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(In Tudor times the most likely such reason was a ‘pre-contract’ between one of the partners and somebody else, rather than their relationship within the ‘prohibited degrees’.
Henry VIII notoriously invoked such a relationship between himself and Katherine of Aragon in order to have their marriage annulled, but he was exceptional in this respect.
Nearly a third of Elizabethan brides were pregnant by the time they came to church, despite the Church’s prohibition on sexual relations beforehand.
When ‘asking the banns’ three times before the church wedding, the priest solemnly called upon anyone who knew any reason why the couple should not be married to declare it.
Here, Professor Ralph Houlbrooke from the University of Reading reveals the customs surrounding love and marriage in Tudor times In Tudor England, most people who married did so only after they had the wherewithal to establish a household of their own.
This usually meant waiting at least until they were in their twenties.
Data taken from birthdates of women and marriage certificates reveals mean marriage ages to have been as follows: The marriage age of men was probably the same or a bit older than that of women.
This could be a dangerous moment for the inexperienced, the over-optimistic, or those carried away by their feelings.
On 1 January 1519, William Hanwell allegedly contracted marriage with Isabel Riddysdale in a house in Beachampton (Bucks), saying: “I William take thee Isabel to my wedded wife and there unto I plight my troth”. In law, these words of consent were a contract that made the couple man and wife in the instant they were spoken.
Isabel evidently changed her mind subsequently, but William had the two witnesses required to prove the contract (though they remembered slightly different words), and he sued Isabel in the local church court to enforce it.
In other cases, a jilted partner might be unable to produce witnesses.