Law and History Review


Control over Marriage in England and Wales, 1753–1823: The Clandestine Marriages Act of 1753 in Context

Rebecca Probert

It is a belief almost universally shared that the Clandestine Marriages Act of 1753 gave parents absolute control over the marriages of their minor children, and that a failure to obtain parental consent rendered a marriage void. For almost seventy years this Act was in force, from its implementation on March 25, 1754, until it was repealed by the Marriage Act 1823. In this same period historians have discerned the rise of the affective family, characterized by marriage for love and by equality between all members of the family. The tension between these two ideas has resulted in some rather tortuous explanations being advanced in an attempt to reconcile affective individualism and parental power. But was the period between 1754 and 1823 as distinctive as has been assumed?

Rebecca Probert is Associate Professor at the School of Law, University of Warwick <>. I would like to thank Liam D'Arcy Brown, Gary Watt, and the anonymous referees for their helpful comments on earlier drafts. Any errors remaining are of course my own.