Q&A: Why did my great great grandparents get married twice?

By Jon Bauckham, 7 April 2015 - 10:42am

Professor Rebecca Probert helps Karen Murphy Rye with a confusing conundrum – why did her ancestors tie the knot twice, four years apart?

St Mary's Church, Lambeth

The first marriage of Karen's great great grandparents took place at St Mary's Church, Lambeth (Credit: British Library)

Q: My great great grandparents, Alfred Till and Harriet Ann Broadmead, married on 12 April 1873 at St Mary’s Church in Lambeth and also on 23 September 1877 at St Philip’s Church in Lambeth. The certificates share much of the same information, but there are some differences. In 1873, Alfred was a Corporal in the Grenadier Guards, in 1877 he was a Private. At the earlier marriage he named no father but in the later one John Till (deceased) appears, when in fact John was his grandfather. Why the two marriages?

Karen Murphy Rye, by email
 

A: There are various reasons why a couple might go through a second marriage ceremony. One would be if they discovered the first wasn’t valid. This is unlikely in this case: the certificate records that banns were called and by this time a marriage would only be void if the parties deliberately flouted the law.

Alfred’s occupation suggests a likely explanation. As an ordinary soldier he would have needed permission from his commanding officer to marry. This would only be granted after a certain length of service and was dependent on good conduct. In addition, only a certain number of soldiers were permitted to marry in each regiment. A recognised wife could lodge with her husband in the barracks, earn money by cooking and washing for the regiment and, up until the Crimean War, accompany the regiment overseas.

Without such permission, a soldier’s wife was simply not recognised by the army. We know from the 1881 census that Harriet was living with Alfred in Chelsea Barracks, so we can infer that between 1873 and 1877 a place ‘on the strength’ became available and Alfred went through a second ceremony so he would have a marriage certificate that postdated the grant of permission.

It is interesting that he wanted the respectability of a father on this occasion – even if the man named was not his actual father. The fact that he is described as a corporal in 1873 and a private in 1877 is also intriguing – had he been demoted, or perhaps inflated his rank first time round? He would not be the first groom to claim a higher status on such an occasion!

rebecca_probert_100x120

Rebecca Probert is a professor of Law at the University of Warwick and the author of Marriage Law for Genealogists

 

 

 

Hit a brick wall with your family history?

Send in your questions to WDYTYAquestions@immediate.co.uk. You can read more from our Q&A section in the latest issue of Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine, available to download here.
 

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