Marriage licences were granted from the 14th century onwards, and allowed marriage to take place with only seven days notice by paying a fee. They would be issued either by a Bishop, Dean, the Archbishop’s Office or another ecclesiastical official, and were used by the gentry, yeomen and merchant classes as a means to show they were wealthy and could afford one.
Former Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer scripts the wedding vows for the Church of England in his Book of Common Prayer. The Act of Uniformity 1549 then made this the sole legal form of worship in England. It contained the first wedding vows written entirely in English and is largely the same as what we know today. This represents an important stage in the gradual changing of the purpose of marriage, away from securing wealth and power, and towards mutual love.
The Marriage Act 1753 (more commonly known as known as Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act) marked the beginning of state involvement in marriage. Prior to this, everything was decided by canon law. The Act stated that each parish had to keep a record of all marriages registered there, thus making record finding considerably easier after this period.
The third major act was passed regarding baptism, marriage and burial registers; George Rose’s Act of 1812. It specified that transcripts should be made by each church on parchment within two months of the end of each year and forwarded to the registrar. The registers were also ordered to be kept in a ‘dry well painted iron chest, in some dry and secure place, either at the parsonage or in the church’. As a result, many iron chests were built in 1813, and you can still find thousands of them remaining to this day.
The Marriage Act of 1836 allowed for non-religious marriages to be held in register offices by civil registrars. Before this time you had to get married in the Church of England, regardless of your religion. Marriage otherwise would be almost pointless, as it would carry no weight in the eyes of the law. This Act also further improved the record keeping of marriages, as from this time all marriages in England and Wales have been recorded on one central register.
Information from the Official Marriage Records website