Description: The practice of irregular and clandestine marriage ran rampant throughout Britain for centuries, but when the upper class felt they needed to reassert their social supremacy, marriage was one arena in which they sought to do so. The restrictions placed on irregular marriages were specifically aimed at protecting the elite and maintaining a separation between themselves and the lower echelon of society. The political, social, and economic importance of marriage motivated its regulation, as the connections made with the matrimonial bond did not affect only the couple, but their family, and, possibly, their country. Current historiography addresses this issue extensively, particularly in regards to Lord Hardwicke's Marriage Act of 1753 in England. There is, however, a lack of investigation into other groups that influenced and were influenced by the English approach to clandestine marriage. The Scots, Irish, and British military all factor into the greater landscape of clandestine marriage in eighteenth-century Britain and an investigation of them yields a more complete explanation of marital practices, regulations, and reactions to both that led to and stemmed from Hardwicke's Act. This explanation shows the commonality of ideas among Britons regarding marriage and the necessity of maintaining endogamous unions for the benefit of the elite.
Date: August 2016
Creator: Smith, Summer