This little document is a clandestine marriage certificate – the only surviving evidence of a secret marriage which took place in the parish of ‘Llanfinith’ (Llanfynydd) in the county of Carmarthen in 1753.
The parties involved were Samuel Edwards of the parish of Llanfihangel Ystrad and Margaret Jones of the parish of Ciliau Aeron. These two parishes are located between Aberaeron and Lampeter in what was then Cardiganshire, so these two people had a trek of 26 miles to their chosen and secretive place of marriage in Carmarthenshire . For some reason they didn’t choose to marry in the bride’s parish which was the usual choice – the assumption being that in her own parish the bride was marrying by choice, not compulsion, with her family and friends around her.
If you go to the marriage register for the parish of Llanfynydd there is no record of this marriage. Because this was a secret marriage performed somewhere – we don’t know where – in the parish of Llanfynydd by a priest who then created his own form of certificate to record the couple’s marriage.
We can see his name – ‘Johannem James’ (John James) and the names of no fewer than four witnesses .
The ‘certificate’ is decorated with writing in Latin, Greek and Hebrew. The Latin is a quotation from Ephesians: “I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love”. Not a bad choice for a wedding certificate.
The certificate evokes at least two important Acts of Parliament. Readers may spot the document is ‘dated according to the New Stile’. This refers to the Calendar (New Style) Act of 1750 when the beginning of the legal years was changed from 25th March to 1st January. As a result of this Act there were two short years – 1751 ran from 25th March to 31st December and then in 1752 eleven days were lost (2nd September was followed immediately by 14th September ) to align the English (and Welsh!) calendar with that of the continent.
Samuel and Margaret married in September 1753. In that year Hardwicke’s Marriage Act was passed, “An Act for the Better Preventing of Clandestine Marriage”. The Act directed that one had to marry in an Anglican church and that banns must be read or a licence obtained before the marriage was valid. Before this Act the legal requirements upon which marriage were based were those of the canon law of the Anglican church, and although one was supposed to marry in the church of the parish where one of the two parties was resident (usually the woman’s parish), and banns read or a licence obtained, a failure to do all of these did not render the marriage invalid so long as it was performed by an Anglican priest. We can only hope John James, the person who married the Edwards’, was indeed an Anglican priest!
Hardwicke’s Marriage Act came into force in 1754. Family historians will be familiar with the new style marriage registers which were introduced in that year in the Anglican churches to reflect the change in the law.
We’ve never tried to discover what happened to Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Edwards, but presumably they flourished as it was one of their descendants who gave me this precious little piece of paper about twenty years ago, the family having kept the paper safely for nearly 250 years.