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THE BULLETIN OF Friends Historical Association Vol. 40Autumn Number, 1951No. 2 QUAKER MARRIAGE CERTIFICATES By William Wistar Comfort* AMONG documents connected with the history of Christian marriage, the Quaker marriage certificate is unique. It is thought to be the only survival of the Puritan marriage form. The reasons for this fact and the evolution of the certificate itself through three centuries have, I believe, not been hitherto set forth. In modern Christian countries, society observes one or both of two methods of guarding the sanctity of marriage: in America and Great Britain either a civil marriage, as by a Justice of the Peace, or a religious marriage, certified by a qualified minister and reported to the Registry Office, is required; in certain Roman Catholic countries a civil marriage is required by the Government, usually before a Mayor or other officer, while the Catholic Church also requires of its communicants a Church ceremony with benediction by a priest. Consequently , in Catholic countries, where Church and State are separated, each regards its requirement as essential before a man and woman can be lawfully regarded as man and wife. In 1650 there were two ways of being lawfully married in England, one by a Justice of the Peace in a civil ceremony, and * William Wistar Comfort is President of Friends Historical Association and author of numerous books, including Stephen Grellet and Quakers in the Modern World. 67 68Bulletin of Friends Historical Association the other by a recognized minister in a church of one of the existing denominations. The Directory issued by a Puritan Parliament in 1645 had specified that the civil marriage was required, while the religious ceremony was optional. As a result it was common to go through two celebrations. However, the Quaker refusal to be married by anyone—priest or Justice —presented a unique situation. How could the Quakers meet the requirement and still maintain the "testimony" which they had so promptly adopted as part of their declared freedom from control by either the Anglican or the Nonconformist churches? The Quaker historian Robert Barclay in The Inner Life of the Religious Societies of the Commonwealth points out that the Directory of 1645, which also forbade the use of the Book of Common Prayer in public worship, was in force when the earliest disciples of Fox took their stand against marriage in church or chapel.1 By this Directory the Quakers like other Puritans were absolved from the necessity of a church service. But the required civil service was another matter. To prepare for the civil marriage required by the Puritan Directory and confirmed in 1656, those proposing marriage were directed to deliver their names and their residence, together with names of parents or guardians to the local registrar, who saw that the banns were published either in a church or in the market-place three several weeks. When this had been done without challenge, the registrar issued a certificate. Armed with this certificate, the couple then appeared before a Justice of the Peace or other qualified magistrate and uttered the following vows: "I, A. B., do here in the presence of God and before these witnesses, promise to be to thee a loving and faithful husband," and the woman the same. This is certainly simplicity itself, and of this form the Quaker certificate is an elaboration, as will now appear. In 1653 Fox briefly pointed out that "who are joined together with the Light are joined together in God."2 After the Restoration, Fox refers to this earlier epistle in his Journal 1 London, 1877, pp. 145, 406-407. 2 Epistle 26. Quaker Marriage Certificates69 when in London in 1667. The problem, of course, was to comply , so far as he could conscientiously do, with the civil requirements . With the Church requirements he was not concerned, for, as he said in 1669 in his most complete treatment of the subject: "The right joyning in Marriage is the Work of the Lord only, and not the Priests or Magistrates," and again "we Marry none, it's the Lord's Work, and we are but Witnesses."8 Desiring, however, that all Quaker marriages should be carried out and recorded decently and in order...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1934-1504
Print ISSN
0033-5053
Pages
pp. 67-80
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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