A work in progress – a tale of forbidden love. A devout young widower must defy his church and the state to marry the woman he loves and prevent his two children growing up motherless.
In 1891, marrying your dead wife’s sister was forbidden according to the laws of Kindred and Affinity as laid down in the Book of Common Prayer. However, at a time when women frequently died in childbirth or of disease at a young age, and unmarried sisters frequently stepped into the breach to help raise the motherless children, pressure was put on the church and state to allow these marriages of ‘convenience’.
It was a subject that was hotly contested for many years and was a hugely controversial question among Christians in the 19th century. It was argued that such a marriage contravened the clear teaching of Scripture because “husband and wife constituted ‘one flesh’” (Genesis 2.24) and would be incestuous. The opposition argued that allowing marriage with a dead wife’s sister would strengthen the social fabric and legitimise children of these inevitable unions. The reading of banns in church was introduced to try to curb such forbidden irregularities.
In 1907 the law was amended to allow such marriages, though canon law remained unchanged until 1947, and nonconformist opinion remained divided.
In 1890, my great-grandmother, Mary Ellen, died aged 29, leaving two young children. In 1891, Edwin, my great-grandfather, married Annie, his dead wife’s sister. He was a Methodist, his church would have found his action an abomination before God, and he would have been damned to eternal hell. That he moved house and his second marriage took place in a different parish raises interesting questions. Was he trying to hide his incestuous marriage to Annie from the world? Maybe, but I doubt he or Annie hid it from their religious consciences.
This tale seeks to explore the events and relationships leading up to Mary Ellen’s death and the emotional and spiritual turmoil that must have surrounded Edwin’s marriage to Annie. I dare say there will be ‘tears before bedtime’.
With luck and a fair wind, if the typhoid fever epidemic of 1873 doesn’t prove fatal, it will be released in 2019.