Humorous Clauses Proposed for The Marriage Act of 1753

The Marriage Act of 1753 was enacted to require a formal ceremony of marriage because clandestine marriages achieved by crossing over the Scottish border and marrying in Gretna Green caused disputes as to their validity. The Ballyshannnon Herald claimed that a newspaper article in 1753 proposed some humorous clauses be added to the Marriage Act. Here are those suggestions in their entirety.

Thomas Rowlandson's Version of the Bristol Elopement, Marriage Act of 1753

Thomas Rowlandson’s version of the Bristol Elopement. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

  • When two young thoughtless fools, having no visible way to maintain themselves, nor any thing to begin the world with, resolve to marry and be miserable; let it be deemed PETTY LARCENY.
  • If a younger brother marries an old woman purely for the sake of maintenance, let it be called SELF-PRESERVATION.
  • When a rich old fellow marries a young wench, in her full bloom, it shall be DEATH WITHOUT BENEFIT OF CLERGY.
  • When two old creatures, that can hardly hear one another speak, and cannot propose the least comfort to themselves in the thing; yet marry together to be miserable, they shall be deemed NON COMPOS, and sent to the mad house.
  • When a lady marries her servant, or a gentleman his cook-maid, (especially if there are children by a former marriage), they both shall be transported for fourteen years.
  • When a man has had one bad wife and buried her, and yet will marry a second; it shall be deemed FELO DO SE (felon of himself), and he shall be buried in the highway accordingly.
  • When a woman in good circumstances marries an infamous man, not worthy a groat; if she is betrayed into it, it shall be called ACCIDENTAL DEATH; but if she knows it, it shall be made SINGLE FELONY, and she shall be burnt in the hand.
  • When a man having no children, marries a woman of ill fame, knowing her to be so, he shall have a pair of horns painted on his door; or if she be a known scold, a couple of neat’s tongues in the room of them.
  • And when a man or woman marries to the disinheriting of their children, let them suffer as in cases of high treason.
  • When a woman marries a man deeply in debt, knowing him to be so, let her be sent to the house of correction, and kept to hard labour for three months; and if he deceived her, and did not let her know his circumstances, she shall be acquitted, and he doomed to beat hemp all the days of his life.


  • “Proposed Matrimonial Enactments,” in Ballyshannnon Herald, 6 January 1837, p. 2.

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