A small fee was paid to have the banns or proclamation of marriage announced on one to three Sundays prior to the marriage. The purpose was to give the community a chance to comment on whether there was any reason the marriage should not go forward--a prior marriage, being too closely related, or other serious impediment.
Marriage then took place most often in the bride's home--her mother's parlor. There was a prejudice against marrying in the church because a wedding tended to include a party, and there were fears of boisterous spirits contaminating the place of worship (as soon as I find my notes with the appropriate quote supporting this outrageous statement, I will put it up!).
Most of the marriage records you will see prior to 1855 are really notices of proclamation. You will see that they registered on a given date, there may be references to the dates of proclamation and the fee paid, and then there may be reference to the date of the actual marriage--but that's rare. Assuming that it took place mid-week after the last Sunday's banns reading is usually a good guess, however.
Any marriage that did not include a proclamation was considered an irregular marriage and was dealt with by the Kirk Session elders of the local parish. That could include eloping to a Justice of the Peace, or common law marriage. Elopement was a concern because of the not infrequent kidnapping of young heiresses.
Most often it involved "ante-nuptial fornication"--literally, "pre-marital sex." It came up when a lady of the congregation confessed to being pregnant. She would be encouraged to point out the father. The couple might be questioned as to when and where and how frequently they were together--Sunday assignations were particularly heinous. The couple was then publically rebuked before the congregation and considered ostracized until such time as they could convince the elders they felt true remorse. Reconciliation and reinstatement usually followed--with a fine paid to Poor Relief.
If the church was harsh, it was a culture that believed harshness could regulate human behavior. You will see below, that by the mid-19th c. feelings were emerging for handling things a bit more delicately.
The following notes were abstracted from the Kirk Session Records for Paisley High parish, Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland, vol. 1. They were found at Register House, Edinburgh. (precise reference pending).
1--29 May 1797: Archibald McNair + Janet Renfrew acknowledge that they were irregularly married and have been guilty of antenuptial fornication. They were rebuked for the scandal (before the congregation) and paid 5 shillings of the fine to the poor and were dismissed.
2--26 March 1799: John Ewing + Margaret Parker--irregularly married--guilty of fornication--paid 1s to the poor. Their adherance was taken and they were appointed to be rebuked.
3--3 Aug. 1802: James Moody + Janet Orr--irregular marriage--no mention of fornication (they may have just elopd)--5s paid to the poor--rebuked.
4--10 June 1805: William Thomson + Jean Robertson--guilty of antenuptial fornication--rebuked.
5--(neglected to note date;but the next two items are between 1805 and 1817) Received from the Presbytery (the next responsible body after the local Kirk Session--a regional session made up of reps from the local churches) and Synod of Glasgow and Ayr (the final authority): The local Sessions were sent a questionnaire--were irregular marriages frequent in the parish? More frequent than formerly? Has the frequency of irregular marriages given rise to illegal or criminal connections such as bigamy or incest? Have fines been exacted to the utmost? Have the fines been applied to the pious purposes specified? Are the local Justices of the Peace required to gain certification from the parish that the couple are not of a forbidden degree of consanguinuity (not too closely related) and free and unmarried? What method does the Session think most prudent and effectual for checking this evil complaint?
Paisly High Parish answered that irregular marriages were not that frequent and were less frequent than formerly. They had no record of incest or bigamy following as a result. They did not know if the Justices were exacting fines or requiring certification.
7--(failed to get date, between 1805-17) Robert Muir + Janet Robertson--irregularly married 3 years ago due to antenuptial fornication--adherance was taken--clerk's dues paid, 5s to the poor paid--rebuked.
8--12 Dec. 1817: It was proposed that the Session should relax its discipline as to persons under scandal...it might be more to the edification of all in general to rebuke them before the Session only, and before the congregation only when deemed necessary. It was passed subject to two elders dissenting (Swanlake and MacQueen).
A Case of Resistance
9--30 Aug. 1819: Elizabeth Cunningham acknowledged that two years ago she bore a child in uncleaness and under interrogation accused John Robertson, manufacturer (textiles middleman), of Lonewills, of being the father. 10--16 Nov. 1819: Above case continued: Elizabeth appeared with a letter from John Robertson begging to be excused (from appearing) as he was a member of the Relief Church, McDermid, Minister. The session agreed. Elizabeth would be rebuked and a letter would be sent to John's minister. 11--12 Feb. 1820: Above case continued: A letter was reviewed from the Canal St. Relief Session dated 25 Nov. 1820 stating that John Robertson,manufacturer, Head of Lonewells (an address), was never in communion with the Relief church and has for a considerable time ceased to attend worship there. The session does not feel the case is under their jurisdiction.
12--7 May 1820: Above case continued. Elizabeth Cunningham craves absolution. The elders assigned to work with her gave a favorable opinion regarding her sincerity. John Robertson is ordered to appear before the Session.
13--31 July 1820: John did not appear; a Summons Ex Gratia is issued.
14--3 April 1820: John did not appear; the Session considers him to be "contumaceous" and submit his name to the Presbytery for any further action. (Their only power, I think, would be for excommunication.)
© 1997 Marjorie J. Jodoinmjjodoin@webtv.
Charles@ellson.demon.co.uk (Charles Ellson)
Subject: Re: Irregular marriage? "Irregular" marriages (in Scotland), were those which were not performed by clergy or, later, by a registrar. The bit about confessing, being rebuked and being married again was (in the last couple of centuries anyway) only the church trying to impose its' authority, as an irregular marriage was still a marriage in civil law. The usual forms were marriage by declaration in front of witnesses, in which no minister was involved, and was achieved by the couple without help of clergy doing what the words say, after the introduction of civil registration in 1855 it was necessary for the couple to obtain a warrant from the local sheriff to register the marriage; the other usual form of irregular marriage (since 1940, the only form of irregular marriage available in Scots Law) is marriage by cohabitation and repute, which is established by living together as husband and wife AND also being _known_ as husband and wife, the latter point being the usual pitfall when an attempt is made to prove the marriage in court (usually for inheritance purposes). The point about the later church marriage being meaningless is important as an earlier irregular marriage will void a later regular marriage unless the first marriage has itself been dissolved, even if it is the same couple undergoing a marriage ceremony.
Message From: S.M.Carter@bristol.ac.uk (SM Carter) Date: Thu, Sep 24, 1998, 10:30pm (PDT+8) To: firstname.lastname@example.org (Marjorie Jodoin) Subject: Re: Marriage before a JP Dear Marjorie, I had a look at your Web page and then consulted the Scottish Record Office's 'Tracing your Scottish Ancestors.' I feel sure that what you saw was a reference to a marriage by declaration in front of the JP - the Kirk Sessions didn't like them! The couple merely declared before the JP they were man and wife - he didn't marry them but was merely the witness to the declaration. P.27 of the book quoted above: Until 1940, irregular marriages, in the form of a declaration by the parties before witnesses, but not before an established clergyman, were perfectly legal. However, such marriages were frowned upon. The parties might be rebuked by their kirk session and they and their witnesses were liable to be fined. Thus evidence of such marriages may be found in kirk session minutes ... and in burgh and JP court records. Sheena Carter (email@example.com)