« AnteriorContinuar »
ture, illustrating, if not actually supplying, materials for the deeply interesting and most instructive annals of the existing political era, They shed on many points of dark diplomatic intrigue, a light which will serve as a beacon for the future adventurer who will have to navigate the boisterous and intricate ocean of European history during the last sixty years; whilst, in the graphic details which they contain of military movements, of actions, sieges, and protracted campaigns, posterity will be enabled to obtain a closer approximation to the knowledge of the system of warfare carried on in these times than it might have been in their power, without such aid, to obtain.
ART. III.— The Fleet Registers; comprising the History of
Fleet Marriages, and some Account of the Parsons and Marriage-house-keepers, with Extracts from the Registers. which are added Notices of the May Fair, Mint, and Savoy Chapels, and an Appendix relating to Parochial Registration. By John SOUTHERDEN BURN, author of the History of Parish Registers. 1 vol. 8vo. London: Rivingtons, Butterworth,
Suter, 1833. Here is a singular subject to engage the curiosity of the many, and to puzzle the philosophy of the few-here is a record at which we scarcely know whether we should laugh or weep. The merriment, indeed, if excited, we fear would prove of the hectic kind; the smile, in such a case, would sit upon the countenance, merely an emblem of mockery, and sadly contrasting with the melancholy feelings existing within.
The very novel and eccentric branch of the domestic history of the metropolis which forms the theme of this volume, like many other interesting discoveries, appears to be the result of accident. Mr. Burn, who has paid great attention to the important question of parochial registers, had the good fortune to direct his inquiring mind into many a path hitherto left untrodden, and no result of his ingenuity and research appears to us to claim a greater degree' of interest than that which has accrued from his labours in tracing the strange archives of the Fleet Prison, those of May Fair, the Mint, and Savoy Chapels. Not only is the use which he has made of this result remarkable for its novelty and its importance, but all the collateral notices, historical, local, and personal, which he has allied with it, constitute together one of the pleasantest volumes which it has been our fortune of late to peruse.
Although from time immemorial marriages were regarded as sacred rites throughout all countries where the religion of Rome prevailed; still, in many parts of Europe, and in England especially, the intervention of a clergyman was not considered as essential to the matrimonial contract, and we may calculate, accordingly, that a vast proportion of marriages were no more than private agreements between the parties themselves, or their parents or friends. Such a state of things would naturally lead to abuses: that is to say, clandestine engagements, with all their pernicious and demoralizing consequences, would be frequent. That such, indeed, was the case, is historically established by the decree of the council of Trent in 1429, whereby marriages were declared invalid except in those instances where a priest
and two witnesses were present. The decree was not enforced in England, and the old practice continued for just three centuries and a quarter, although a form existed in this country from a much earlier period for giving solemnity to marriages, and though the obligation to observe it was recommended by a penalty of ecclesiastical censure. It should, however, be stated that the private modes of contracting marriages, or marriages not accompanied by solemnities or other public sanctions, were recognized by the law; at the same time that certain privileges were exclusively granted to those who complied with the law. The practice, therefore, of contracting marriages in those times was very indefinite, it consisted of a contract per verba de presenti, that is to say, between persons entering into a present engagement to become man and wife, or a promise per verba de futuro, which was an agreement to become husband and wife at some future time, if the promise were followed by consummation, and constituted marriage without the intervention of a priest; for the contract per verba de presenti was held to be a marriage complete in substance, but deficient in ceremony. Although the promise per verba de futuro of itself was incomplete in both points, yet the cohabitation of the parties after exchanging the mutual promise, implied such a present consent at the time of the sexual intercourse, as to perfect the marriage in substance and give it equal validity with the contract de præsenti, that is to say, the validity of an irregular marriage, which could not be annulled by the Ecclesiastical Court, though it might be censured for its informality, nor could the vinculum be affected by a subsequent regular marriage.
Banns were first directed to be published in England in 1200, by Canon Hubert Walter; still private marriages continued, and even so late as 1686 we find that the churches and chapels, which were exempted from the visitation of the ordinary, were resorted to for the ceremony by couples who were opposed to the formal mode of marriage.
The exact period at which the Fleet Prison became a sort of chapel for the purpose of clandestine marriage is not well ascertained. There is in the Lansdowne MSS., in the British Museum, a letter from Alderman Lowe to Lady Hickes, in which the writer informs her of a marriage which took place in the “ Fleette." This letter is dated in 1613, and the terms in which it is couched pretty well indicate that the writer was speaking of some notorious place, and that he implied some reflection on one of the parties to the marriage. The origin of the practice of marrying in prisons appears to have grown up by degrees. The chapels and other places to which we have already alluded, as being open to those who refused to undergo the public ceremony, were gradually diminished by authority, and thus the practice being exiled, as it were, from all legitimate localities, found refuge in the prisons, where it was carried on an extensive scale by ministers, or persons pretending to be such. The character of the ministers who solemnized these marriages may be judged of from some of the acts of parliament of the time. Thus the 7th and 8th Wm. III. cap. 35, recites the 6th and 7th Wm. cap. 7, sec. 52, and that it was passed for the better levying the duty of 58. on licences and certificates, but was found ineffectual, because the penalty of 1001. was not extended to every offence of the same person, and because the parsons employed poor and indigent ministers, without benefices or settled habitations, and be cause many ministers being in prison for debt and otherwise, married persons for lucre and gain.
In the notes of one of these Fleet parsons, named Walter Wyatt, taken in the year 1736, and preserved by accident, some remarks occur which betray the influence of a compunctious feeling operating on the mind of the writer. He says that it would be of no use to advise those who are concerned in the Fleet marriages to give every man his due and learn the way of truth; not so much as the priest, he declares, can do the thing that is just and right there, unless he designs to starve. For by lying, bullying, and swearing, he writes down, to extort money from the silly and unwary people, you advance your business, and get the pelf, which always wastes like snow in a sun-shiny day. The fear of the Lord, continues Walter Wyatt, is the beginning of wisdom; the marrying in the Fleet is the beginning of eternal woe. The following paragraph, extracted from the Grub-street journal of July 20, 1732, affords some ground of justification for the observations of Wyatt. “ On Saturday last a Fleet parson was convicted before Sir Ric. Brocas of forty-three oaths (on the information of a plyer for weddings there), for which a warrant was granted to levy 41. 6s. on the goods of the said parson; but, upon application to his worship, he was pleased to remit ls. per oath; upon which the plyer swore he would swear 'no more against any man upon the like occasion, finding he could get nothing by it.
There is no doubt that many of the early Fleet marriages were performed at the chapel of the Fleet: that they were also performed in rooms fitted up in taverns, and in private houses in the neighbourhood of the Fleet prison. The parsons took the fees, allowing a portion of them to the plyers, or what we should now call the cads. The tavern-keepers, in whose houses the marriages took place, were entitled to a portion of the fees, besides their profits from the liquors drank on these gay occasions. In some instances the tavern-keepers kept a parson on their establishment at a weekly salary of twenty shillings; while others, upon a wedding party arriving, sent for any clergyman they might please to employ, and divided the fee with him. Most of the taverns near the Fleet kept their own registers, in which (as well as in their own books) the parsons entered the weddings.
The author has an engraving of a “ Fleet Wedding,” (published about 1747,)“ between a brisk young sailor and his landlady's daughter at Rederiff:" it represents the old Fleet market and prison, with the sailor, landlady, and daughter, just stepping from a hackney-coach, while two Fleet parsons in canonicals are offering their services. The verses written below the print are as follow:
- Scarce had the coach discharg'd its trusty fare,
And the first Parson splic'd 'em both together." The companion to this engraving is “ The Sailor's Fleet Wedding Entertainment,” which represents the party sitting at table round a bowl of punch, with pipes, &c.
Although successive acts were passed by the legislature for the purpose of putting down such irregularities as the Fleet marriages, yet the practice seems to have flourished, nor could the gross abuses even committed by the parsons engaged in it succeed in diminishing the number of its votaries. In order to give some insight into the nature of these abuses, we shall quote the letter which has been cited by Mr. Burn from the Grub-street Journal of January 1735. It is a document of the most curious kind, and will amply repay the trouble of a perusal. • Sir—There is a very great evil in this town, and of dangerous conse
prejudice and ruin of many hundreds of young people every year; which I beg somé quence to our sex, that has never been suppressed, to the
of your learned heads to consider of, and consult of proper ways and means to prevent for the future. I mean the ruinous marriages that are practised in the liberty of the Fleet and thereabouts, by a sett
of drunken swearing parsons, with their myrmidons, that wear black coats and pretend to be clerks and registers to the Fleet. These ministers of wickedness ply about Ludgate Hill, pulling and forcing people to some pedling alehouse or a brandy-shop to be married, even on a Sunday stopping them as they go to church and almost tearing their cloaths off their backs. To confirm the truth of these facts, I will give you a case or two which lately happened. Since Midsummer last a young lady of birth and fortune was deluded and forced from her friends, and by the assistance of a wry-necked swearing parson married to an atheistical wretch, whose life is a continued practice of all manner of vice and debauchery. And since the ruin of my relation, another lady of my acquaintance had like to have been trepanned in the following manner. This lady had appointed to meet a gentlewoman at the Old Playhouse in Drury-lane: but extraordinary business preve
vented her coming. Being alone when the play was done, she bade a boy call a coach for the city. One dressed like a gentleman helps her into it, and jumps in after her. Madam,” says he,“ this coach was called for me, and since the weather is so bad and there is no other, I beg leave to bear you company: I am going into the city and will set you down wherever you please. The lady begged to be excused: but he bade the coachman drive on. Being come to Ludgate Hill, he told her his sister who waited his coming, but five doors up the court, would
with her in two minutes. He went, and returned with his pretended sister, who asked her to step in one minute, and she would wait upon her in the coach. Deluded with the assurance of having his sister's company, the poor lady foolishly followed her into the house, when instantly the sister vanished; and a tawny fellow in a black coat and a black wig appeared. Madam, you are come in good time, the Doctor was just a-going!” “ The Doctor!" says she, horribly frighted, fearing it was a madhouse: “ What has the Doctor to do with me?" you to that gentleman: the Doctor has waited for you these three hours, and will be payed by you or that gentleman before you go!" gentleman!" says she, recovering herself, “ is worthy a better fortune than mine," and begged hard to be gone.
But Doctor Wryneck swore she should be married, or if she would not he would still have his fee, and register the marriage from that night. The lady finding she could not escape without money or a pledge, told them she liked the gentleman so well, she would certainly meet him to-morrow night, and gave them a ring as a pledge : which, says she,
mother's gift on her deathbed, injoining that, if ever I married, it should be my wedding-ring." By which cunning contrivance she was delivered from the black Doctor and his tawny crew. Some time after this I went with this lady and her brother in a coach to Ludgate Hill in the day-time, to see the manner of their picking up people to be married. As soon as our coach stopt near Fleet Bridge, up comes one of the myrmidons. • Madam," says he,
you want a parson ?” “ Who are you,” says I ? “ I am the clerk and register of the Fleet." “ Show me the chapel.”. At which comes a second, desiring me to go along with him. Says he, " That fellow will carry you to a pedling alehouse." Says a third, “ Go with me, he will
- To marry