Royal Marriages

Royal Marriages

The Royal Marriages Act was passed in 1772 following the marriages of the Dukes of Cumberland and Gloucester, which were considered unsuitable by their brother King George III. The Act provided that any descendant of George II, both male and female, was required to obtain the consent of the Sovereign, signified under the Great Seal and declared in Council, before any marriage was contracted. This did not apply to princesses, and their descendants, who marry into foreign families. 

The Act also contained a proviso that princes and princesses, over the age of 25, were permitted to give notice to the Privy Council, twelve calendar months before contracting such a marriage without the consent of the Sovereign. This clause was never utilised. 

There have been marriages contracted by members of the Royal Family, for which the Sovereign’s permission was not obtained, such as those of The Prince of Wales (later George IV) to Mrs Fitzherbert, and the marriages of his brother The Duke of Sussex and his nephew The Duke of Cambridge. These marriages, though presumably canonically valid, were legally null and void.  

Since 1772, there has been more than one attempt to repeal the Royal Marriages Act, and in 1967 a young constitutional lawyer, the late Mr Charles Farran, detected a flaw in it. He held that those descendants of princesses who married into foreign families who were therefore covered by the exemption clause, sometimes came to Britain to marry descendants of George II, who needed to seek permission to marry under the Act. It therefore followed that descendants of these marriages are also exempted, which was not foreseen when the Act was drawn up in 1772. Thus, The Princess Royal and Princess Alexandra, for example, are descended from Queen Alexandra who was herself descended from George II in the female line. Nearly all the members of the Royal Family now fall into the category of being exempt. 

The late Queen Elizabeth II repealed the Royal Marriages Act 1772 and replaced it with the Succession to the Crown Act 2013. Now, only the first six persons in the line of succession are required to obtain consent from the Sovereign to marry. The 2013 Act also declared that any marriage declared void under the 1772 Act is now to be treated as never having been void under certain conditions, viz:  

5. A void marriage under that Act is to be treated as never having been void if 

a. neither party to the marriage was one of the 6 persons next in the line of succession to the Crown at the time of the marriage, 

b. no consent was sought under section 1 of that Act, or notice given under section 2 of that Act, in respect of the marriage, 

c. in all the circumstances it was reasonable for the person concerned not to have been aware at the time of the marriage that the Act applied to it, and 

d. no person acted, before the coming into force of this section, on the basis that the marriage was void. 

Subsection (5) applies for all purposes except those relating to the succession to the Crown.

Image, top: The Marriage of Queen Victoria, 10 February 1840, by George Hayter

 

 

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