Was the mere fact of a wedding ceremony ever binding?

It’s a staple of melodrama - the dirty priest, the bride bound and gagged, the heroes are running to the rescue before the Dire Words, “man and wife”, are uttered. If they get there too late, I guess it’s “oh well, they’re married, might as well go down a pint”?

So did that ever work? Surely a forced marriage is grounds for an annulment, right? (Granted, there are surely times and places where the bride, alone, wouldn’t be able to do anything about it. We’re talking about “riding to the rescue before it’s too late” sort of cases, where the bride has advocates.) In fact, in the Sherlock Holmes story we were watching, Sherlock points out that “forced marriage is a felony”.

So is it just a staple of bad fiction, or are there cases in any time or place of the mere fact of the wedding ceremony being completely performed being the point of no return and rescue? Alternately, in various times and places would the very fact of that kind of annulment ruin a woman’s social standing, when if the marriage hadn’t been completed (I don’t mean consummated, I mean the ceremony itself) she’d have been fine?

I always wondered about that story. Maybe the idea was that there were no witnesses and only the husband’s word would have been believed afterwards and he would have had more or less complete rights over her and her property.

Generally, a legal marriage required some sort of approval from the local government – a marriage license, a publishing of the marriage banns. Without a license, there was no legal marriage.

I am not a nineteenth-century lawyer, but it’s hard to imagine a marriage such as described would have been considered legally binding (how does a bound and gagged bride verbalize consent, for one thing?). However, the situation presented in melodramas* was often more complex than the OP suggests; e.g., the heroine believes that her true love is dead and is marrying the villain as a last resort to prevent her elderly father from losing his home. One could still challenge the validity of such a union as being based on fraud and duress, but it’s not as cut-and-dried as the OP’s scenario.

  • as opposed to parodies, such as Dudley Do-Right.

Under Virginia law, a marriage made under fraud or duress is voidable, which means that, yes, it’s grounds for an annulment if the wronged party so chooses. Interestingly, support and property rights may be available.

It’s not automatically void, though, like an incestuous or bigamous marriage. The kidnapped bride has the option of staying married.

In the Holmes story it’s the completely preposterous version - the bride is kidnapped, the priest is sort of the defrocked kind, and the bride is kicking and screaming. I don’t see how the hell anybody in the proceedings thought it would ever work, unless the bridegroom was planning that raping a delicate and fragile Victorian woman would shatter her mind so irredeemably that she’d just give in and he’d get all the money or something.

Holmes stories were written to show off Sherlock’s deductive reasoning skills - plot holes aren’t uncommon. And given how weak & ineffective most women are in the Holmes stories - yeah, it’s not impossible that in the absence of someone to speak for Violet, Woodley could convince a solicitor that he’s really her husband long enough to get the money.

BTW, if you google “Holmes forced wedding”, all the hits refer to Tom Cruise & Katie Holmes.

That reminds me of one of the “facts” from English teachers. Shakespeare( and his crowd) always had to skip the actual marriage ceremony(ie;Romeo and Juliet) because if it was shown on stage with words to the general effect effect, it would have been binding before the Church.(Compounded with the fact all the actors were male too, not a great idea back then. ).

Anybody know for sure?

Its voidable not void meaning the innocent party can escape from obligations if they so chose but being an equitable rather than common law remedy, certain bars exist, the most notable where the person has expressly or impliedly affirmed the marriage. So theoretically if you have also bought off a judge you get get him to declare that the woman has affirmed the marriage since…whatever reason he can think off.

Wedding banns and licenses are required and would likely present a considerable obstacle, BUT under the common law the fact of a marriage ceremony can be used as evidence of a valid marriage if other evidence dose not exist (say was lost in a fire).

In an extreme case the senario presented could play out, buy the priest, a judge to accept evidence of the ceremony as evidence of a valid marriage and accept that the license has been “lost” and that a bar to recission operated since the woman has affirmed.

Practically; unlikely in the extreme.

Advise is operative for the common law world alone and then only as a general overview.

To answer the titular question: Maybe.
To answer as regards Sherlock Holmes era England: No idea.

In Shakespearean England, the couple and a witness was all that was required to have a binding ceremony (i.e. no certificate, no priest, nada.) This was rather tenuous though. For instance, the issue of whether the bride actually agreed is a bit of an issue when there’s only one witness–who could very well be in cahoots with the groom.

And remember that men could legally beat their wives (to a certain extent) and that women had no personal property. If the husband wished to keep her locked in the house, he could very well do so, and if she escaped, it would be very difficult for her to make her way anywhere else (for instance to a lawyer) except by begging–which could get her thrown in jail. Most likely her family would need to sue for divorce on her behalf. It’s at that point that the evil groom could tell the family that he will let her go if the father hands over X amount of shillings, rather than taking them through a laborious court proceeding in which he will thoroughly paint her as a trollop who threw herself on him, seducing slut, and then wanted to leave as soon as she found out he was penniless (etc.)

This sort of thing used to be incredibly common… Every arranged marriage is pretty much a nonconsentual marriage.

Common Law never really recognised the right to beat wives. There was and still is “reasonable chastisement” as far as children were concerned, but this was never extended to wives AFAIK. Yes its true that a certain amount of “discipline” or “correction” was accepted socially not legally. A bit like how driving over the speed limit is technically illegal but often not enforced unless its well over.

Well, I think that’s a little offensive to a whole lot of women, particularly women in very happy Indian marriages right this minute.

Anyway, I wasn’t specifically asking about Sherlocking Britain - that’s just what brought up the question. Especially since, while you can’t trust Sherlock on the details, even he points out that it’s a serious crime in the story. By the way, isn’t Jeremy Brett freaking fantastic?

I take that part back in my post.

I recently saw the movie the Dutchess and appear to have been taken in. The rest of my post was via my English history teacher, though.