Contracting Couples: Vows, Hand Holding, and Gift Giving
Under the letter of canon law in early modern England, as I discussed in the introduction, couples could marry using verbal contracts without exchanging vows from the Book of Common Prayer in a church in the presence of a minister and witnesses.1 The matrimonial enforcement suits in the surviving London Consistory Court depositions contain disputed marriages of individuals who married by contract away from the church and, in fewer numbers, by the ceremony in the Book of Common Prayer inside the church. In evaluating the validity of a marriage, the courts considered a variety of evidence—mainly, the exchange of vows, hand holding,2 gift exchange,3 kissing, and pledging—when determining whether a marriage occurred and both parties consented to it. Some of this evidence supports the existence of marriage, and some supports the plausibility of marriage. While the above list indicates the number of times—from most to least—deponents cited a behavior, the order of what deponents cite happened during a marriage varies slightly: usually, the couple held hands, exchanged vows, kissed, gave gifts, and then pledged each other.
KeywordsContracting Couple Gift Exchange Individual Consent Marriage Ceremony Marriage Contract
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