Parish Registers were introduced in 1538 under an order from King Henry VIII by Sir Thomas Cromwell (1485 – 1540). Cromwell is most well-known for his involvement with the English Reformation, the term given to the period of 16th Century history whereby England broke away from the established Catholic Church and the Pope. The catalyst for this was the wish to annual the marriage of King Henry VIII to Queen Catherine of Aragon in order for Henry VIII to marry his mistress, Anne Boleyn.
Many of the early registers have not survived due to being kept in the Parish Chest and being subjected to damp, mold, insects and rodents.
In 1597, all registers were ordered to be copied onto parchment and also transcripts were made of the previous year’s entries before being sent to the Bishop. These became known as Bishop Transcripts (BT’s) and many of these survive whereas the registers did not.
During the English Civil War period (1649 – 1660), many registers were not kept. Some were thrown away or destroyed and thus some registers only survive from 1660.
Between 1654 and 1660 civil marriages were undertaken before a Justice of the Peace and sadly not all marriages were recorded in the registers.
In 1752, The Calendar (New Style) Act of 1750, also known as The Chesterfield Act (named after the 4th Earl of Chesterfield), came into force in England and Wales. It was from this date that the Gregorian calendar was adopted from the previously used Julian calendar, with the New Year starting on 1st January rather than the 25th March which was also known as Lady Day. In order to achieve this, eleven days was omitted from September to bring the dates into alignment. In preparation for this change, 1751 was a short year running from 25th March until 31st December, a total of 282 days. 1752 commenced on 1st January, but when the date became 2nd September the following day was 14th September in order to bring the dates into alignment. Therefore you might see dates written as 1751/1752.
In 1754, the Hardwick Marriage Act came into force. This act stated that couples had to be 21 years of age to marry without the consent of parents. In 1837, the Civil Registration began and marriage certificates provided the names and occupations for the fathers of the bride and groom.
The Age of Marriage Act of 1929 forbade marriages of under 16 years. Up until then it was legal for girls of twelve and boys of fourteen to marry.