Guildhall Library Manuscripts Section

Leaflet Guides to Records:


MARRIAGE LICENCE RECORDS (ALLEGATIONS AND BONDS) AT GUILDHALL LIBRARY


This is a brief introduction to searching for records relating to the issue of marriage licences, with particular reference to those held by the Manuscripts Section of Guildhall Library and elsewhere concerning the City of London and former county of Middlesex. Those who require a more detailed explanation are recommended to consult chapter 14 of D.E. Gardner and F. Smith, Genealogical research in England and Wales, vol. 1 (2nd edition, Salt Lake City, 1956). Those who seek allegations and bonds for other areas should consult J.S.W. Gibson, Bishops transcripts and marriage licences, bonds and allegations: a guide to their location and indexes (4th edition, 1997). Both publications may be seen at Guildhall Library and in other libraries and record offices.

Licence

Persons intending to be married usually had their banns read in church on three Sundays before the marriage. Those not wishing to be married by banns could obtain a licence from an appropriate (usually ecclesiastical) authority to marry at a place within its jurisdiction. Marriage by licence was often preferred because it was quicker, more convenient and/or more discreet, or because it was thought to confer social prestige.

Allegation

A marriage licence was issued only after a written allegation of intention to marry was made by the prospective bride or bridegroom (or by their representative), giving their parishes and approximate ages and stating that there was no legal impediment to the marriage. It is the allegation which should be sought when evidence of the issuing of a licence is required, since the allegations were usually retained by the issuing authority, while the licences themselves, having been shown to the person who was to conduct the marriage ceremony, were not preserved systematically and rarely survive.

Bond

Until 1823 an applicant for a licence also had to sign a bond, by which he would incur a monetary penalty if it was found that there was a legal impediment to the marriage. The bonds were also usually kept by the licence-issuing authority.


When searching for an allegation or bond for a marriage known to have been by licence it should be noted that:

a) It may be necessary to search the records of several licence-issuing authorities, since their jurisdictions often overlapped. Details of relevant authorities for the City of London and former county of Middlesex are given below.

b) It may be necessary to search allegations for up to three months before the date of the marriage, as marriage licences were valid for three months.

c) It may prove impossible to find the allegation or bond required, since many of the surviving records are believed to be incomplete.

When searching marriage registers after an allegation or bond has been found it should be noted that:

a) It may be necessary to search registers for up to three months after the date of the allegation, as marriage licences were valid for three months.

b) The marriage may perhaps have taken place in a church other than that specified in the allegation.

c) The existence of an allegation does not prove that the marriage took place at all.


The following authorities are known to have issued licences for marriages in the City of London and former county of Middlesex:

1. The Archbishop of Canterbury

Jurisdiction:
the whole of England and Wales. (Note: the majority of the marriage licences granted by the archbishops of Canterbury were common licences for residents of the province of Canterbury (England south of the Humber, and W ales). From 1753, the Faculty Office alone was responsible for the issue of the archbishop's special licence throughout England and Wales.)
Records:
1543-date (some gaps) including the records of the Faculty Office and the Vicar General of the Archbishop of Canterbury at Lambeth Palace Library, London SE1 7JU (Note: new readers wishing to consult these records have to supply proof of address - driving licence, utility bill or similar - together with two passport photographs for a reader's ticket). Film of the Vicar General's allegations 1694-1850 and Faculty Office allegations 1701-1850 may be consulted at the Society of Genealogists, 14 Charterhouse Buildings, London, EC1M 7BA and at Family History Centers of the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints worldwide.
 
For a description of the records of marriage of the Archbishop of Canterbury at Lambeth Palace Library see the article by Melanie Barber in The Genealogists' Magazine Vol.20 December 1980.
 
Lambeth Palace Library has 22 volumes of unpublished calendars and indexes to the Faculty Office marriage allegations 1623-1913. Those for 1543-1869 have been selectively abstracted and indexed in G J Armytage (ed.) and J L Chester (extractor) Allegations for marriage licences issued from the Faculty Office of the archbishop of Canterbury, 1543-1869 (Harleian Society, vol.24, 1886). This can be supplemented by G E Cokayne and E A Fry (eds.) Calender of marriage licences issued by the Faculty Office, 1632-1714 (Index Library, vol.33, 1905). The Society of Genealogists has produced surname indexes to the Vicar General's records for 1694-1850 (available in book form, on microfilm and online at http://www.britishorigins.com/) and to the Faculty Office records for 1701-1850 (available online only as above).

Some original licences, chiefly 18th century and 19th century, for marriages at City of London churches, are held at Guildhall Library. Indexed - to 1838 inclusive.

2. The Bishop of London

Jurisdiction:
the Diocese of London (i.e. the City of London and Middlesex; also, until 1845 Essex and parts of Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire; between 1845 and 1867, parts of Essex, Kent and Surrey; between 1867 and 1877, parts of Surrey).

Records:
1521-1685 at the London Metropolitan Archives, 40 Northampton Road, London EC1R 0HB; 1597-9 and 1601-1982 at Guildhall Library.

3. The Archdeacon of London
Jurisdiction:
most parishes in the City of London; Clerkenwell, Islington and Shoreditch in Middlesex.

Records:
1666-91 at Guildhall Library. Not known if licences were issued after 1691 (no later records survive).

4. The Dean and Chapter of St Paul's Cathedral
Jurisdiction:
4 parishes in the City of London (St Faith under St Paul, St Giles Cripplegate, St Gregory by St Paul, St Helen Bishopgate), 8 parishes and precincts in Middlesex, 6 in Essex and 3 in Hertfordshire.

Records:
1670-1841 at Guildhall Library. No licences issued after 1841.

5. Royal Peculiar of St Katharine by the Tower

Jurisdiction:
the precinct of St Katharine, a small area adjoining the Tower of London.

Records:
1686-1802 (some gaps) at Guildhall Library. No licences issued after 1802.

6. The Archdeacon of Middlesex

Jurisdiction:
many parishes in Middlesex.

Records:
1668-9 at the London Metropolitan Archives, 40 Northampton Road, London EC1. Not known if licences were issued after 1669 (no later records survive).

7. The Dean and Chapter of Westminster

Jurisdiction:
much of Westminster and a few other parishes and precincts in London, Middlesex and Essex.

Records:
1558-1699 (a few references only, fully abstracted in Harleian Society Publications, vol.23; these are not licence allegations, only a record of names and sometimes parishes plus bonds), 1772-1804 at City of Westminster Archives Centre, 10 St Ann's Street, London SW1P 2XR. Records for other dates are lost.

8. The Deanery of the Arches

Jurisdiction:
13 parishes in the City of London.

Records:
1684-1707 at Lambeth Palace Library, London SE1 7JU (see note above). Not known if licences were issued after 1707 (no later records survive).

9. The Deanery of Croydon

Jurisdiction:
the parishes of Harrow, Hayes, Norwood and Pinner in Middlesex, and 12 parishes in Surrey.

Records:
1689-1804 and 1812-18 at Lambeth Palace Library, London SE1 7JU (see note above).
Not known if licences were issued after 1818 (no later records survive)


Indexes to the marriage licence records held by the Manuscripts Section of Guildhall Library are available on the bookshelves in the upper part of the Manuscripts reading room.

Information about the indexes to the Bishop of London's marriage allegations is given in the guide to marriage allegations and bonds, available in the Section's Reading Room. There are published calendars, indexed by the name of both parties, for 1597-1700 (British Record Society's Index Library, vols.62 and 66). Marriage allegations asterisked in these volumes have been abstracted fully in Harleian Society Publications, vols.25 and 26. These volumes also include marriage allegations from 1521 recorded in the Vicar Generals' Books at London Metropolitan Archives (N.B. BRS 62 and 66 contain many inaccuracies. The copies in the Manuscripts Reading Room have manuscript amendments and references to extant related bonds by B. Lloyd.)

The Archdeacon of London's records are indexed by the names of both parties (the typescript index is followed by a set of photocopies of the records). There are no published indexes.

The Dean and Chapter of St Paul's records are indexed by groom's names only (typescript). There are no published indexes.

A name index to the marriage licence records of the Royal Peculiar of St Katharine by the Tower is available in the Manuscripts Section reading room.


Use of microfilm is compulsory for allegations of the Bishop of London to 1900 and bonds 1664-1823. All other allegations in Guildhall Library can be consulted in their original form given 24 hours notice. Information about the indexes and how to consult the records on microfilm is given in the guide to marriage allegations and bonds, available on the table in the lower reading room and at the enquiry desk. Staff at the Manuscripts enquiry desk will be pleased to give advice about other records.


Last updated February 2006

Leaflet Guides to Records

Guildhall Library Manuscripts Section