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Marriage Licence Records

Nature of Source

Records generated from couples who chose to pay for a licence to marry rather than by banns. Bonds (up to 1823) and allegations form part of the licence. The actual licence was held by the applicant.

Marriage by licence was usually associated with wealthier people (but not necessarily so) who wanted to avoid marriage by banns which involved a church announcement of the intention to marry on three successive Sundays. Instead, the bridegroom had to swear a declaration that no impediment existed for the marriage to take place. Until Hardwicke's Marriage Act of 1754 a licence was also required for those seeking to marry in a parish where neither resided. Following the Act it was stipulated that a marriage by license must take in a parish where either party had resided for at least four weeks.

The licence was issued by the Archdeaconry Court if both parties were from the same archdeaconry. If they were from different archdeaconries but the same diocese, then the diocesan Consistory Court issued the licence. If they came from different dioceses but the same province (either the Province of Canterbury or the Province of York) then that court issued the licence. The Vicar-General's Office covered the Province of Canterbury. The highest court was the Faculty Office which issued marriage licences for couples living in different Provinces.

Few licences have survived but the allegations and bonds remain in numbers. The allegation certified that there was no impediment to a marriage taking place together with details of the church or churches where the marriage could take place. The bond (until 1823) was signed by the bridegroom and a friend or relative who agreed to pay the bishop a sum of money if the marriage was found to be contrary to Canon Law. The bondsman was often fictitious or a local man willing to act as the official for a fee. The existence of a licence does not necessarily mean that the marriage took place or in the named church. Registers were often kept of all the licences issued.

From 1754 under the Hardwicke marriage reforms everyone had to marry in a Church of England church  apart from Jews and Quakers so many Catholics and other nonconformists chose to marry by licence before and after the marriage reforms of 1754.

See also
Church/Ecclesiastical Court Records
Fleet & other Irregular Marriage Registers
Marriage Duty Act/Registration Tax
Parish Registers-Marriages

Where Found

County Record Offices
The National Archives
Guildhall Library (Diocese of London including a name index to licences from St. Katharine by the Tower)
London Metropolitan Archives
Society of Genealogists (Library collection of published indexes including the Crisp Index)
Borthwick Institute
Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies (Crisp's Marriage Licence Index, 1713-1892)
Lambeth Palace Library (Archbishop of Canterbury, Vicar General & Faculty Office)
Harleian Society (Published indexes)
British Records Society (Published indexes)

Period Covered

1520 - Onwards

Genealogical Value

Names, ages, status and parish addresses of bride and groom and whether the groom was a bachelor or widower and whether the bride was a spinster or widow. Occupation of groom. Name of bondsman, address and occupation of bondsmen. Name of church where ceremony to take place. Occasionally the names of the parents of the bride and groom.

Further References

Frith, Brian (ed). Gloucestershire Marriage Allegations, 1637-1680: With Surrogate Allegations to 1694: Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society, 1954

Frith, Brian (ed). Marriage Allegations in the Diocese of Gloucester, vol II 1681-1700: Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society, 1970

Gibson, Jeremy. Bishops' Transcripts and Marriage Licences, Bonds and Allegations: A Guide to their Location and Indexes (6th ed): The Family History Partnership, 2013 (Preview available from Google Books, 4th ed)

Gibson, Jeremy; Hampson, Elizabeth; Raymond, Stuart. Marriage Indexes for Family Historians. 9th rev. ed: The Family History Partnership, 2007

Websites (Guidance on using the Vicar-General Marriage Licence Index and background information on the index) (Vicar-General Marriage Licence Index: Essential background reading) (Faculty Office Marriage Licence Index) (Guide to Faculty Office Marriage Licence Allegations 1701-1850 & Vicar-General Marriage Licence Allegations 1694-1850),_Bonds_and_Licences_in_England_and_Wales (FamilySearch Research Wiki: Marriage Allegations, Bonds and Licences in England and Wales)
(Lancashire Archives: Marrying by licence-a guide)
(Lambeth Palace Library Research Guide: Marriage Records),_Bonds_and_Licences_in_England_and_Wales (FamilySearch Research Wiki: Marriage Allegations, Bonds and Licences in England and Wales) (Guildhall Library Guide to Records: Marriage Licence Records)

Online Databases

Online Catalogues (Listing of online catalogues for the partial whereabouts of records including Access to Archives [A2A]) (Faculty Office Marriage Licence Allegations 1701-1850 & Vicar-General Marriage Licence Allegations 1694-1850 produced in association with the Society of Genealogists. The Society has partnered with to publish online record sets from its unique collection. For more information on the available records see here. Members of the Society will be able to view these records for free at SoG Data Online via their existing membership) (The Cheshire Collection: Marriage Licence Bonds and Allegations 1663-1905. The original records are held by the Cheshire Archives and Local Studies) (Sarum Marriage Licence Bonds. The Sarum Diocese covered most of Wiltshire, most of Berkshire, parts of Dorset and a small area in Devon)
(Leicestershire Marriage Licences, 1604-1891. The dataset consists of 22,000 marriage licenses) (Cambridgeshire, Ely Diocese Marriage Licences 1684-1811)
(London Marriage Licences 1521-1869. Compiled by Colonel Joseph Chester and edited by Joseph Foster, the publication is an index of licenses found at the following offices: The Bishop of London’s Office, Dean and Chapter of Westminster’s Office, Faculty Office of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Vicar-General’s Office of the Archbishop of Canterbury)
(Norfolk Marriage Bonds, 1557-1915 Image Browse. Browse 444 volumes of marriage bonds from four ecclesiastical courts in their entirety)
(Somerset, Marriage Registers, Bonds and Allegations, 1754-1914)
(Wiltshire Marriages, 1538-1837 transcribed and indexed from a variety of sources including marriage license allegations and bonds)
(Calendar of wills and administrations in the Consistory Court of the bishop of Worcester: also marriage licenses and sequestra) (Lancashire Archives: Details of over 40,000 marriage bonds for the Archdeaconry of Richmond) (Cheshire, Marriage Bonds and Allegations, 1606-1900; Durham Diocese, Calendar of Marriage Bonds & Allegations, 1594-1815; Durham Diocese, Marriage Bonds & Allegations, 1692-1900; Durham Diocese, Calendar of Marriage Bonds & Allegations, 1594-1815; Durham Marriage Bonds and Allegations, 1594-1900; Norfolk Marriage Bonds, 1557-1915; Yorkshire, Allertonshire, Marriage Bonds & Allegations, 1667-1819; Browsable images of Northumberland Bishops Marriage Bonds and Allegations) (Parish Record Collection. The online collections include Family History Society transcripts and Phillimore transcripts of parish registers of baptisms, marriages with licenses and banns and burials) (London, Crisp's Marriage Licence Index, 1713-1892) (London Marriage Licences, 1521-1869. Abstracts of marriage licences granted in the Dioceses of London, Westminster and Canterbury; A calendar of the marriage licence allegations in the Registry of the Bishop of London, 1597-1700, digitised from a British Record Society publication; London and Surrey, England, Marriage Bonds and Allegations, 1597-1921. This database contains marriage allegations and bonds created by individuals applying for marriage licenses in parishes in the Diocese of Winchester, Surrey and the Diocese of London, England)
(Dorset Records: London and Surrey, England, Marriage Bonds and Allegations, 1597-1921. Provided in association with the Dorset History Centre)
(Warwickshire, Miscellaneous Parish Records including marriage licences in association with Warwickshire County Record Office) (London Marriage Licences, 1521-1869: Licences granted in the Dioceses of London, Westminster and Canterbury) (Durham University Library: Family and Local History Records: Marriage Licence Bonds and Allegations,1592-20th century. The collection includes a series of marriage licence allegations and bonds, sometimes filed with transcripts of the parish register baptism entries of the bride and groom as proof of age and copies of the licence itself) (National Library of Wales: Index of applicants for Welsh marriage licences, 1616-1837) (Nottinghamshire Marriage Licences) (Worcestershire Archive Online Indexes: Marriage Licences 1853-1916) (Some transcribed entries)
(Oxford Archdeacon's Marriage Bonds)
(Ulster Ancestry Free Genealogy Pages: Some transcribed indexes. Ulster Ancestry also offers a specialist ancestral research service for those wishing to trace their family origins in Northern Ireland)

Many indexed and transcribed by local family history societies.

CD Roms

Archive CD Books (Harleian Society publications plus T. George H. Green, Index to the Marriage Licence Bonds of the Diocese of Cloyne County Cork, 1630-1800, 1899-1900)
Anguline Research Archives (Pavers Marriage Licences, Lancashire Marriage Bonds 1648-1710)
East Surrey Family History Society (Southwark Marriage Licences) (Scanned historical and genealogical county book collections on DVD including parish registers, marriage allegations/licenses, directories, paupers in workhouses in 1861, lists of emigrants from England to the USA and Caribbean 1773-76, visitations, poll books. See web site for county coverage and source material) (Marriage Allegation Bonds of The Bishops of Bath And Wells from their Commencement to the Year 1755)