A Boxing Day Marriage by Licence

This festive week’s 50 Marriage Mondays entry is a Boxing Day marriage by licence:

Bride: Emma Simms, aged 47, spinster, resident in Bromsgrove
Groom: William Hooper Attree, aged 50, batchelor, Medical Officer, resident in East Grinstead, Sussex
Date: 26 December 1867
Location: St John the Baptist church, Bromsgrove
Bride’s father: James Simms, Professor of Music
Groom’s father: William Attree, surgeon

Speed, convenience, privacy and social status are widely given as reasons for a couple to choose to marry by licence rather than after the reading of banns.


At the date of this marriage, 1867, marriage licences could be issued by the Ecclesiastical Courts or Registrars of Birth, Deaths and Marriages.  The authority of Church of England courts were represented by archbishops, bishops and persons appointed by them.  The issue of a licence avoided the calling of banns three times, which took 3 weeks, and enabled the couple to marry immediately in the parish stipulated on the licence.

Certain conditions were to be met before the issue of a licence:

  • at least one of the couple to have been resident in the parish for 15 days

Emma had a clear connection with Bromsgrove as she was the daughter of James Simms and Hebe Shaw, the subjects of an earlier post and long established Bromsgrove residents (Of this parish – Residence requirements for marriage)

  • one of the parties gave an oath that there were no impediments to the marriage

Either Emma or William could have obtained the licence, although it was traditional for the groom to make such arrangements.

  • parental consent was required for people under 21

Both parties were well past the age of consent.


Traditionally, the church prohibited the solemnisation of marriage during particularly holy times of the year, especially Easter and Christmas.  One of the prohibited seasons was from the beginning of Advent (1 December 1867) to 13 January (1868).  A licence provided a means of circumventing the church’s prohibited seasons.  If the prohibited seasons were strictly observed in Bromsgrove in 1867, obtaining a licence may have been necessary for a couple wanting the convenience of marrying on Boxing Day.

Privacy and Social Status

Although no banns or other public notice was necessary, the marriage occurred in church before the congregation.  The only way William and Emma could have married in a truly private venue such as a private chapel or home was by obtaining a ‘special licence’, granted by the Archbishop of Canterbury.  Such licences were issued only to the upper echelons of society e.g. peerage, senior judges, baronets, Knights and members of Parliament, or people who had ‘very strong and weighty reasons’.  William Hooper Attree had been surgeon to the former king of Portugal, Don Miguel de Braganza, and came from a prominent Brighton family, but even these connections probably did not qualify him for a special licence.


© Sue Adams 2012

One Comment on “A Boxing Day Marriage by Licence”

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