Dating and wedding customs in england
He discovered that half of them had not been married in church, but clandestinely, making private vows to each other, or married in a private dwelling by some roving clergyman. Given the choice, those unencumbered by property preferred to avoid the expense and rigmarole of an official church wedding and spend their money on drinking to celebrate the new partnership.
Dodging the newly imposed tax and resentment at the state's interference in their private business provided further incentives to live in "common law unions" that had no basis in law and did not carry property rights.
Newspaper headlines scream that marriage is in crisis and on the way out.
But then the English marriage has always been mercenary.
The most recent headlines have been provoked by the case of the divorcing millionaire businessman, Scot Young, whose soon-to-be ex-wife is accusing him of feigning mental illness as an excuse for not being able to disclose his current financial position.
"This husband ought to hear the clanging of prison gates," threatens Mrs Young's lawyer.
When the state started taxing marriage in the 1690s, the vicar of Tetbury in Gloucestershire carried out a survey of his parishioners to find out how many had been married in church.
He was covering his back – clergymen who failed to ensure that their parishioners were officially married were penalised.
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But society weddings used to be quiet, private affairs and all classes considered expensive weddings vulgar and unnecessary.