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‘To have and to hold from this day forward’ – The Celebration of Marriage in Early Modern England

Catherine Meyrick

The final step on the road to marriage in the 16th century was, as it is now, the marriage service itself. At its most basic, all that was needed to create a marriage was a mutual promise to marry followed by consummation.(1) Unfortunately for many women, this was often not enough to ensure that the marriage was recognized. Many cases found their way to the church courts where one party claimed marriage and the other denied it, witnesses could not be found or, anticipating the marriage service, the bride had become pregnant and the groom absconded or even died.(2) Such was the case in Oxfordshire in 1606 – Elizabeth Playster exchanged promises to marry with John Symons before witnesses using the conventional form of words but once it was discovered that Elizabeth was pregnant John ‘went away’ leaving Elizabeth to cope with an illegitimate birth.(3) The safest route, and…

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