Marriage Contracts

A Marriage Contract was a device for recording how and when property, including land, would be transferred between the various parties. Until 1867 land could not be disposed of by Will (it had to go to the eldest son); a marriage contract was thus the recognised way by which land could be transferred to the heir during the lifetime of the parents though sometimes this transfer was conditional. Such contracts would usually have clauses detailing how the parents were to be supported. Mothers would usually sign (or make their 'X') often under their maiden name, they would also be witnessed by several members of the families.

It is likely that many prenuptial arrangements were simply verbal commitments made before witnesses and signalled by a handclasp - examples of such 'Handfasting' contracts survive in the court records - Roscow quotes one dating from 1629 (Lib Canc p75 1629) recorded "for the better record of the bargain" as follows:

A bargaine of handfasting, betwixt John 
Quyine and Margaret Creere of K. K. Bradan 
parish as may apeare by sufficient witnesses 
and as may apeare upon oath that 
Gilnow Quyine doe give unto his sonne 
Jo. Quyine and Margaret Creere a cowe 
and a calf, and a young Maire 
and xii sheepe, and theare
meate and drinke for fyve year and further if 
they sould agree and after fyve yeare to 
have the third pte of the ground and the 
plow and all draughts belonginge to the 
third pte wth the third pte of the Corne, 
and if God doe call for mee or my wyffee 
then they are to have the one half of the ground 
and plowe, and at my death I doe leave 
unto my sonne John Quyine and his wyffe 
Margret Creere all that I am possessed of
in this world except I leave a leagett [legacy] 
to some friend, as witness our hands.

Witnesse to the same handfasting 
bargane Wm. Creere, Wm Cannell, Thomas Christian.

As the 17th century progressed written contracts would appear to become the norm - these would first be formally attested before the Deemster after which the paper would be returned to the parties for their own safekeeping - such contracts often re-appear as acceptable substitutes for wills of one or both sets of parents. However there was always the possibillity that the contract could be lost thus many marriage contracts were lodged, by request of the parties with the civil authorities and would be enrolled by one of the courts. Prior to 1629 they can be found in the Exchequer and in the Chancery Court Books but after 1629 increasing numbers were lodged with the Chancery Court. Again such agreements were often either included with or used as a substitute for a will, and thus appear in the Ecclesiatical Court Records. Post Act of Settlement of 1704 all such enrolled contracts were included with the Deeds etc and can be located in the indices to North Side and South Side Sales. It woud appear that many pre-1704 contracts were also later lodged with the Rolls office - these enrollments being usually prior to 1723 mean that the Contract is found in the undated bundles of Old Deeds. The indices to the enrolled deeds also include a handlist to various Lib Canc entries including Marriage Contracts that date prior to 1704, though it is not clear how comprehensive this handlist is.

There is an interesting deposition in 1676 as to how these contracts were drawn up - child marriages were also covered by such contracts e.g. that of 1674 John & Joney Cannell to be married when they come to 14 years & if it happens that either of them dye the marriage is to proceed from one child to another while there is any child living between the old couples. Not all such contracts resulted in a happy marriage eg in 1657 Lonan that of Wm Stole & Joney Quirk's was cancelled "on request of both ptys & Tho Quirk the father's petition setting forth that tho his daughter was by him brought to church she utterly refused to consent & accept of Stole for her Husbd and so are freed of each other and to dispose of themselves as pleaseth God to direct them."

The conditions imposed on the young couple are often quite basic - Hen Watterson required:

that the younge couple viz Jon Waterson and Catherine Gawn doe take care of him to cook his meals and wash his shirts and linens for him whilst they continue in one house together

Manx Law after 1576 required that any document involving land transfer had a penalty clause in case of non-compliance thus all enrolled marriage contracts would have a clause eg that found in Craine/Kinley contract of 1712:

its fully agreed upon by both parties and do bind them Selves
their heirs Extors and assignes in the penalty and forfeiture of Tenn –
pounds Sterling, one half thereof to ye Honble the Lord of this Isle and ye
other half to the party performing the above articles

An example of one such contract, that between Looney and Kewley, 1700, has been published - a provisional index to some 1850 is available (on CD RoM).


J. Roscow Manx Marriage Contracts 1600-1736 IoMNHAS Vol X No. 2 pp3-16 March 1993.

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Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
© F.Coakley , 2010