This is more a genealogy question than a historical event but I couldnt think of anywhere else to ask it. (I hope it not off topic)

In 1787 my Great (x6) Grandfather paid a bond of £200 the equilivent of £13,000 in todays money as a bond to marry his wife. See transcript below.

Are hereby become bound unto the Right Reverend Father in God Roberts by divine permission Lord Bishop of London in the sum of two hundred pounds of good and lawful money of Great-Britain, to be paid to him the said Right Reverend Father in God, or his lawful Attorney, Executors, successors or assigns: For the good and faithful payment of which sum, we do bind ourselves, and both of us, jointly and severally, for the whole, our heirs, executors and administrators, firmly by these presents, sealed with our seals, dated the second Day of April in the year of our lord 1787.

What is this bond? and why did he need to pay it?

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    I just noticed this question, and wanted to make sure that you are aware that there is also a Genealogy & Family History Stack Exchange where it, and any future questions that you might have like it, would be very on-topic – PolyGeo Jun 30 '15 at 6:48
  • @PolyGeo. Yes I am aware of that. The Genealogy site only came into existence after I authored this question – stephenmyall Jun 30 '15 at 10:45

Very interesting. I found this explanation on geneology.about.com:

In earlier times, a marriage bond was given to the court by the intended groom prior to his marriage. It affirmed that there was no moral or legal reason why the couple could not be married and it also affirmed that the groom would not change his mind. If he did, and did not marry the intended bride, he would forfeit the bond. The bondsman, or surety, was often a brother or uncle to the bride, not necessarily a parent. The bondsman could also be related to the groom, or even be a neighbor or friend, but those situations occurred less often.

There was also this longer bit I found by Richard A. Pence that goes into the history better:

A bit of history may help us to understand the nature of the marriage bond. In early colonial America, "marriage banns" were usually the formal process leading up to the wedding. Notice of the impending marriage was read from the church pulpit or posted at the church door over a set period of time. The purpose of this was to allow those who knew the bride and groom to object if there was a legal reason why the marriage should not take place ("speak now or forever hold your peace").

There were three principal legal barriers: either or both were not yet of legal age, either or both were already married, or the bride and groom were too closely related to marry under the laws of the jurisdiction.

As America gradually became more of a frontier nation, often either the bride or the groom would not be well known in the community. To overcome this, the marriage bond soon replace the banns.

The groom and a suitable bondsman ("surety") would pledge an amount (usually specified by law) to an official (often the governor of the colony or state) as a guarantee that there were no legal impediments to the forthcoming marriage. The bond was "conditional" -- that is, the pledged amount would be forfeited only if there proved to be a legal reason the couple should not marry. If no such legal barrier existed, the bond would be null and void, even if the wedding failed to take place for some other reason. In many jurisdictions the bond remained in force for a year or two after the marriage and apparently would have been forfeited if any illegality came to light during that time.

Use of the marriage bond began to fade in the middle to late 1800s and by the close of the century most jurisdiction relied on "sworn" statements made in the application for the marriage license to guard against illegal marriages.

The thing I find interesting about this is the implication that bonds were used when records about things weren't all computerized and networked, and the people in question weren't well-known enough in the community for the legality of the marraige to be "crowd-sourced" to the community at large.

This bit of crowd-sourcing lives on in our traditional marriage cerimonies, in that the minisiter usually asks "Before we proceed, if anyone here knows any reason why these two should not be married, speak now or forever hold your peace.", and then pauses waiting for a response from the crowd.

What this implies about your particular ancestor in London is either that either he and/or the bride were not well-known in their area, or that perhaps in a huge city like London nobody could be well-known enough for a bann to be effective.

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    This means that after that period of time passed without incidents, that amount of money was given back to the groom? – o0'. Sep 7 '12 at 15:24
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    @Lohoris - to whoever was the bondsman, yes it does seem to imply that. – T.E.D. Sep 7 '12 at 15:36
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    Bonds are almost always posted to remove trust issues. Even to this date, some employers ask new employees to sign a bond which the said employees have to oblige by if they leave the employer before a designated period --a bond with an expiry if you will. Thanks for this interesting answer that clearly explains where the lack of trust came from in this case. – Apoorv Khurasia Sep 8 '12 at 6:42
  • @ApoorvKhurasia Or the early deposit some utility companies require, which will eventually be credited to your account if you pay your bills on time. – JAB Nov 7 '16 at 20:29
  • @JAB Equivalent to an interest free bond. – Apoorv Khurasia Dec 27 '16 at 10:26

After getting clues from the accepted answer above and found this other article. It maybe be useful to someone in the future


• Marriage bonds and allegations only exist for couples who applied to marry by licence. They do not exist for couples who married by banns.

• The marriage allegation was the document in which the couple alleged (or frequently just the groom alleged on behalf of both of them) that there were no impediments to the marriage.

• The marriage bond set a financial penalty on the groom and his bondsman (usually a close friend or relative) in the case the allegation should prove to be false.

• After 1823 marriage bonds were no longer made. Only the allegations were made after this date.

• The sum named on the bond was not the price of the marriage licence. It was the penalty sum, and was set deliberately high to deter irregular marriages.

• The existence of a marriage bond / allegation merely shows that a marriage licence was applied for. It does not prove that the couple ever married.

• Canon law stipulated that the marriage bond should state where the marriage should take place; sometimes a choice of two parishes in given. There are, however, occasions where couples seem to have disregarded this and marriage somewhere else entirely.

• The ages given on marriage bonds and allegations should be treated with caution. If a person is said to be 23 then it is likely that he was actually (to the best of his or her knowledge) 23. If the bond or allegation states that he is 21 or above then this is only stating that the person had reached the age of majority. It is possible that he was 21, equally that he was 51.

• If one of the parties was a minor (under 21) then parental permission was needed for the marriage. Sometimes a marriage bond or allegation is annotated by a parent to the effect that they grant permission.

• Until 1733 Latin was the official language of legal documents. Until this date the first part of a marriage bond will be in Latin. The second part will be in English.

  • This answer (excluding the first two sentences) is 100% cut-and-paste from here. Do you know what plagiarism is?!!! Add references when you quote! Give the real author credit for his/her work. Also, a good essay (or answer) should never be more than about 25% quotes. -1 – American Luke Sep 11 '12 at 14:25
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    I think your answer is very helpful, but remember to include your sources. By the way, that looks like a very interesting book you're writing. When do you think it'll be done? – American Luke Sep 12 '12 at 16:56
  • @Luke Thanks, the last 5% is always the most difficult, hopefully by year end. Click on the link for a short synopsis (if your interested)historyireland.com/historydetails/?hid=33 – stephenmyall Sep 12 '12 at 18:06

One point that I don't think is clear from the other answers is that your ancestor did not pay a bond of £200. The £200 was not paid unless the terms of the bond were breached. Practically speaking, this meant that the £200 would only be due if there was some legal impediment to the marriage that was not disclosed, and subsequently discovered.

The cost of the marriage license would have been no more than a couple of pounds. Even so this was cost prohibitive to many people in the eighteenth century. The vast majority of people in England married (and marry) in the Church of England after publication of banns. A bond was only required if a couple were to marry by license. A license was more expensive, therefore it was obtained either simply as a symbol of status, for expediency (not having to wait three weeks for banns), or for privacy (no public reading of banns). Since with marriages by license there was no designated public opportunity to object to a marriage, the groom and bondsmen were bound to a sum of money stating that there was no legal impediment to the marriage. In the rare instances that, for example, one party was already married – and caught – the bond would have to be paid.

Bonds were a common legal device. The other type of bond commonly encountered by a genealogist is a probate bond. With this type of bond, the bondsmen are similarly bound to a sum of money to administer the estate of the deceased in accordance with their wishes (if they made a will) or as law dictates (if they died intestate). The bond is an assurance that the executor or administrator will carry out his or her duties honestly.


This is explained very well at the following website. https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/Marriage_Allegations,_Bonds_and_Licences_in_England_and_Wales

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    As links can change or disappear completely, you should summarise the important facts from the linked page in your answer. – Steve Bird Jul 18 '16 at 19:45

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