Types of Cause: Matrimonial – annulment (minor)

The formation of a marriage at this time could be legally complex.

It was possible for children over the age of seven to contact a lawful future marriage per verba de futuro (by words of future intent). This was conditional upon consummation once the couple reached puberty, deemed to be fourteen for boys and twelve for girls. Much younger children were also promised in marriage, sometimes before they could talk.

However, if either party did not later wish to continue with the marriage it could be annulled before consummation. Annulment could be arranged informally before witnesses, but formal confirmation by the court precluded any uncertainty. Non-consummation might have to be proved through physical examination, as in the case of Ellen Knottisford (5/1/1).

As proof of age might be difficult to obtain, it was often additionally claimed that one party had been compelled to the marriage by parents or friends, so that it was invalid through ‘force or fear’.

At this time, the church courts had sole legal authority in matrimonial matters.


R. H. Helmholz, Marriage Litigation in Medieval England, (1974).

R. B. Outhwaite, Clandestine Marriage in England 1500-1850, (1995), (Chapter 1)


EDC 5/1/1 Ellen Knottisford c. Ralph Bury

Lack of consent

EDC 5/1/4 Joan Dutton c. Richard Sompnor – Joan claimed to be below the age of 7 at the time of the marriage

Non-consummation and lack of consent

EDC 5/1580/4 – Elizabeth Meycock contra Thomas Davie