This analysis of matrimonial ligation from northwest England both challenges the assumption that shifting theology during the Reformation created a revolution in early modern marriage and underscores the importance of regional cultural variety. Just as customary matrimonial practices survived the Reformation on the Continent, so, too, did they survive in northwest England. Matrimonial contract suits suggest that the exchange of present-tense matrimonial consent signified valid marriage, despite the church’s emphasis on a public ceremony of solemnization. Because marriages formed independently of church authority could be subject to contestation and negotiation, friends, neighbors, and kin exercised considerable power in endorsing or rejecting the validity of such unions. This authority also enabled residents to employ their own standards in judging the reputation of couples whose children were born outside church-sanctioned wedlock.
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