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.
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
2. The Bishop of London
5. Royal Peculiar of St Katharine by the Tower
6. The Archdeacon of Middlesex
7. The Dean and Chapter of Westminster
8. The Deanery of the Arches
9. The Deanery of Croydon
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