Examining Marriage Licence Bonds

Illustration of a wedding at Topcroft, Norfolk. NRO, ANF Bishop’s Transcripts, 1828.

Marriage licence bonds for the Archdeaconry of Norfolk, 1704-1886, and for the Peculiar of the Dean and Chapter of Norwich Cathedral, 1705-1860, have recently been indexed by a group of dedicated Norfolk Record Office volunteers.

In a few cases, the backstory to some of these bonds (rarely given in the document itself) is recounted in other sources.  One such story relates to Mahershalalhashbaz Tuck and Emily Beddoe who applied for a licence to be married at East Dereham on 20th December 1866. Their wedding took place there a few days later.

Marriage licence bond for Mahershalalhashbaz Tuck and Emily Beddoe, 1886.
Norfolk Record Office (NRO), ANF 12/96/1.

Mahershalalhashbaz was the fourth child of John Tuck and Sophia (née Allen) and both father and son were landlords of the Cherry Tree Inn at East Dereham.  The story of how Mahershalalhashbaz was named (the name appears in the bible, Isaiah, Chapter 8) became a local legend in Hoe when he was baptised on 23rd December 1838.

Baptism entry for Mahershalalhashbaz Tuck, Hoe, 1838. NRO, PD 417/26.

The Revd Benjamin John Armstrong gives an account in his diary of the day he married Mahershalalhashbaz and Emily.  His diary entry notes:

December 25 [1866] Christmas Day: Married a young parishioner of the name of Mahershallalashbaz Tuck. He accounted for the possession of so extraordinary a name thus: his father wished to call him by the shortest name in the Bible, and for that purpose selected Uz.  But, the clergyman making some demur, the father said in pique, ‘Well, if he cannot have the shortest he shall have the longest.’

(A Norfolk Diary: Passages from the Diary of the Rev. Benjamin John Armstrong, Vicar of East Dereham 1850-88, ed. by Herbert B.J. Armstrong, Harrap, 1949 p.123).

Unsurprisingly, many licence bonds have not survived and we only know of the following caper relating to the marriage of James Gimbert, of King’s Lynn, and Sophia Steggles, of Beeston, from the Revd Armstrong’s diary:

August 19th1852. On Tuesday some people applied for a marriage licence bond which, in order to save time, I directed the Norwich officials to send by post to Beeston where the ceremony was to take place. Unfortunately they sent it to Dereham. So, in order that the wedding might come off that day I cantered off to Beeston with the licence in my pocket. There I found that the anxious couple had gone to Dereham by train, so I galloped to Fransham station in the hope of overtaking them. Fortunately they had been just a minute too late for the train. I next advised them to go to Beeston Church as quickly as possible, while I rode round to the rectory and by the time that Mr. Nelson and I had got to the church it wanted ten minutes to noon and the parties had not arrived. Moreover, the clerk was absent and he had the key of the vestry containing the surplice and book. These difficulties were surmounted by my acting as clerk and the anxious bridegroom breaking open the vestry door, so that, after all, we only just managed to perform the ceremony in the canonical hours. It was a complete chapter of accidents.

Rev. Armstrong’s diary (ed. published by Hodder and Stoughton, 1963 with an introduction by Professor Owen Chadwick, p.31).

Marriage register entry for James Gimbert and Sophia Steggles, 1852. NRO, PD 377/10.

If you are researching your family tree and have come across an entry in a parish register which notes that your ancestors married by licence, then marriage licence bonds can be a valuable resource. The bonds cover a whole archdeaconry, or diocese, rather than a single parish and this can also make them useful for tracing marriages of some ancestors if you do not know where the wedding took place.

A marriage licence enabled the parties to marry without the calling of banns or outside their normal parish of residence. In the marriage licence bond, the groom declared that there was no legal impediment to the marriage. He and his bondsman (usually a close friend or relative) would incur a financial penalty if they gave false information. The sum was set deliberately high to deter irregular marriages and the existence of a bond only shows that a marriage licence was applied for, it does not prove that the marriage actually took place.  Marriage licence bonds usually include the names, and often the occupations, of the groom and his bondsman and their parish(es) of residence.  They also give the name and parish of residence of the bride in most cases. Canon law stipulated that the bond should state where the marriage would take place: sometimes two or more parishes were given and sometimes none at all.  If the bride or groom was under 21 years of age, then parental permission was needed and the bond may give brief details of this permission, usually from the bride’s father. Very often none of the parties involved was literate and they put their ‘mark’ on the document, often in the form of a cross.

The main catalogue references for the recently indexed records are ANF 12 (for the Norfolk Archdeaconry) and DCN 68/1-3 (for the Dean and Chapter of Norwich). In total, over 20,000 records were added to the Norfolk Record Office catalogue during the project. The new indexes join those completed in 2016 by Norfolk Record Office volunteers for Norwich Archdeaconry marriage licence bonds, 1712-1915 (main catalogue reference, ANW/24).  If you would like to view the Norfolk Record Office’s catalogue, it is available online at http://nrocat.norfolk.gov.uk/

Written by Anne Baker, NRO Research blogger

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