Catholics and the law of marriage before 1836

Bridge over the River Garonne in Bordeaux

There are a couple of peculiar entries in a family bible that belonged to John Roche O’Bryen, and subsequently his son Alfred, and then grand-son Bob.  

“John Roche O’Bryen & Eliza his wife (born Henderson July 27th 1805) married Decr 25/32 Janr th 7th /33 by Protestant Curate at Bordeaux” and also in a second entry  on “December 25th 1832 & again (according to the rights of the Protestant Faith) at the British consulate Chapel   Bordeaux  January  7th  1833.”

This has always been intriguing right from the start. All in all, it’s a bit of a dog’s breakfast. The double ceremony is odd, but, as seen below, for a Catholic marriage to be valid under English law before 1836, it had to be performed by an Anglican clergyman. Canonically, in the eyes of the Church, the first, presumably, Catholic marriage is fine. The second Anglican ceremony would provide the legal certainty of a marriage that would be accepted under both English, and Irish law. Ironically, because there is no evidence of a French civil marriage, neither of the marriages were legal in France

The following from the UK Parliament website sets out the state of English Catholic marriages in 1832- 1833.

Until the middle of the 18th century marriages could take place anywhere provided they were conducted before an ordained clergyman of the Church of England. This encouraged the practice of secret marriages which did not have parental consent and which were often bigamous. It also allowed couples, particularly those of wealthy background, to marry while at least one of the partners was under age. The trade in these irregular marriages had grown enormously in London by the 1740s.

Philip Yorke, 1st Earl of Hardwicke 1690-1764

In 1753, however, the Marriage Act, promoted by the Lord Chancellor, Lord Hardwicke, declared that all marriage ceremonies must be conducted by a minister in a parish church or chapel of the Church of England to be legally binding. No marriage of a person under the age of 21 was valid without the consent of parents or guardians. Clergymen who disobeyed the law were liable for 14 years transportation.Although Jews and Quakers were exempted from the 1753 Act, it required religious non-conformists and Catholics to be married in Anglican churches.

Hardwick’s Marriage Act 1753 (‘The Act’) applied only to England & Wales and came into force in 1754. Scotland and the Channel Islands were exempt from the legislation. Under Hardwick’s Act, banns were made compulsory and licences were only valid for a specific church. Hardwick’s Act also declared that only marriages held at approved places (i.e. Anglican, Jewish or Quaker churches) were legal. This was a big change as previously couples who made a vow before witnesses, who lived together and who had children were recognised by the church and law as being ‘married’. In order to legalise their marriage, some couples married again in an Anglican church, having first married in a non-conformist chapel. Marriage by other denominations, (i.e. Roman Catholic and Non-Conformist) wasn’t legalised until 1836.

This restriction was eventually removed by Parliament in the Marriage Act of 1836 which allowed non-conformists and Catholics to be married in their own places of worship. The Marriage Act 1836 allowed for non-conformists and Catholics to marry in their own place of worship, ie. chapels and Roman Catholic churches.

The provisions introduced in England and Wales empowered the Established Church to register the marriages but marriages in other churches were to be registered by a civil registrar. In Ireland the Roman Catholic Church was concerned that this latter requirement might detract from the religious nature of the marriage ceremony. Consequently, provisions were not introduced by the government there until 1845 to enable the registration of non Catholic marriages and for the appointment of registrars who were also given the power to solemnise marriages by civil contract. Ireland had legalised exclusively Catholic to Catholic marriages in the late C18th, but the penalties for marrying a mixed Catholic/Protestant couple were extreme to put it mildly.

The death penalty and a large fine were still on the Statute Books in 1830.  In a House of Commons debate on the 4th May 1830, Daniel O’Connell tried to change things: [HC Deb 04 May 1830 vol 24 cc396-401] It was one of the first things he raised, having taken his seat as the first Catholic M.P. since the passing of the Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829 which allowed Catholic M.P.s

House of Commons debate on Catholic Marriage 1830.

HC Deb 04 May 1830 vol 24 cc396-401

Daniel O'Connell
Daniel O’Connell

Mr O’Connell rose, he said, to move for leave to bring in a Bill to render valid, in certain cases, the marriages of Roman Catholics in England by a Catholic Clergyman, and to abolish in Ireland certain penalties imposed on Catholic Priests for celebrating marriages between Catholics and Protestants. He wished, if possible, to earn the approbation of Gentlemen on the other side, or at least to avoid their censure, by being very brief upon this subject at present, trespassing on the attention of the House only to an extent sufficient to make his intentions understood. The object of the proposed measure was, to render valid, in certain cases, the marriage of Roman Catholics in England, and to abolish the penalties imposed on Catholic Priests in Ireland for solemnizing marriages between Protestants and Catholics. There were two different points for consideration, on which the House might be disposed to come to different decisions. The House might be ready enough to amend the law of Ireland, without wishing to interfere with that of England. He did not refer to a law making the marriages of Roman Catholics valid in themselves; in that respect but little alteration was desirable, for marriages celebrated by a Roman Catholic priest, between Roman Catholic parties, were perfectly valid at present. Such marriage entitled a female to dower, and conveyed the ordinary interest in property to the children. That law extended in Ireland also to marriages celebrated between Protestant Dissenters by clergymen of their own communion. There were three distinct laws relating to marriages in Ireland:—first, for marriages celebrated by clergymen of the Established Church; secondly, for marriages by Protestant Dissenting ministers; and thirdly, for marriages celebrated by Roman Catholic priests, which are valid only when both parties are Roman Catholics. That being the slate of the law, his object was to mitigate the penalties for any violation of that law by a Roman Catholic priest. There was no penalty on clergymen of the Established Church for marrying persons of different religious persuasions, none on Dissenters—upon the Roman Catholics alone was any penalty inflicted. He would briefly notice some of the statutes which authorised these penalties. The first Act to which he would allude, was passed for the purpose of preventing the taking away and marrying children against the will of their guardians—a very (it object for a penal law, against which he had no design to make any objections. But in that Act, which was passed a great many years back, after prohibiting Catholic clergymen from celebrating such marriages, it was enacted, that any Roman Catholic clergyman who should celebrate such marriages, or marry any party or parties, knowing that they are of different persuasions, should incur all the penalties attached to the law. The first punishment was death; but a particular clause was introduced, providing that it should only be inflicted when the clergyman knew that one of the parties was not a Catholic. The next Statute to which he would call attention, was the 8th Anne, c. 11, s. 26, which continued these penalties. The House would recollect that the Roman Catholic clergyman was guilty of no offence unless one of the parties was a Protestant. The 26th Section enacted that Roman Catholic priests shall not many parties, when one of them has been of the Protestant religion, unless they get from the Protestant minister a certificate, certifying that the party was not a Protestant at the time of the marriage. This, however, raised a legal presumption that the priest knew that the party had been a Protestant, and to avoid that, he got from the Protestant clergyman a certificate, stating the negative. But the Act gave no means of forcing the Protestant clergy man to give that certificate, and if the priest could not get the Protestant clergyman to certify this under his hand and seal, and he should marry the parties, he fell under the penalties provided by the Act; that was not a state in which the law should be allowed to remain. By the 1st George 1st it was made felony without benefit of clergy for Popish priests to celebrate a marriage between two parties, one a reputed Protestant, and the other a Papist. When he coupled these statutes together, he found that in the one, knowledge was presumed, unless a certificate were produced; and that the other made it a capital felony to marry, not a Catholic and Protestant, but reputed Protestants, unless a certificate were produced, showing that they were not Protestants. This statute enabled Justices of the Peace to summon any persons, suspected of having been guilty of the offence mentioned, before them; and upon refusal to enter into recognizance’s, to punish them by imprisonment for the space of three years. This inquisitorial punishment was of so serious a nature, that it ought to be altered. He knew two instances of it, one of which occurred at Londonderry, and the other at Long ford, where there were now four persons in gaol under the provisions of this section; so that it was by no means a dead letter. The next he would mention was the 19th of George 2nd, c. 13, which declared void every marriage celebrated by Catholic priests, between Catholics and Protestants, where either party had been a Protestant twelve months preceding the Marriage: and by 23 George 2nd it was enacted, that as the marriage was not valid, the clergyman celebrating it should be hanged;—that Act continued in force to this day, with this difference, that by the Relief Bill, 33 George 3rd, c. 21, intended to repeal the former Act, it was enacted, that such a marriage should be invalid, and it ordered that a fine of 500l. should be paid by any Roman Catholic clergyman who should celebrate the marriage of a Catholic and Protestant. He must inform the House, that the question came before the Court of King’s Bench in Ireland, when Lord Kilwarden was sitting as Judge, and he determined that the latter punishment did not remove the penalty of death; and the ground for his opinion was, that the one Act of Parliament had used the word “reputed,” and that the other had not used that expression. So that, according to law, a Popish Priest, guilty of the offence mentioned in the Statute, might be hanged in the first instance, and fined afterwards! This was really too bad. Having thus stated briefly to the House the law on the subject, he might, perhaps, be asked what he proposed to do. To abolish the penalty of death altogether he would answer. He proposed to limit the fine to a small amount, and to remove the penalty in all cases, where the parties were Catholics at the time of the marriage, and not to go back one year previous to the marriage. That was the alteration which he proposed to make in the law of marriage in Ireland. He did not wish to carry the Relief Bill one particle further than it was carried already; but he wished to put out of the Statute-book, that capital felony, which, in his opinion, ought not to remain. He wished further to make the offence punishable only when the priest had a knowledge of the religion of the parties, when the malus animus on his part was manifest. He wished to state to the House, that he had heard of instances in which Catholic clergymen had been betrayed into the performance of the marriage ceremony, by designing persons, from sinister motives, and was acquainted with one of great respectability who was obliged to flee the country for two years precisely under such circumstances. Two persons went to him, and alleged that they were Catholics, and got themselves married, for the mere purpose of afterwards prosecuting him. And it was not until some time afterwards, when the conduct of the parties was discovered, that the clergyman was enabled to return. There was another part of this subject about which he felt considerable anxiety, that was, the marriage of Catholics in England; he did not allude to the marriage of the richer Catholics, but to their poorer brethren, many of whom came from Ireland, and when they were in their own country, had been in the habit of seeing their brothers, sisters, and all their relations married by Catholic priests, and they could not believe that marriages celebrated by Catholic priests in England were invalid. He begged to inform the House, that a Catholic clergyman could refuse to celebrate a marriage, when required, without a breach of the Canon Law. What was the consequence of this in England? Why the husband could desert the wife—many melancholy instances of which had lately occurred, and all the children were illegitimate. He felt, however, that he had said enough on this subject, and would trouble the House no further. He should wish to bring in a bill to allow all Protestant Dissenters, as well as Catholics, to marry according to the forms of their own religion, but he would not introduce a clause on that subject, if the Legislature should be adverse to such a measure. He hoped that he might then be allowed to bring in the Bill, and he would take another opportunity of entering more fully into the subject. In conclusion, the hon. and learned Gentleman moved for leave to bring in a Bill to amend the laws respecting Marriages celebrated by Roman Catholic Priests.

The Solicitor General  expressed his satisfaction at hearing that it was not the intention of the hon. and learned Member to disturb in any manner the Catholic Relief Bill of last year. He differed from the learned Gentleman in supposing that it would not be possible to bring in a Bill to apply to the marriage of Roman Catholics in England, which should not include all Dissenters; and he should object to any bill that was not of a general nature. As the hon. Member had given up that part of his Motion, and as there were many of the regulations which the hon. Member had suggested as to Ireland which appeared likely to be useful, he was not prepared to oppose the Motion. As he understood the matter, the Act of 1793 was intended to get rid of the severe penalties attached to the offence of celebrating illegal marriages, leaving no other penalty than the fine of 500l., but as there was a doubt on the subject, it was proper that that doubt should be cleared up. Nobody, he was sure, would be ready to carry the law into execution, which sentenced the priest to death for celebrating such marriages. Understanding, therefore, that the hon. member for Clare limited the Motion to bringing in a Bill declaratory of the law, he should most certainly not oppose it.

Lord Leveson Gower said, it was not his duty to oppose, but to promote the hon. and learned Gentleman’s Motion. He wished, however, to reserve his opinions on the subject, till a subsequent stage of the Bill, and he should certainly offer no opposition to it in that stage.

Sir J. Brydges said, he would not oppose the introduction of the Bill, but conceiving that after what was called the obsolete Statutes were repealed, there would be some motion to enact different laws, he should certainly oppose the Bill at its subsequent stages.

Mr. North supported the Motion. The Bill was to amend the civil law respecting marriage, and nobody who knew what that law was, whatever political opinions he might profess, would oppose that Bill. The hon. and learned Member, as he understood, did not intend to alter the law. But at present, the punishment to which a Catholic clergyman was supposed to be liable for celebrating illegal marriages was nothing less than death. In the opinion of many celebrated men, and in the opinion of an humble individual, himself, though his was a very conscientious opinion, the Relief Bill passed by the Irish Parliament in 1793 repealed the law inflicting this punishment. The punishment was no longer death—it was not transportation—it was a fine of 500l.; and the first object of the hon. member for Clave was, to reduce that penalty still further. He differed from the hon. member for Clare as to the point of determining the religion of the parties at the moment of celebrating the marriage, for it had happened to him to know that many parties went before the Catholic clergyman, and declared that they were Catholics, when it was known to the priest that they were born of Protestant parents, and had been at Church but a few months before: they said they had been converted. On this point, therefore, he disagreed with the hon. member for Clare; but in the general features of the Bill he concurred with him.

Mr Croker was in hopes, that ere long something would be done to make the marriage law similar throughout the three kingdoms. It was, in his opinion, a most monstrous anomaly, that the marriage law, which was the very foundation of society, on which depended the rights and fortunes of all classes of citizens living under the same general scheme of policy, subject to the same system of Government,—it was a monstrous anomaly that this law, the foundation of the whole society, should not be the same for every part of the kingdom, and every description of persons. At present, however, this law was so extravagant, and so extraordinary, that there was now a case of marriage pending, as the learned Gentleman opposite knew, which, after the highest court of Scotland had declared the couple to be legally married, and their children legitimate, was about, he believed, to be set aside by a still higher authority here; and the children were to be declared illegitimate. He did not mean to enter into the question as to Ireland, but he did hope that his Majesty’s Ministers, or some Gentleman of talents and weight in the House, would bring the state of the marriage-law under discussion, and would enable the people to know, at all times and places, whether they were legally married or not, and whether their offspring were legitimate or illegitimate.

Leave given to bring in the Bill; and Mr. Q’Connell and Mr. Jephson were ordered to bring it in.

Grehan of Clonmeen

Clonmeen House

 Technically the Grehans of Clonmeen are the senior branch of the family, because Peter Grehan is Thady Grehan’s eldest son  by his first wife. The introduction to the Grehan Estate Papers at  the Boole Library, University College Cork helps explain the origins of the estate.

“The Grehan’s, originally prosperous Dublin wine merchants, first acquired land in Co. Cork through a legacy of the lands of Clonmeen left by one John Roche in about 1830.”  John Roche was Stephen Grehan Senior’s uncle twice over. His wife Mary Roche (nee Grehan) was Stephen’s aunt, and his sister Mary Grehan (nee Roche) was Stephen’s mother.Stephen Grehan Senior ([1776] – 1871), the main beneficiary of Roche’s will, then set about acquiring more land in the area and also in County Tipperary. This work was carried on by Stephen’s son George ([1813] -1885), who in about 1860 moved from his Dublin home at 19 Rutland Square, to take up permanent residence at Clonmeen, where his son Stephen Junior(1859 – 1937 ) was raised.

Clonmeen Lodge
Clonmeen Lodge

When the Grehans first moved to their property in Co. Cork they lived in a small Georgian house now known today as Clonmeen Lodge.

Clonmeen House
Clonmeen House

In 1893, Stephen Grehan who had married a fellow member of the Ascendancy, Esther Chichester in 1883, built the present day Clonmeen House. Large tracts of land were sold off by Stephen Grehan through the auspices of the Land Commission throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, but Clonmeen remained a working farm until the death of Major Stephen Grehan in 1972, after which the property was sold.”

Daniel O'Connell
Daniel O’Connell

To provide the family context; Stephen Grehan Senior is Celia O’Bryen’s first cousin, once-removed on the Grehan side. He is also a second cousin on his mother’s side of Charles O’Connell, who was the MP for Kerry from 1832-1835, and married Catherine(Kate) the second daughter of Daniel O’Connell in 1832. Stephen is also a second cousin on his mother’s side of Garrett Standish Barry,elected to the House of Commons for county Cork in 1832, Garrett was the first Catholic Member of Parliament elected after the Emancipation Act of 1829.

Stephen Grehan Junior and Ernest O’Bryen are third cousins. This is quite a good illustration of how often families intermarried, and how strong their instincts were to keep the money within a tight circle.

It also entertaining that while Peter Grehan’s descendants made the move from trade to land, and it has to be said, kept the estate in the family for more than one hundred and fifty years right up until the 1970’s, it was his younger brother Patrick who married into the Old English and Gaelic aristocracy through his marriage to Judith Moore. Either way, I think it fair to say that the whole family is not “Ascendency” as described above, but are better described as prosperous, landed, upper-middle Catholic Irish.

This is the entry for a branch of the Grehan family from Burke’s Landed Gentry published in 1912.

STEPHEN GREHAN, of Clonmeen, co. Cork, J.P. and D.L., High Sheriff 1883, born. 1858 ; married. 1883, Esther, daughter of Col. Charles Raleigh Chichester, of Roscommon (see CHICHESTER- CONSTABLE of Burton-Constable, Yorks.). She died 11 April, 1900, having had issue,

1. George, died an infant, 1892.

2. STEPHEN ARTHUR, b. 1896.

1. Mary.

2. Magda.

3. Kathleen, m. 18 Aug. 1910, Richard, only surviving son of George Edward Ryan, of Inch, co. Tipperary (see that family).

4. Aileen.


THADY GREHAN, of Dublin, died in 1792, leaving, with a daughter, Mary, who married John Roche, three sons,

1. PETER, of whom below.

2. Andrew, who married the daughter of Patrick White.

3. Patrick (Senior), who married  Jane (sic) Moore, of Mount Browne, and had a son,

Patrick (Junior),who married Catherine, daughter of George Mecham, and had,

Patrick (III)who married in 1842, Frances, daughter of John Pitchford, and

left issue.

The eldest son,

PETER GREHAN, married Mary, daughter, of Stephen Roche, of Limerick

(see ROCHE of Granagh Castle), and had issue, two sons and five daughters.,

1. Thady.

2. STEPHEN, of whom next.

1. Margaret, who married  John Joyce.

2. Anne, who married in January 1800, Thomas Segrave, of Dublin, who died in 1817, having had issue (see SEGRAVE of Cabra).

3. Mary, who married in 1804, Hubert Thomas Dolphin, of Turoe, co. Galway, and had issue (see that family) . He died 1829.

4. Helen, who married Alexander Sherlock.

5. Lucy, who married Christopher Gallwey.

The 2nd son,

STEPHEN GREHAN, of 19, Rutland Square, Dublin, married in May 1809, Margaret, daughter of George Ryan, of Inch, co. Tipperary (see that family), and had issue, a son,

GEORGE GREHAN, of Clonmeen, Banteer, co. Cork, High Sheriff 1859, born 1811, married 1855, Mary, daughter of Philip O’Reilly, of Colamber, co. Westmeath (see that family). She died in 1859. He died in 1886, leaving issue, an only child,

STEPHEN, now of Clonmeen.

Seat Clonmeen, Banteer, co. Cork.

Clubs Windham and Kildare Street.

Burke’s Landed Gentry 1912

Standish Barry of Leamlara

I’m not quite sure why this page is so popular, but it’s getting the most views this year.

Originally, it was simply included because  Henry Standish Barry was a guest at Frank Purssell’s wedding. This could be something as simple as they went to school together, or could be a family thing. Or it could be a bigger Catholic/Cork merchant  thing. So I’ll do some work. It turns out to be almost certainly a school thing. Henry and Frank were at Downside together.

If there are directions people want me to head, post a comment or use the (private) contact form. W. 

Leamlara House

This branch of the great Barry family had been in possession of the Leamlara property since the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland in the reign of Henry II, when they accompanied Strongbow. The estates were confirmed to John Barry in 1636 by Charles I and again by Charles II to John’s son Garrett.

The latter’s son, David, married a daughter of Standish O’Grady, whose great-great-grandson was Garrett Standish Barry. Garrett Standish Barry was educated at Trinity College Dublin and was called to the Bar in 1811. Elected to the House of Commons for county Cork in 1832, Garrett was the first Catholic Member of Parliament elected after the Emancipation Act of 1829. He continued as M.P. until 1841. He was made High Sheriff of county Cork in 1830 and was also Justice of the Peace and Deputy Lieutenant for the county.

During his term as an M.P. Daniel O’Connell stayed a few times at Leamlara House. In 1841, Garrett Standish Barry offered to resign his seat in Cork in favour of Daniel O’Connell, if the latter had failed to be elected in Dublin, and he duly did so. O’Connell was the M.P. for Cork County from 1841 until his death in 1847.  He died in 1864, without issue and was succeeded in the estate by his younger brother, Henry Standish, whose son and heir, Charles Standish, married in 1869 the Hon. Margaret Mary, daughter of Lieut-Colonel the Hon. Arthur Francis Southwell, and sister of the 4th Viscount Southwell, K.P.

henry-standish-barryCharles’s only son, Henry Joseph Arthur Robert Bruno Standish Barry, was born in 1873 and was the 24th and last Standish Barry to live at Leamlara. He was educated at Downside, Bath. Henry was Justice for the Peace in Cork County and married Eleanor Lilian Helene, daughter of Major-General C.B. Lucie Smith, Madras Civil Service. Henry had two daughters and one son, Charles Henry Joseph Garrett Standish was born in 1900.




Nell St. John MontagueMrs. Henry Standish Barry was a well known fortune teller in London under the name of Nell St. Montague and is said to have foretold the sinking of the Lusitania. She was killed in a road accident during the blitz in the Second World War. Henry’s son Charles died at the age of 18, so Henry was succeeded on his death in 1945 by his daughters who later sold the estate to the Irish Land Commission.