I am reading the book by Steven LeBlanc and Katherine Register, Constant battles, (2003). It is about history of warfare, but on p. 165 I found the mysterious sentence:

For example, rules can be passed and enforced restricting marriage to people with enough wealth to set up a household, as was the case in England,

Can anyone explain what they mean? I've never heard about "rules restricting marriage" on the basis of wealth, in England, or any other Christian country. Unfortunately they do not specify the time period. They mention existence of such rules at least twice in the book, as something known, without giving any further detail.

Edit. I summarize the prevailing opinion in this long discussion: the authors made this up. No such rules were ever "passed and enforced".

  • Might be useful to start by looking at Gretna Greene. I don't know, but I suspect that is the beginning of the answer.
    – MCW
    Mar 27, 2020 at 8:23
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    @m: Marriage Act 1753 answers most issues I believe. The UK Parliament site also sheds insight Mar 27, 2020 at 10:40
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    @Pieter Gerkins: so you seem to say that there were some social rules (which applied only to certain classes of society) but no formal laws. This is what I suspected.
    – Alex
    Mar 27, 2020 at 12:17
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    @PieterGeerkens "1753: An Act for the Better Preventing of Clandestine Marriage. 26 Geo. II. c. 33" is online at statutes.org.uk/site/the-statutes/eighteenth-century/…
    – Henry
    Mar 27, 2020 at 12:40
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    Not in England but in the US, the author Nathaniel Hawthorne was engaged but wasn't "in a position to marry" because he was not financially secure (1835). He didn't feel able to marry for seven more years. This same theme is echoed in Trollope's "Framley Parsonage". This concept of being able to support a wife is a social more, not a law, and was most probably the basis behind getting the father's consent at engagement - a good father is unlikely to consent to his daughter living in poverty because of an impecunious suitor.
    – Jurp
    Mar 27, 2020 at 13:40

1 Answer 1


England notably had a late age of first marriage due to socially enforced cultural rules around appropriate economic capacity to maintain a household. This “late age of first marriage” household reproduction strategy was common to north Europe and the petits bourgeois. England was in north Europe. England had a wealthier peasantry prior to 1750 than many other locations and additionally had a large petits bourgeois.

While not unlawful, early marriage was economically costly, invited social censure, and could result in lack of access to productive property or disinheriting.

The core “rule” was that men needed to restrict marriage until capable of independently maintaining a household of their class at the social standard expected by their class. Women’s first marriage was much less restricted as women did not generally control social property at time of first marriage.

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