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CLANDESTINE MARRIAGES: THE AWFUL EVIDENCE FROM A CONSISTORY COURT E. J. L. COLE One's mind must at once abolish all imaginative nonsense of Gretna Green situations with outraged parents pursuing the guilty pair across many shires. Doubtless there were many such scenes, but one must look at the plain facts as stated in the records of most early diocesan courts to find the underlying reason and this was the table of marriages within the prohibited degrees,' the modern version of which is A table of kindred and affinity' as set out in the Book of Common Prayer. It is certain that no man in his senses would consider marrying his grandmother, his grandfather's wife, or wife's grandmother, but what about cousins, near or remote how did they fare ? We have to go back to the early church laws to find out. The village or parish was a closely-knit unit where few of its inhabitants strayed far from their native soil, since they were bound by circumstances to an overlord's will, whether in work on his land, or under the watchful eye of the parish priest, often one of their own kind, who had oversight of their spiritual needs under a nation-wide church whose laws had to be obeyed. The parish was also served by Apparitors, summoners in the days of Chaucer, who were the eyes and ears of the parish. They, more than others, were most likely to know just who was married to whom and which parishioners came of common stock. If unscrupulous they were open to bribery, and the natural prey of scandal-mongers. Their own prey were those who had strayed into error by unwittingly or deliberately ignoring the question of the prohibited degrees. Anyone who has worked with parish registers or bishops' transcripts (theoretically the one a copy of the other) will have noticed many instances of illegitimacy or been puzzled by the lack of evidence for a particular marriage, and the query concerning probable bastardy. Before Thomas Cromwell's Act the church registers, if any had existed, would have been annotated with references to fines paid for the secret marriages regular- ised and notes of the penances that people had to perform to purge themselves in public for these forbidden alliances. One feels a little retrospective sympathy for these ancient offenders. This is not to condone law-breaking, but it should be borne in mind that most people in deaneries east of Offa's Dyke had no great knowledge of their ancestry, so that they scarcely knew any of their remoter kin and might easily find themselves pledged in marriage to a distant cousin and forced to marry in secret because of this fact. They had to bear the consequences of later discovery, and these are a few of the instances to be noted in the early Act Books of the Consistory Court at Hereford. The volumes from which these exam- ples come are noted here, likewise the dates and places where the peregrin- atory courts were held. 1445-1446 Credenhill church, 8 Nov. 1445. Sir John Burgess, chaplain celebrating at Almely, attended a clandestine marriage between John Rugbache of