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Prohibited Marriages

In Badsey, Aldington and Wickhamford, as within many close-knit communities of earlier times, there were instances of cousins marrying cousins and step-relatives marrying step-relatives.  But was it allowed?

Perhaps surprisingly, marriage between cousins, even first cousins, has always been permitted, but marriage between in-laws (if a previous partner had died), who had no blood relationship, was not allowed.  For example, until the law changed in 1907, a man was forbidden to marry his dead wife’s sister.  This meant that a few people were unable to marry and had to live together as common-law man and wife.

In England, the list of forbidden marriages was drawn up by the Church of England in 1560 and remained unchanged until the 20th century.  This list (“wherein whosoever are related are forbidden in scripture and our laws to marry together”), printed in The Book of Common Prayer of 1662, stated that:

  • A man may not marry his:  Grandmother, Step-Grandmother, Grandmother-in-law, Aunt, Aunt-in-Law, Mother, Step-mother, Mother-in-law, Daughter, Step-daughter, Daughter-in-law, Sister, Sister-in-law (ie either Wife’s sister or Brother’s wife), Granddaughter, Granddaughter-in-law, Step-Granddaughter, Niece, Niece-in-law.
  • A woman may not marry her:  Grandfather, Step-Grandfather, Grandfather-in-law, Uncle, Uncle-in-Law, Father, Step-father, Father-in-law, Son, Step-son, Son-in-law, Brother, Brother-in-law (ie either Husband’s brother or Sister’s husband), Grandson, Grandson-in-law, Step-Grandson, Nephew, Nephew-in-law.

This was the status quo for nearly 350 years until several acts in the first half of the 20th century brought the situation more up-to-date.

  • The 1907 Marriage Act removed Wife’s sister and Husband’s brother from the list, provided the first spouse in each case had died.
  • The 1921 Marriage Act removed Brother’s wife and Sister’s husband from the list, provided the brother or sister in each case had died.
  • The 1931 Marriage Act removed Aunt-in-law and Uncle-in-law from the list, provided the relevant Uncle, Aunt, Niece or Nephew had died.
  • The 1949 Marriage Act confirmed the previous three acts and specifically included half-blood relatives.

Since 1949 there have been several further Marriage Acts, culminating in the 1986 Act which brought the regulations up-to-date.  The following blood relatives are still forbidden to marry under any circumstances:

  • A man may not marry his:  Mother, Daughter, Grandmother, Granddaughter, Sister, Half-sister, Aunt, Half-aunt, Niece, Half-niece.
  • A woman may not marry her:  Father, Son, Grandfather, Grandson, Brother, Half-brother, Uncle, Half-uncle, Nephew, Half-nephew.
  • It also included a new forbidden category covering adopted children:
  • A man may not marry his adoptive Mother or former adoptive Mother, his adopted Daughter or former adopted Daughter.
  • A woman may not marry her adoptive Father or former adoptive Father, his adopted Son or former adopted Son.