Do Mrs. Clay and Mr. Elliot Marry? Chapter 18 of Persuadable

The end of Austen's Persuasion states that Mrs. Clay and Mr. Elliot have run off to London together; it is heavily implied that despite the risk, Mrs. Clay will be able to bring Mr. Elliot "up
St. John's Wood Church was built
in 1814. Persuasion and
Persuadable take place
in 1814 and 1815. This means
it is possible for Will
and Penelope to marry
here--but only just.
to scratch":
Mrs Clay's affections had overpowered her interest, and she had sacrificed, for the young man's sake, the possibility of scheming longer for Sir Walter. She has abilities, however, as well as affections; and it is now a doubtful point whether his cunning, or hers, may finally carry the day; whether, after preventing her from being the wife of Sir Walter, he may not be wheedled and caressed at last into making her the wife of Sir William.
As indicated in Persuadable's Chapter 16, my Will Elliot is not adverse to marriage. I basically shortened the realization--hey, this woman can manage my life better than I can--by several years (in the original version of Persuadable, I had them marry three years after moving to London). However, Will--a cunning man--realizes that Penelope Clay will never believe such an abrupt change of heart ("I want you to be my mistress" to "I want you to be my wife"). He plans to marry her once they reach London but doesn't use that particular tactic to lure her. In other words, he plans to surprise her.

A surprise wedding led me to (more) research on marriage customs. I have discussed these customs elsewhere, especially in my commentary for Mr. B Speaks! where I discuss marriage as well as mistresses.

This time, my research led me to the Temple. The Temple is an area in London where many law offices can be found (think Rumpole of the Bailey). The Inns of Court can also be found there (think American Bar Association). The Doctors' Commons that Will refers to was specifically for lawyers who practiced civil law in ecclesiastical courts. They might, for example, deal with matrimonial issues. Many of the ecclesiastical courts in England have since been disbanded, the duties handed over to purely civilian or common law courts. (The Doctors' Commons would become less and less relevant an institution throughout the nineteenth century.)

In the following passage, Will discusses how a marriage, helped by the Doctors' Commons, would go forward.
"I’m returning to London,” Will told Jeremy.

“What about Mrs. Clay?”

“She doesn’t know what she wants.”

Jeremy sighed. “Do you want me to send Sir Walter an anonymous letter warning him against his daughter’s dear friend? That might force her hand.”

“No,” Will said. He thrust a hand through his hair, making the strands stand upright.

He wanted Penelope to come to him because she’d weighed the sacrifices of marrying Sir Walter against the benefits and decided Will was the better option.

He didn’t tell Jeremy that he intended to marry her. Jeremy was willing to defend Will’s interests, but he wouldn’t understand why Will needed more than a mistress, why he wanted a wife, someone who could accompany him to public events, meet his friends, and deal with his properties.

“You know, even if you seduce Mrs. Clay, Sir Walter could still marry. The only person he wouldn’t remarry for is Elizabeth.”

“I won’t marry Elizabeth,” Will said absently.

He couldn’t tell even Jeremy the rest: that he wasn’t sure the baronetcy mattered. What would it gain him but more people who would expect him to live up to an unrealistic set of expectations? Sally’s friends had been bad enough. Being respectable would be worse.

“Good luck,” Jeremy said.

Will circled Bath to walk up Milsom Street to his hotel on George. He was stopped in front of numerous shops and questioned about the “latest engagement!” The gossips weren’t surprised by the match—no one but Sir Walter and Elizabeth questioned the suitability of a navy captain marrying the second daughter of a baronet—but by its suddenness. Wasn’t Anne supposed to marry her cousin? Was Mr. Elliot terribly devastated?

No one asked directly but avid pity underlay everyone’s questions: How are you feeling Mr. Elliot? How is your cousin?

Will claimed long-standing knowledge of Anne’s true feelings and said he hoped she would be happy—many, many times on the way to his hotel, where he ordered an early supper and told his far-from-overworked valet that he was staying in for the night.

If Penelope came, he would take her to London. He would set her up in a villa in St. John’s Wood—not the townhouse in Mayfair where he and Sally had lived. St. John’s Wood was not as posh a neighborhood but Will liked its potential. He would obtain a license from the Doctors’ Commons; Will knew members from his days at the Temple. Within fifteen days, they could marry. Perhaps, he would suggest that Penelope meet him near St. John’s Wood Church—for a stroll, perhaps. And then he would surprise her with the license.

If she came . . .

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