Skip Navigation • Access Keys • Frequently Asked Questions •

Durham County Record Office: the official archive service for County Durham and Darlington

Marriage Licences, Bonds and Allegations

Information about marriage licences, bonds and allegations and where to find them.

According to the rites of the Church of England the only ways in which it is possible to marry are by the calling of banns or by licence.

Marriage Licences

A licence was obtained from the diocesan authorities: to obtain a licence one of the parties appeared before the bishop's chancellor or official and swore upon oath that there was no impediment to the marriage. The two possible impediments which concerned the ecclesiastical authorities and which were named in the affidavit or allegation were a previous contract entered into by one of the parties or their being closely related to each other.

Marriage Bonds and Allegations

The files of allegations or affidavits are among the Durham diocesan records. The allegation was backed up by a bond entered into by two witnesses to guarantee the truth of the information in the allegation. The bonds were filed among the diocesan records. The fact that the licence had been issued was recorded in a register also kept by the diocese. The main series of records to be found in connection with marriage by licence, therefore, are files of allegations, bonds and a register of licences issued. The procedure concerning marriage licences was codified in 1604 and the files of bonds date from then. Bonds were no longer required after 1823 but the series of allegations continued.

The bonds, allegation and register should give, in addition to the names of the bride and groom, the groom's occupation, the place in which each lived, where the marriage was to take place, the ages of each (especially if they were under 21) and the names and occupations of the bondsmen (often relatives).

The marriage licence, itself, has rarely survived. It was given by one of the parties to the officiating clergyman to authorise the marriage and those that have survived are among parish records. Marriage by licence was widely used by those of even modest social pretensions and was not confined to the nobility and gentry.

Before 1754 many who were married by licence chose to be married elsewhere than in their parish church.

Until 1882 the diocese of Durham covered the counties of Northumberland and Durham and all allegations, bonds and registers of licences until 1882 concerning the area now covered by the Northumberland Record Office, the Tyne and Wear Archives Service, and the Durham County Record Office are among the records of the diocese of Durham.

There are no allegations for the diocese of Newcastle which covered Newcastle and Northumberland, before 1943.

Records in Durham University Archives

You will find surviving Marriage bonds and allegations in Durham University Library Archives and Special Collections.