real evidence that any of the brides were actually pregnant when they were forced to marry.

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