The term “Marriage Banns” refers to the proclamation in
church of a proposed wedding. In England, typically, they wer to
be read on three successive Sundays in the parish churches of the bride
and bridegroom. They could also be written up and posted on the
church door or other prominent location within the parish, for a
minimum of 14 days.
Posting or reading of the Banns is so that those who know of any
impediment to the marriage can make an objection. The practice is
still in use today.
The Banns were often by-passed by the “better-off” folk by
obtaining a marriage licence, which had to be paid for.
Sometimes, those of the upwardly mobile classes would marry by
licence, just to show how well off they were. The wealthy didn't
like to invite every person in the parish to object to their marriage.
The custom of announcing a forthcoming marriage during Divine Service
was probably taken over from pre-Christian practice, but it seems to
have developed especially after Charlemagne’s order for inquiry
before marriage into possible consanguinity between the parties.
The practice was enjoined by the Synod of Westminster of 1200 and
the Lateran Council of 1215.
During the English Commonwealth Period between 1653 and 1660, marriages
were civil contracts performed by a Justice of the Peace and the Banns
could also be read in the town market place, or other places such as
private homes on three successive market days. These Banns were
sometimes recorded in a separate book and sometimes in the parish
register with the letter M (for market) added.