Inherited CrazinessA place to share all the nuts found on my family tree

Saturday, 16 January 2021

Deceased Wife's Sister's Marriage Act 1907


My 3x great-grandfather, Richard Wilton, was one of nine children born to Stephen Wilton and Elizabeth Hankin, all born in Royston, Hertfordshire. There were six girls and three boys and all three of the boys ended up living in Great Dunmow. The eldest of these brothers, Henry Wilton (baptised 15 Jan 1809), is listed on the 1841 Census, as well as White's Directory of Essex 1848 as a saddler in the High Street, as had been his uncle Henry.

Henry Wilton, father of Henry Staines Wilton, had married Sarah Staines, daughter of Thomas Staines and Sally Hockley on 9 Aug 1838. The civil record places this in the district of Billericay, but this marriage, according to Marriage Locator, took place at St Peter's Church, Colchester, Essex.

St Peter, Colchester, Essex - East end
cc-by-sa/2.0 - © John Salmon - geograph.org.uk/p/1862874

Children from the marriage of Henry Wilton and Sarah Staines included:
  1. Henry Staines Wilton bap 27 Sep 1840
  2. Stephen Thomas Wilton bap 29 May 1842
  3. Maria Wilton b. 19 Dec 1843 bap. 24 Mar 1844 (Married Charles William Fuller from Ipswich in 1862)
  4. Mary Ann Wilton b. Jan 1846 bap 29 Oct 1848 (died 1873)
  5. William Hankin Wilton b 1851 (at home 1871, nothing since)
  6. Still Born buried 24 Jul 1854 (Dissenters)
  7. Infant Wilton buried 10 Jul 1856 (Dissenters)
These "Dissenters" or Non-Conformist Burials are listed at the Protestant Dissenters Burial Ground, which I assume to mean in the grounds of the Independent Meeting House (Quaker Meeting House) in New Street, Great Dunmow (where Richard Wilton and Catherine Byatt married).

New Street at the junction of Great Dunmow High Street
cc-by-sa/2.0 - © David Howard - geograph.org.uk/p/5359570

In both 1861 and 1871 Henry Wilton, saddler, his wife Sarah and their family are still in High Street, Great Dunmow. (In 1861, Henry has two apprentices; Charles Gandey (18) and Charles Knight (14), also resident with them.)  

Then Sarah Wilton (née Staines) died, aged 56, in the 2nd quarter of 1872. 

It's what happens next that's interesting, because the widowed Henry Wilton married Ann Staines in the 3rd quarter of 1873, in Chelmsford registration district. Without ordering the actual marriage certificate, I cannot be sure of the exact venue for this marriage, but it was presumably openly in Ann's own parish, because her parents, Thomas and Sally Staines, had moved to Lord Peters Alms Houses, Stone Field, Ingatestone, Chelmsford by 1861. 

As you will have deduced, Ann Staines (baptised 31 Mar 1829 in at St Giles, Mountnessing) was the younger sister of Henry's deceased wife, Sarah.


In England the list of forbidden marriages was drawn up by the Church of England in 1560 and from then a marriage between a widower and his wife’s sister was valid but voidable - on the grounds of a passage in Leviticus, which suggested that such a relationship was incestuous (the same biblical extract Henry VIII had used to cast doubt on his marriage to Catherine of Aragon). 

However, it was not explicitly illegal until the passing of the Marriage Act in 1835The 1835 bill said that the marriages that had already happened could no longer be voided, but from then on, "such marriages could no longer take place in the United Kingdom and colonies at all". It went on to say that these marriages would have to take place abroad, a solution available only to the rich. Au contraire, Henry and Ann's marriage did take place and in England, where, in 1873, Henry and Ann's marriage was, therefore, not lawful.

So, when the vicar came to the bit in the ceremony about "any lawful impediment", either they didn't know, or everybody kept schtum.

They don't seem to have made any attempt to hide it and one wonders how effectively it would be policed in any case. In 1881, Henry Wilton, saddler, and his new wife, Annie, are still in High Street, Great Dunmow. 

Henry Wilton died on 9 May 1890, leaving £180 (£23,000 in 2020) to his son, Henry Staines Wilton. Ann Wilton, widow, lived until the ripe old age of 93 and died, on 13 Apr 1922, leaving £757 19s 10d (£43,299 in 2020), also to Henry Staines Wilton, who was, of course, both her nephew and step-son (although, presumably, they'd not been in regular contact, or she'd have known he'd pre-deceased her in 1915 and updated her will.)

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