The Twelfth Year of George I. - Chap. III.
An Act to prevent Marriages by degraded Clergymen and Popish Priests, and for
preventing Marriages consummated from being avoided by Precontracts, and for
the more effectual punishing of Bigamy.
Whereas clandestine marriages are for the most part celebrated by popish priests and degraded clergymen, to the manifest ruin of several families within this kingdom; for remedy whereof be it enacted by the King’s most excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the lords spiritual and temporal and commons in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, That if any popish priest, or reputed popish priest, or person pretending to be a popish priest, or any degraded clergyman, or any layman, pretending to be a clergyman of the church of Ireland as by law established, shall after the twenty fifth day of April in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and twenty six celebrate, or take upon him to celebrate, any marriage between two protestants, or reputed protestants, or between a protestant or reputed protestant and a papist, such popish priest, or reputed popish priest, and such degraded clergyman, and layman, pretending to be a clergyman, shall be, and is hereby declared to be, guilty of felony, and shall suffer death as a felon without benefit of the clergy or of the statute.
II. And for the better discovering and convicting such offenders, be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That it shall and may be lawful to and for any two justices of the peace in their respective counties by warrant or warrants under their hands and seals, directed to any constable or constables, to summon any person or person suspected to be married by such popish priest or degraded clergyman, or layman pretending to be a clergyman of the church of Ireland as by law established, or to have been present at the celebration of such marriage, to appear before such justices at the time and place in such warrant mentioned, not being more than ten miles distant from his, her, or their usual place of abode, and to examine such person or person upon oath, where, and by what person or persons, and with what form and ceremonies such marriage was celebrated, and what religion the person or persons so married professed, and who were present at such marriage: and if the person or persons so summoned shall neglect or refuse to appear according to such summons, or shall refuse to be examined as aforesaid, or after examination shall refuse to enter into a recognizance to prosecute at the next assizes, such person or persons, as shall appear by such examination to have offended contrary to the true intent and meaning of this act, such person or persons so refusing or neglecting to appear, having no lawful impediment, or refusing to be examined and answer, or after examination refusing to enter into recognizance as aforesaid, shall be committed by the said justices to the common goal of the said county there to remain without bail or mainprize for the space of three years, unless he, she, or they, shall sooner submit to be examined as aforesaid before the said justices of the peace, or one of them, or, in case of their absence or refusal, before some other justice of the peace for the said county; and shall enter into a recognizance to appear at the next general assizes to be held for the county, where the offence was committed, to prosecute such person or persons, as shall appear by such examination to have offended contrary to the true intent and meaning of this act; in which case it shall and may be lawful to and for such justice of the peace by warrant under his hand and seal, directed to the goaler or keeper of the said goal, to deliver and discharge such person or persons out of the said goal, and from his, her, or their commitment as aforesaid.
III. Provided, That no such examination shall subject the party examined to any prosecution, penalty, or forfeiture whatsoever, or be admitted to be given in evidence against the person so examined, unless such person shall be indicted for having committed wilful perjury in such examination.
IV. And whereas some doubts have arisen, whether marriages consummated by carnal knowledge can be avoided by precontracts without consummation, which has been the ground of many vexatious suits: for remedy whereof, and to prevent all doubts concerning the same for the future, be it enacted and declared, That no contract of marriage only, not consummated by the carnal knowledge of the parties, shall be of any force towards making void a subsequent marriage consummated by such carnal knowledge.
V. And whereas by an act made in the reign of King Charles the first, intituled, An Act for the restraining of all person from marriage till their former wives and former husbands be dead, it is enacted, “That if any person or persons being married, or which hereafter shall marry, do at any time marry any person or persons, the former husband or wife being alive, that then every such offence shall be felony, and the person and persons so offending, shall suffer death as in case of felony:” and whereas divers persons, having been found guilty of such
offence, have yet escaped the punishment of death, by claiming the benefit of the clergy or of the statute: be it enacted by the authority aforesaid, That from and after the first day of November one thousand seven hundred and twenty six if any person, convicted of such offence, shall claim the benefit of clergy, or of the statute, and such claim shall be by the court allowed, such person, instead of being burned in the hand, shall by the said court be ordered to be transported to some of his Majesty’s plantations in America, and shall be transported accordingly in such manner, as person convicted of a capital felony are to be transported.
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