Catholic/Protestant Weddings During the Regency Era

Please welcome my guest Regina Jeffers. With 30+ books to her credit, Regina is an award-winning author of historical cozy mysteries, Austenesque sequels and retellings, as well as Regency era-based romantic suspense. A teacher for 40 years, Regina often serves as a consultant for Language Arts and Media Literacy programs. With multiple degrees, Regina has been a Time Warner Star Teacher, Columbus (OH) Teacher of the Year, and a Martha Holden Jennings Scholar and a Smithsonian presenter.

Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers.

On 25 March 1754, the Hardwicke Act went into effect in England. It was designed to prevent Clandestine Weddings and to force couples marrying in England to follow certain guidelines or have their marriage declared illegal. Under an earlier Statute of King George II (19 Geo. 2. c. 13), any marriage between a Catholic (Popish) and a Protestant or a marriage between two Protestants celebrated by a Catholic priest was null and void.

Prior to the Hardwicke Act, couples simply required a clergyman ordained by the Church of England to administer their vows. We often hear of a Fleet Marriage, which is the best-known example of an irregular or a clandestine marriage taking place in England. These joinings were popular at the end of the late 17th and early 18th Century. The Marriage Duty Act 1695 put an end to irregular marriages at parochial churches by penalizing clergymen who married couples without banns or license. By a legal quirk, however, clergymen operating in the Fleet could not effectively be prosecuted for disobeying the Act, and the clandestine marriage business there carried on. In the 1740s, over half of all London weddings were taking place in the environs of the Fleet Prison.

The Hardwicke Act made marriages more public. A calling of the banns became a requirement, which could only be put aside if the couple obtained an “ordinary”  or “standard” license from the local bishop or a special license from the Archbishop of Canterbury. The standard license came with a bond of £100. This bond was forfeited if the couple lied to the local bishop regarding their fitness to marry. The license named the specific parish church where the exchange of vows would be held. It required a 7-days’ waiting period.

A calling of the banns had to take place over three successive Sundays before the couple could marry before an ordained Church of England clergyman. Two witnesses were required for the ceremony to be legal. All citizens paid to support the parish churches.

Only Quakers or Jews were exempt from the Hardwicke Act. All others, including Roman Catholics, had to follow the law’s guidelines. NO exceptions! Catholics in England who married only under their own rites were not considered legally married under English law. They had to be married by a Protestant minister legally to be considered married. The Catholics disagreed with this requirement, and many married in the local Catholic church first and then almost immediately in the Protestant church. If they had not married in the Protestant church, their children were illegitimate under the Hardwicke Act. During this time, a Catholic priest faced fines and possible imprisonment for marrying a Protestant to a Catholic unless the couple had already been married by a Protestant clergyman.

In Ireland, the Catholics did not need to be married by a Protestant at all, but the clergy was still forbidden to celebrate a mixed marriage unless there had already been a Protestant one. All through the 19th Century, the restrictions against other religious groups were eased, and there even was a provision for a civil marriage, but a Catholic and a Protestant still could not marry in the Catholic Church unless they had already married by civil or Protestant ceremony. Any marriage of a Protestant to a Catholic by Catholic ritual alone was considered invalid. All citizens, no matter their faith, paid taxes to maintain the parish churches, and non-Anglicans were prevented from taking many government and military posts.

Catholic emancipation (or Catholic relief) saw some reduction in and the removal of the restrictions on Roman Catholics during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, but it would be 1829 before the Roman Catholic Relief Act came into being. The Act of Union between Great Britain and Ireland in 1800 issued in greater political emancipation, but such wording was not written into the actual text of the Act for fear it would lead to a stronger opposition by the Irish Protestants to the new law. William Pitt the Younger, who was Prime Minister, had promised emancipation to accompany the Act, but King George III believed doing so would violate his Coronation Oath, which reads in part: “Will you to the utmost of your power maintain in the United Kingdom the Protestant Reformed Religion established by law? Will you maintain and preserve inviolably the settlement of the Church of England, and the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government thereof, as by law established in England? And will you preserve unto the Bishops and Clergy of England, and to the Churches there committed to their charge, all such rights and privileges, as by law do or shall appertain to them or any of them?” Pitt resigned his post, for he failed in keeping his promise to the Irish.

Prince George, the Prince of Wales (the Prince Regent and later King George IV) married a widow, Mrs. Maria Fitzherbert on 15 December 1785 in a secret marriage. This marriage between a Protestant and a Catholic was illegal. The Prince Regent was forced to deny this marriage if he ever wished to claim the throne of England. The Act of Settlement of 1701 forbade a Roman Catholic from sitting on the throne. Maria could not be George IV’s queen. If they were to remain married, he would be required to give up his place in the line of succession. Moreover, the prince and Mrs. Fitzherbert had ignored the Royal Marriage Act of 1772, which required all members of the Royal Family to ask the Sovereign’s permission before marrying. George III, as we saw above, would not extend such permission to any of his children. When the Regent’s debts increased to some £600,000, he finally agreed to abandon Maria and take a Protestant wife of Parliament’s choosing in order to settle his debts.

George IV and Princess Caroline’s marriage at St. James Palace. Public domain.

The Napoleonic Wars saw an increase of Catholic officers and enlisted men in both the army and navy. Even so, these men could not take a seat in Parliament, and they still could not vote or attend university or schools such as Eton, Harrow, Westminster, etc. Before the war, the Catholic children of prominent families were often sent to the continent to elite Catholic schools.

The Dukes of Norfolk were a prominent Catholic family. Charles Howard, 11th Duke of Norfolk, renounced his Catholicism to start his political life, but remained a staunch supporter of Catholic Emancipation. He sat in Parliament from 1780–84, became a lord of the treasury in the Portland cabinet in 1783, and was dismissed in 1798 from the lord lieutenancy of the West Riding for toasting the “sovereign English people” in terms displeasing to the Crown. In addition, he held a hereditary position as Earl marshal, a royal officeholder responsible, along with the constable, for the monarch’s horses and stables. However, Charles Howard was made to permit a Protestant to fulfill many of his official duties. He was also supposed to allow the churches to which he held the livings to be handled by the universities, but he refused to hand them over.


Cover to “The Earl Claims His Comfort.”

If you are interested in learning more about The Earl Claims His Comfort: Book 2 in the Twins’ Trilogy, here is a short summary. It released on September 16, 2017, from Black Opal Books.

Hurrying home to Tegen Castle from the Continent to assume guardianship of a child not his, but one who holds his countenance, Levison Davids, Earl of Remmington, is shot and left to die upon the road leading to his manor house. The incident has Remmington chasing after a man who remains one step ahead and who claims a distinct similarity—a man who wishes to replace Remmington as the rightful earl. Rem must solve the mystery of how a stranger’s life parallels his, while protecting his title, the child, and the woman he loves.

Comfort Neville has escorted Deirdre Kavanaugh from Ireland to England, in hopes that the Earl of Remmington will prove a better guardian for the girl than did the child’s father. When she discovers the earl’s body upon a road backing the castle, it is she who nurses him to health. As the daughter of a minor son of an Irish baron, Comfort is impossibly removed from the earl’s sphere, but the man claims her affections. She will do anything for him, including confronting his enemies. When she is kidnapped as part of a plot for revenge against the earl, she must protect Rem’s life, while guarding her heart.


Here is an Excerpt…

“I mean to escort Miss Deirdre to services this morning,” Rem announced as they shared a Sunday breakfast. Other than supper each evening, he purposely had avoided Miss Neville’s company. The temptation to touch her again would disappear on Tuesday with her departure. “I pray you will join us.”

“I think not, my lord,” she said coldly.

It was the first time Rem heard Miss Neville use the same indifferent tone he employed, and the fact the lady meant to place distance between them bothered him more than he cared to admit. “Do you not fear damnation?” he asked with uncharacteristic venom. He was not a Bible thumper, and in truth, he often missed services, but something about the woman’s refusal clawed at his sense of rightness.

“No more than you,” the lady responded smartly. “Moreover, as a Catholic, I am already damned in the eyes of the Church of England.”

“Catholic?” A pang announced his snobbish regrets clutched at his heart. He did not give a fig what religion the woman claimed. Even so, he spoke sternly. “I am surprised Lord Kavanagh would place Miss Deirdre in the care of a Catholic,” he pronounced in misplaced disdain. It was as if he celebrated any spot on Miss Neville’s character to remain detached from her.

“As Lord Kavanagh meant to wash his hands of the child, I doubt he much cared to which God Miss Deirdre prayed,” she snapped.

“Does Lord Swenton realize your preferences?” he countered.

“As his baroness, my cousin, also claims a Catholic upbringing, I doubt his lordship will take note of my ‘transgressions.’ From what I know of the baron, he chooses to see the person’s worthiness rather than his religious beliefs. Lord Swenton is a man of honor.”

“And you are implying I am not.” He could not remove the bitterness from his tone. For days, he had wanted Miss Neville not to look upon him with that softness he so craved, but now that the woman turned on him, he was not happy with the result.

“In truth, I do not know enough of your character to pronounce you a man of honor.” He flinched as if slapped. “It would seem to me that if you performed honorably in your dealings, then there would be no cause for two attempts upon your life within a sennight,” Miss Neville continued, as if a dam of accusations needed to be expressed.

In many ways, Rem supposed they did. He had played with the woman’s emotions, and he deserved her vehemence. At least her tirade would keep her at arm’s length.

“This is what I know of Lord Swenton. The gentleman married a woman who required his protection but who treated him in a false manner. Even so, he risked his life to save her. Although he had developed a deep affection for my cousin, his lordship properly grieved for a wife that was untrue when the previous Lady Swenton lost her life. When he married Isolde, he did so in the Catholic Church before her family and friends in Ireland.

“Only after Cousin Isolde discovered she was enceinte did they marry again in the Church of England. Even then it was at Isolde’s insistence, not Lord Swenton’s. The baron married my cousin because he adores her, and nothing else mattered to the man. Only to name his eventual heir as ‘legitimate’ did Lord Swenton consider remarrying his bride according to the dictates of the Church of England. Therefore, in my opinion, Cousin Isolde claimed the only decent Englishman this country has produced.”

Where can you get the book?

Black Opal Books


Cover to “Angel Comes to the Devil Keep.”

If you are interested in book 1 of the Twin’s Trilogy here is a summary of Angel Comes to the Devil’s Keep, which is a a 2017 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense finalist and a SOLA’s Eighth Annual Dixie Kane Memorial Award finalist for Historical Romance.

Huntington McLaughlin, the Marquess of Malvern, wakes in a farmhouse, after a head injury, being tended by an ethereal “angel,” who claims to be his wife. However, reality is often deceptive, and Angelica Lovelace is far from innocent in Hunt’s difficulties. Yet, there is something about the woman that calls to him as no other ever has. When she attends his mother’s annual summer house party, their lives are intertwined in a series of mistaken identities, assaults, kidnappings, overlapping relations, and murders, which will either bring them together forever or tear them irretrievably apart. As Hunt attempts to right his world from problems caused by the head injury that has robbed him of parts of his memory, his best friend, the Earl of Remmington, makes it clear that he intends to claim Angelica as his wife. Hunt must decide whether to permit her to align herself with the earldom or claim the only woman who stirs his heart–and if he does the latter, can he still serve the dukedom with a hoydenish American heiress at his side?


To get in contact with Regina, click on the appropriate link below:

Every Woman Dreams
Austen Authors
Amazon Author Page


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