When a man and woman married, the law considered the wife’s legal identity to be absorbed into her husband’s, this meant that everything a woman owned before her marriage became the property of her husband, to dispose of as he pleased. This did not change until the Married Women’s Property Act of 1882 that married women were given the same property rights as single women.

Marriage settlements, which were essentially prenuptial agreements, were the means that parents and guardians used to circumvent this problem. The settlement would set up a separate trust for the wife and guarantee her access to certain amounts of funds during her husband’s life and after his death. Exact terms would be negotiated and contracted out by the parties involved and could include other provisions as well. This way a father could prevent a profligate son-in-law from spending all his money and leaving his daughter destitute.

The below settlement outlines a form of pre nuptial agreement between the families Batson and Smart in August 1781.

There is no place where marriage settlements or other such original and personal family documents might be deposited and this item has come to the Society of Genealogists from family papers or perhaps even from the office of the solicitors involved and has been placed in the document collection of miscellaneous family papers and research notes.

This settlement outlines a form of pre nuptial agreement between the families. The IGI and Ancestry shows the marriage by licence of Robert Batson (widower of “St Annes Middlesex”) and Mary Smart at St Dunstans and All Saints, Stepney on 16 August 1781. There is a Faculty Office Marriage Licence for this marriage issued by the Archbishop of Canterbury on 14th August and indexed by the Society on the online British Origins website. Altogether these documents shed light on the practice of marriage in the mid 18th century.

Marriage Settlements can be found in both the Special and Document Collections.

image thumb Marriage Settlements

Suggested lectures:

Saturday 8th May 2010 at 2pm: Marriage Law and Practice in the Long Eighteenth Century. Book early to avoid disappointment.

Wednesday 5th May 2010 at 2pm: Tracing Female Ancestors. Book early to avoid disappointment.

Filed under: Family History Treasures

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