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Devon County

Devonshire Rgt.

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Before we begin to tell the story of "Lady Haldon", there are one or two things a reader should know.

The first concerns Scottish Law and especially the Marriage laws of Scotland. Let's set up the position in England, first. Alongside the Registration Act of 1836, a new Marriage Act was passed. This sanctioned civil marriage in a Registry office  in the presence of a Superintendent Registrar which resulted in the marriage details that are so useful to the family historian today.  You could still be married in a church according to the rites of the Church of England but if you were not an Anglican you had to have a civil ceremony as well. It was not until 1898 that  nonconformists were allowed to conduct marriages within their own churches and required to report such marriages to their local Register Office. All very legal and proper, with the state keeping tight control of the whole process by the provision of a document trail backed up with records safely kept under lock and key.


The original Register Office at Axminster

The old Register Office at Axminster

© Richard J. Brine


The Scots did not quite see marriage in this light. Their view was very much based on an agreement between the couple concerned that they wanted to be married to each other. So two forms of marriage evolved north of the border  - regular marriages involving residency rules, the calling of banns and  so-called  irregular marriages of which there were different kinds:


1: You could be legally married in Scotland if you declared in front of witnesses (whose  names were recorded in a document) that you and your partner wished to be considered as a married couple.


2: A promise of marriage followed by a sexual relationship was a legal marriage as long as there was some kind of  written proof (i.e. the proposal was in writing or one of the couple was prepared to go in to court and swear on oath that it was so) or witnesses had heard the proposal.


3. Marriage by habit and repute. That is, the couple made no secret of their relationship and lived openly together as husband and wife.

Scottish courts weren't happy about these irregular marriages  but the children of such unions were classed as legitimate and could inherit in exactly the same way as did the children of regular marriages.


Irregular marriages had been banned in England from 1753 onwards but not so in Scotland. There were other differences too - parental consent was not required for brides and grooms under 21, marriages were legal for girls over the age of 12 and boys over the age of 14 - a situation which remained until 1929 when the age was raised to 16 for both sexes. And as the Scottish border was only a line on a map, English couples could run away to places like Gretna Green, marry over the blacksmith's anvil and have a perfectly legal marriage which their parents could not have annulled. The invention of the motor car made this a possible romantic dream for many couples and continued well into the 1930s. It took an Act of Parliament to sanction civil marriage in a registrar's office along with the introduction of a written certificate for which the groom paid and which was generally handed to the woman for safe keeping to stop runaway marriages across the Scottish border.


Gretna Green

The blacksmith's shop at Gretna Green.

Marriages still take place here




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