Chapter

Cohabitation, illegitimacy, and the law in England, 1750–1914

Ginger S. Frost

in Living In Sin

Published by Manchester University Press

Published in print November 2008 | ISBN: 9780719077364
Published online July 2012 | e-ISBN: 9781781700723 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7228/manchester/9780719077364.003.0002
Cohabitation, illegitimacy, and the law in England, 1750–1914

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This chapter clarifies the law of marriage in England that changed several times over the course of the nineteenth century, but was based primarily on the Hardwicke Marriage Act of 1753. The Hardwicke Act, combined with the New Poor Law, made marriage both more difficult and more necessary for women. It is noted that the marriage laws were not well known or enforced among the common people, and this caused difficulties for women and children and headaches for local magistrates. Judges recognised that the parents intended their illegitimate children to inherit, but did not feel that they could overturn the law. The oddities of the law of illegitimacy meant that illegitimate siblings sometimes fought each other over the inheritance. The state made marriage more difficult in 1753, and left cohabiting women and their children with limited options.

Keywords: cohabitation; England; Hardwicke Marriage Act; New Poor Law; illegitimate children; illegitimacy

Chapter.  10896 words. 

Subjects: Social and Cultural History

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