Fleet Marriage Scandal
Posted by P. Bingham on September 14, 1998 at 14:17:50:
In response to What are fleet marriages? do you have information aboutn them? nf, written by Constanza on September 14, 1998 at 09:13:39
It was the fleet marriages which necessitated the Marriage Act of 1753, which in turn left the Gretna Green loop hole. Here is what Wedding Customs and Folklore states about this subject:
'The marriage Act of 1753 ended the London scandal of Fleet Marriages. Such illicit, speedy ceremonies had apparently originated with the incombants of Trinity Minories and St. James', Duke's Place, who claimed immunity from the Bishop of London's juridiction. In 1616 the practice was adopted by the fraternity of clerical prisoners within the Fleet debtors' prison, who, with neither cash, character not liberty gladly profitted by marrying couples without asking awkward questions. 83 parsons are known by name and one rotund and cheerful, was called "The Bishop of Hell'.
The intoxicated, abducted and unwilling were hurried to the fleet chapels and to their rivals, the Mayfair, Mint and Savoy; fortune hunters, ladies with debts, spinsters pursuing husbands, paupers and peers; notables such as Lord Abergavenny, Viscount Sligo and henry Fox, Lord Holland. An impatient Duke of Hamiliton wedded the youngest of the beautiful Gunning sisters in the Mayfair Chapel at half-past midnight, with a ring torn from the bed curtains. When the Navy was in port it was nothing for 300 sailors to seek the pasrson's services. 'Walk in and be married', shouted the touts outside the 'marriage houses' or 'chapels' round the Fleet. When Richard Leaver was tried for Bigamy in 1737 he denied all knowledge of the woman claiming to be his wife. After a drunken evening he had awakened to find himself in bed with a stranger; 'who are you,' he demanded. 'My dear, we were married last night at the Fleet,' was the reply.
All efforts to halt the abuse failed while such marriages remained legal, but Lord Hardwick's Act made the solemnisation of marriages without banns or licence, church or chapel, a transportable felony. The parsons went down fighting. The Rev. Alexander Keith's marriage business flourished until his prosecution and excommunication in 1742; in retaliation he promptly excommunicated the Bishop of London and the judge of the eccesiatical court. In 1743 he was committed to the Fleet - for, it was said, contempt of the church - and quickly resumed his old trade; as a last fling on the day before the Act came into effect, he married 61 couples and, vowing eternal vengeance on bishops, bought sevral acres of land for burials, threatening to underbury them all. As Fleet marriages died, those at Gretna Green sprang to life...
- Wow -Gunning sister Constanza 17:09:53 9/14/98 (0)
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