Secret marriages were possibly the most common of the scandalous stories associated HMS Invincible’s men.

Why would a marriage be secret?

Perhaps the groom was under 21, perhaps his intended wife was pregnant or perhaps he couldn’t afford the marriage tax that was introduced in the 1690s.

A secret – or clandestine – marriage avoided the restrictions of a conventional wedding and could be arranged really quickly. Institutions such as the Fleet or King’s Bench prison were popular venues, because clerics imprisoned for debt were grateful for the income.  These clerics could often afford to pay for the privilege of living just outside the prison gates. Even when prison officials stopped secret marriages happening within prison walls, secret marriages could still take place.

How to have a secret wedding

A third of all marriages were clandestine in the first half of the 18th century. For the marriage to be legal, all that had to happen was the bride and groom giving their consent. Witnesses were not required, and there were no requirements to prove you lived locally. Perhaps most shocking of all, the groom could be just 14 years old and the bride as young as 12.

Invincible crew nuptials at the Fleet Prison:

Juba Fortune

Juba Fortune, a midshipman in HMS Invincible, was born in the East Indies in 1713. On 27th July 1738 he married Elizabeth Howell of London in a clandestine marriage ceremony at Fleet prison. Edward Fortune, listed as Captain’s Servant, may well have been the son of Juba and Elizabeth.  He was born on 3rd September 1738 in Marylebone, London, tying in nicely with Juba and Elizabeth’s quick secret marriage.

Anthony Da Costa

Mariner Anthony Da Costa married Ann White, a widow, at Fleet prison on 5 July 1744. There is no confirmed record of their ages or any evidence of a child being born soon after the wedding, so the reasons for their clandestine marriage stay secret.

Thomas Harding

Ordinary Seaman Thomas Harding married Elizabeth Alderson of Kingston, Portsmouth, on 29 December 1739. This marriage was recorded in Wyatt’s register of Clandestine Marriages – Wyatt was the officiating minister at Fleet prison.