An account of marriage contracts and the changes that have happened during my life-time with a view to the arrangements between Lucy Walter and Charles Stuart

Covent Garden, October 1696 NS

Download the file:  The-Savage-Truth-Of-Marriage-Contracts.pdf

Marriage changes many things, it creates legitimacy, patronage and inheritance. In fact, it is the basis of social standing across the civilised world. If one falls outside of marriage you are void of protection and left to the cruelties of life, penniless. For unless you weave your own net, or you have fortifications built around you by a rich parent, only war or prostitution await you. Therefore, in the extreme through marriage a man can be made a king or a die a traitor.

Today, we take for granted the security of marriage and in so doing that the institution has never changed. That the things we measure marriage against have not changed, and therefore how we view marriage in past generations has not changed either.

If so you are wrong, and therefore the assumptions you have made about what defines a marriage are also wrong. Once you understand that even in my life-time, the laws that govern marriage have changed, and to the benefit of those that write the laws. It is no surprise that the late enquires and denials have been based on today laws and not those in place at the time of the arrangements. Therefore, to overlay todays understanding of what constitutes marriage on the past, is like applying todays civilised articles of war on the barbarians of old Britain. It is for this reason that I’ve waited until now to publish this paper, for I can only damage the reputation of those now dead.

Let us begin with our common understanding of marriage as it stands today. It is the lawful joining of a man and women. Prior to the espousal, both parties agree to the occasion through a contract or engagement. To ensure no existing contracts exist, then the wedding banns are read in the parishes. If there are no impediments, then the marriage is then sanctified, and any other contracts are annulled during the ceremony.

The marriage is supported by transfer of rings and the settlement of a dowry or transfer of title by the wife’s estate onto her new husband. Any children thereafter, have right to the estate of the parents and the eldest living male can inherit the titles and property of the parents, and so on. The marriage is recorded in the church and legal papers or certificates written down for prosperity. Children born outside of the marriage are illegitimate and therefore not entitled, or so some would have you believe.

So, I ask you why, Queen Katherine Howard was beheaded for the rumour of being contracted before she married Henry VIII?

And, how was it that Elisabeth Grey’s children were removed from the succession due to a prior contract between Edward IV and Eleanor Talbot? Which was before Elisabeth’s own secret marriage to King Edward IV, yet the current King and Queen are both descended from this illegal marriage.

The answer is simply to do with the changing approach to what is marriage and of course power. In that, before 1660[1] the contract or betrothal, together with an exchange of gifts was as good as an act of marriage itself. Even, if this was in private, in writing or outside the boundary of a church, through a handfasting. If the couple both agreed to the espousal, they were married in the eyes of the law. God could come later. Neither party could lawfully back out or break the contract without good reason, such as an existing marriage or if both agreed. However, as the act of espousal normally preceded a more intimate relationship, the contract protected any resulting off-spring. To be contracted was to be married.

The act of marriage in the eyes of God, followed in a church or behind closed doors, weeks or months after, if at all. The only requirement for god, was a priest to say the vows, witness the sharing of gifts and document the act.

There was rarely any form of paper certificate as the word of witnesses was lawfully binding.

It is true that many a contract was created, during bedding, only to be withdrawn almost as quick as the act. For the man removed himself, and the lady was left to carry the result.

It was into this arrangement that, Charles and Lucy entered during the summer of 1645. The couple fell deeply in love whilst in Exeter and parted with the mutual promise of marriage. They exchanged gifts, and through the exchange of contracts they promised themselves to each other. Yet, Lucy did not misplace her virtue.

The transfer of letters became difficult during the Siege of Exeter in ‘46[2], and it was not until the Princess Minette arrived in Paris, did Charles receive word of Lucy through Lady Dalkeith[3]. It was now that Charles confessed to his mother of the contract he’d made. So, with this, the gossip coming daily from London[4], and with much reluctance the Queen agreed to the espousal. I’m sure the hope was that Lucy would disappear, in the chaos of war, along with her letters.

So, after many an adventure[5], it was not until early ’48, that Lucy reached Havre de Grace[6]. Only then could the loving couple be secretly reunited in Paris. They now had to wait until the time was right to go before God. As fate goes, the mutiny of the Republic fleet[7] took Charles and Lucy to Rotterdam in July ’48.

For myself, I had leave from my Lord Castlehaven[8] to join Lucy, Charles, Aunt Margaret and her husband Peter Gosfright, Lord Byron, and number of other nobles, to travel down the Maes by barge to Liège. It was here on the 16 July ’48, that Lucy and Charles wed before God by  Dr Fuller, after which we retired to an Inn for the celebration. It was nine months later, on the 9th April ‘49, our Prince Jamie was born.

During the reign of the late King, I often wondered why the ceremony was in the Catholic Cathedral at Liege[9], but it is now clear to me that even then, Charles was of the roman faith, in his heart. So, there you have it, the truth behind the marriage of Lady Lucy Walter and Prince Charles.

For many[10], like me that know the truth, the blackening of Lucy’s name has been hard to take. Yet you can’t swim against the tide, only wait for it to turn, in the hope that the distance is now not too great[11].

Yours in the cause,

William Savage

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