March 26, 2015 Great Britain’s Repeal of Royal Marriages Act of 1772 Came Into Effect

The Royal Marriages Act 1772 (12 Geo 3 c. 11), repealed by the Succession to the Crown Act 2013, was an act of the Parliament of Great Britain enumerating the conditions under which members of the British Royal Family could contract a valid marriage. The purpose of the law was to guard against marriages that could diminish the status of the royal house. More specifically, the act was proposed by George III after the marriages of his brothers. In 1771, Prince Henry, Duke of Cumberland and Strathearnhad married the commoner Anne Horton. Then in 1773 the King learned that another brother, Prince William Henry, Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh, had in 1766 secretly married Maria, the illegitimate daughter of Sir Edward Walpole and the widow of the 2nd Earl Waldegrave. Both alliances were considered highly unsuitable by the King.

King George III

The 1772 Act said that no descendant of King George II, male or female, other than the issue of princesses who had married or might thereafter marry “into foreign families,” could marry without the consent of the reigning monarch, “signified under the great seal and declared in council.” That consent was to be set out in the register of the marriage, and entered in the books of the Privy Council. Any marriage contracted without the consent of the monarch was to be null and void.

However, any member of the Royal Family over the age of 25 who had been refused the sovereign’s consent could marry one year after giving notice to the Privy Council of their intention so to marry, unless both houses of Parliament expressly declared their disapproval. There is, however, no instance in which the sovereign’s formal consent in Council was refused. (There were other informal ways to discourage marriages considered to be unsuitable.)

The Act further made it a crime to perform or participate in an illegal marriage of any member of the Royal Family. (This particular provision was repealed by the Criminal Law Act 1967.)

Edward VIII abdicated the throne in order to marry Wallis Simpson, twice divorced

A big change came about when the Church of England revised its policy on divorce and remarriage as a part of the General Synod in 2002, declaring:

The Church of England teaches that marriage is for life. It also recognizes that some marriages sadly do fail and, if this should happen, it seeks to be available for all involved. The Church accepts that, in exceptional circumstances, a divorced person may marry again in church during the lifetime of a former spouse.”

This change helped facilitate the repeal of the entire Marriages Act by Parliament in 2013. The Succession to the Crown Act 2013 repealed the Royal Marriages Act 1772. But all the countries in which the Queen is head of state had to pass necessary legislation before it took effect. This had already taken place pursuant to “The Perth Agreement,” an agreement made by the prime ministers of the 16 Commonwealth realms during the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in October, 2011 in Perth, Australia.

The agreement replaced male-preference primogeniture – under which male descendants take precedence over females in the line of succession – with absolute primogeniture; ended the disqualification of those married to Roman Catholics (a provision of the Act of Settlement of 1701) ; and limited the number of individuals in line to the throne requiring permission from the sovereign to marry to six. The ban on Catholics and other non-Protestants becoming sovereign and the requirement for the sovereign to be in communion with the Church of England remained in place.

Princess Margaret was “discouraged” from marrying the divorced Peter Townsend

By December 2012, all the realm governments had agreed to implement the proposals.

According to the BBC, the changes to the rules of succession were rushed through Parliament ahead of the birth of Prince George in 2013. The more limited provisions of 2013 Act included the following:

(1) A person who (when the person marries) is one of the 6 persons next in the line of succession to the Crown must obtain the consent of Her Majesty before marrying.

(2) Where any such consent has been obtained, it must be—
(a) signified under the Great Seal of the United Kingdom,
(b) declared in Council, and
(c) recorded in the books of the Privy Council.

(3) The effect of a person’s failure to comply with subsection (1) is that the person and the person’s descendants from the marriage are disqualified from succeeding to the Crown.

(4) The Royal Marriages Act 1772 (which provides that, subject to certain exceptions, a descendant of King George II may marry only with the consent of the Sovereign) is repealed.

(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.

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

Six realms in addition to the UK legislated for the changes: Australia, Barbados, Canada, the Grenadines, New Zealand, St Kitts and Nevis and St Vincent.

Nine others concluded that the legislation was not necessary: Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Belize, Grenada, Jamaica, Papua New Guinea, St Lucia, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu.

You can find a history and recapitulation of Royal Succession Bills and Acts here.

Prince Harry was still required by the Succession to the Crown Act 2013 to seek permission from the Queen in order to marry. Harry and Meghan’s consent to marry was officially approved by his grandmother the Queen on March 14, 2018.

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