Tag Archives: marriages

Did Jane Austen fake a marriage?

Ahhh, see, I told you that notes left in parish registers are endlessly fascinating!

Not only is it possible (at least I think so) that Charlotte Brontë got the surname of her heroine from the printer who manufactured parish registers, but Jane Austen, another vicar’s daughter, was actually writing in the marriage register.

The BBC has reported this as “‘Mischievous’ Jane Austen faked Steventon marriage records” which makes her sound like Sir Percival Glyde in The Woman in White. And there’s more: “Novelist Jane Austen created fake entries in a marriage register linking herself with two separate men, it has emerged.” Blimey! The strumpet! She’s committed both bigamy and fraud!

Well… no. Had she filled out a form in the parish register like so:

Layer-de-la-Haye marriage register 1754-1812. ERO ref: D/P 255/1/2. Image reproduced by courtesy of the Essex Record Office.

She would have been in rather a lot of trouble. From 1754 and the Hardwicke Act, marriages were far more regulated than they had been. At least one of the couple had to be resident in the parish they were marrying in, and the marriage had to be by banns or by licence. Banns were called on three consecutive Sundays in church, or a licence had to be paid for and would involve a fine if it turned out the marriage was illegal. If you were so rich that you owned half the British Isles, you could of course get a special licence and marry wherever the heck you liked. You’d also need two witnesses and a clergyman to perform the marriage, and then the spouses either signed or marked the register. The example above (the marriage of my 6 x gt-grandparents) shows that they got married by licence (Elizabeth was pregnant at the time, so the licence sped things up without having to wait for banns to be called), and they both marked – although note that Elizabeth signed with an E, which suggests she wasn’t quite as illiterate as it might at first appear.

If you look at the BBC article, you can see one of Jane’s works.

Hampshire Archives, from the BBC website.

She’s written the groom’s name as “Henry Frederic Howard Fitzwilliam” where it says “AB” and added “London” as his abode, and then her own name where it says “CD”, and her home parish as her abode. Would Mr Fitzwilliam, bearer of such a grand name, want to marry by banns, though, one wonders?

Look at that example from 1767, and you’ll notice they’re different forms. On the page that Jane Austen graffitied, you can see the other side of the leaf – the title page of the register – showing through. What she “edited” was the example which was printed at the front of every marriage register, so that clergymen would understand how to follow the new layout. And it’s showing how to lay out the publication of the banns – it’s not a marriage entry.

Perhaps she didn’t expect her father to see it, or perhaps he spotted it and laughed.

It’s certainly a fun thing to find – but it was found, in fact, some time ago (“it has emerged” is rather misleading. This “emerged” years back). It is quite the hyperbolic headline – she falsified a marriage record! Well… she did, but not in quite the way you’d assume from the breaking-news tone.

It does go to show though, what you’ll find in parish registers. Poisonings, death by a bell falling out of a steeple, children born in barns, locals trashing a pulpit, extreme weather, and maybe the graffiti of a vicar’s imaginative teenager daughter.

You’ll be able to see this on display in Winchester from May.

Parish registers in Wilkie Collins’ “The Woman in White”

eighteenth_century_marriage*contains spoilers*

If you’ve ever read The Woman in White, then you’ll know that all the mystery and obfuscation, the swapping of people drugged on laudanum and signing of parchment documents, revolves about Sir Percival Glyde’s attempt to marry a wealthy woman to cover his debts, and to hide his illegitimacy. Had his mother not been married to another man, preventing his parents’ marriage, had divorce been easier to obtain, then there would have been no need for him to go to the great lengths he does to hide his secret, and neither would he die horribly in a conflagration in a church vestry. But without being a lawful (ie. legitimate) heir, and as his father did not leave a will, Sir Percival Glyde is a fraud. He could not have inherited his title and property from his father by default.

Far back in the past, before Marian Halcombe and Laura Fairlie decide it would be amazing to have an art tutor (especially a handsome one…), Percival manipulated Mrs. Catherick to help him gain access to the church vestry. And why would he want to do this? Because he wanted to fraudulently edit the marriage register. Continue reading

Minors, cold feet and bigamists – the secrets of East Bergholt’s banns register

couple-woodcut

Banns registers aren’t usually considered that important for family history research – after all, we only need to look at marriage registers, because we’re interested in the successful marriages that produced our ancestors. Aren’t we?

The availability of banns registers isn’t as complete as marriage registers, perhaps for this very reason. For instance, Essex Record Office has only included banns in their scanning project where they have been entered in a marriage register (as you sometimes find between 1754-1837), or where a banns register has been bound with a marriage register. Banns registers on their own aren’t included.

Usually, they don’t tell you much. They give the names and sometimes the abodes, and sometimes the marital statuses of those wishing to marry, and the dates on which the banns were published in the church. They can be useful if you’re fairly sure someone got married and you want to know which parish it took place, or if the marriage register for the other parish has been irretrievably lost, so providing you with a rough date for their nuptials and the bride’s surname previous to her marriage.

Sometimes, however, you’ll find the banns for a marriage that never took place, and you’re left wondering what on earth happened. Who changed their mind? Did someone find a legal objection to their union? Most of the time, we’re left with no clue and have to scratch our heads in wonder (particularly if you find someone who serially gets to the second reading of the banns before bailing out!). However, the banns for East Bergholt, between 1783 and 1803, provide reasons for the cancelled marriages, and they give us an interesting insight into late eighteenth century lives, and attitudes towards marriage.

Continue reading