The Church of England marriage ceremony
The ceremony itself has a fairly uniform order:
Beginning the service: the priest welcomes the congregation and then reads out what Christians believe in marriage.
Declarations: the couple make their promises in front of God that they will love, comfort, honour and protect their partner as long as they both shall live.
Vows: The couple then make their vows to one another.
“To have and to hold
from this day forward;
for better, for worse,
for richer, for poorer,
in sickness and in health,
to love and to cherish,
till death do us part”
Rings: The couple exchange rings and say:
“With my body I honour you,
all that I am I give to you,
and all that I have I share with you,
within the love of God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”
Proclamation: the priest tells the couple that they are now husband and wife.
Prayers: prayers are said for the couple. They may include a prayer for the gift of children, but this is optional.
Readings and sermon: there will be some readings from the Bible and the minister gives a sermon.
Signing of the register: the bride and groom, along with two witnesses, sign the register, which is a legal requirement. They receive a legally binding marriage certificate.
The law of marriage
Until the middle of the 18th century marriages could take place anywhere provided they were conducted before an ordained clergyman of the Church of England. This encouraged the practice of secret marriages which did not have parental consent and which were often bigamous.
It also allowed couples, particularly those of wealthy background, to marry while at least one of the partners was under age. The trade in these irregular marriages had grown enormously in London by the 1740s.
In 1753, however, the Marriage Act, promoted by the Lord Chancellor, Lord Hardwicke, declared that all marriage ceremonies must be conducted by a minister in a parish church or chapel of...