Subjects: Marriage formation
The formation of a marriage at this time could be legally complex and somewhat paradoxical. A promise of marriage might be formalised in church, and the reading of banns was seen as proof of this intention as in EDC 5/1587/8. The marriage of children under the age of consent was, however, illegal, and once the children reached the age of majority, which was 14 for boys and 12 for girls, the parties to the marriage might seek ratification in the consistory court for the avoidance of doubt.
In theory, all that was needed for a valid marriage was for a couple to consent to marriage in words of the present tense (per verba de presenti) or words of the future tense (per verba de futuro) followed by sexual intercourse. Without subsequent consummation, however, marriage by verba de futuro amounted to no more than betrothal.
The church sought to formalise the process of marriage by requiring the reading of banns, followed by a ceremony conducted by a member of the clergy and witnessed by parishioners, although this procedure could be circumvented by special licence from the bishop, a system which developed as the century progressed. However, it still remained possible in the sixteenth century for a couple to contract a legally binding marriage without any formal church ceremony or episcopal permission.
R. B. Outhwaite, Clandestine Marriage in England 1500 – 1850, (Ohio, 1995), pp. 1-8.