Ten (fascinating) facts about Gretna Green!

Wedding bellsNicola here, talking today about elopement, Gretna Green and the difference between English and Scottish marriage laws in the Georgian and Regency period.

The Gretna Green marriage is something of a theme in historical romances. A couple from England, desperate to marry, perhaps under 21 years old and opposed by parents or guardians, make a dash for the border. The reason they needed to do this? Under the Marriage Act of 1753 (also known as Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act), clandestine or common-law marriages in England were made illegal. All marriages were required to have an official ceremony performed by a Church of England priest, unless the couple was Jewish or Quaker. The Act also required parental consent for parties under 21 years old and enforced the publication of Banns. This Act also applied in Wales and Ireland. However, it did not apply to Scotland as Scotland was under its own legal system.

Read more

Weddings!

Cherubwedd Hi, this is Jo, going with the flow today. Everyone's talking about weddings, so I thought I'd do a brief skip through the history of weddings as they might be portrayed in romance novels set in England.

BTW, I do find this Victorian image very odd, not to say creepy!

Research into marriage and marriage law seems to me to be the cornerstone of historical romance, so I've done quite a bit, but I'm always looking for correction, clarification, or additional data. Please do contribute.

The Middle Ages Medievalmarriage

 For much of the middle ages a marriage took place on the church steps, but not inside it.

There were two reasons for this.

One — this was a time with few paper records, and none that could be sure to survive, so all important events were secured by witnesses. The more important the event, the more witnesses. Wedding vows were taken before witnesses, and the more the merrier. Do it in a central place. In villages and towns, a church would be one of the bigger buildings and also central.

A wedding ceremony was not, however, seen as a religious one. It was a civil contracts, and in the case of noble marriages, a complicated legal agreement. As religious thinking turned against both women and sex (leading to the cult of the Virgin Mary) marriage itself was seen as unspiritual, so some clerics would have nothing to do with it at all. Most, however, would bless a union, but definitely not in the church.

Hence, the church steps.

Things moved along gradually. In time, the couple would say their vows on the steps in view of all, then go into the church for a more complicated blessing, perhaps even a mass.

As my next writing period is Georgian, we'll skip right along.

Georgian Times.

Georgianlovers2 When England became Protestant, Catholic ceremonies became difficult, so I'm talking here about the mainstream Protestant ones.

The important date here is 1753-4, when the Hardwicke Act brought some order to the chaos of marriage to that date. Perhaps I'll do a whole blog on it sometimes, but here's the brief synopsis.

Before the Hardwick Act, the rules for marriage in England were the same as they were after the Act in Scotland. Think Gretna Green. All that was required was an avowal of being married before witnesses. No religious ceremony was necessary. (You can see how that fits with ancient tradition.) After the Act, there had to be banns or a licence, and the wedding had to take place in a church in the morning. There were other rules and too many wrinkles to go into, but that was the big change that made Gretna Green suddenly important.

Why Gretna Green? Gretdays

I thought the Days Inn is a good reminder that Gretna resonates even to modern times!

Simply because it's the first place across the border by the closest route from the south. Anywhere in Scotland would do, plus some other places. The Channel Islands and the Isle of Wight, I believe. Perhaps the Isle of Man. Places that weren't entirely ruled by Parliament in Westminster.

From the above link site. "One of the most celebrated elopements to Gretna was that of the Earl of Westmorland and Miss Child, the daughter of the great London banker. The earl had asked for the hand of Sarah, and had been refused, the banker remarking, "Your blood is good enough, but my money is better," so the two young people made it up to elope and get married at Gretna Green. The earl made arrangements beforehand at the different stages where they had to change horses, but the banker, finding that his daughter had gone, pursued them in hot haste. All went well with the runaway couple until they arrived at Shap, in Westmorland, where they became aware they were being pursued. Here the earl hired all the available horses, so as to delay the irate banker's progress. The banker's "money was good," however, and the runaways were overtaken between Penrith and Carlisle. Hero the earl's "blood was good," for, taking deliberate aim at the little star of white on the forehead of the banker's leading horse, he fired successfully, and so delayed the pursuit that the fugitives arrived at Gretna first; and when the bride's father drove up, purple with rage and almost choking from sheer exasperation, he found them safely locked in what was called the bridal chamber! The affair created a great sensation in London, where the parties were well known, heavy bets being made as to which party would win the race. At the close of the market it stood at two to one on the earl and the girl."

Civil Marriage.

In 1836 it became possible to marry in places other than a church, and to be married by the local registrar. Hence, in England such a marriage takes place at the Registry Office. Note that in the UK, Justices of the Peace, or Magistrates, do not have, and never have had, the power to marry anyone.

The ceremony from the Book of Common Prayer is here.

The early church's distaste for matrimony was because it's all about sex, and it's still reflected in these words. "and therefore is not by any to be enterprised, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly, to satisfy men's carnal lusts and appetites, like brute beasts that have no understanding; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God; duly considering the causes for which Matrimony was ordained."

First, It was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name.

Secondly, It was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ's body.

Definitely a frown and a sigh there! Perahps it's not surprising that in Regency times those who could afford a licence preferred it to banns. They seemed to have thought it unpleasant to have their intention to wed and do all that procreation stuff read out in church each Sunday in front of the "lower orders."  

Wedding Dresses 

As we know, the white and veil is a modern development, and through most of history brides have dresses in what finery they could for the moment, generally in line with the fashion of the time. In Georgian times most brides would wear a special dress that could be worn later. Most weddings were quiet affairs in the local church, and it was tradition that the bride appear on the next Sunday in her wedding dress. After that, most would keep it for special occasions.

Trrfront Here's a snippet of a country wedding from The Rogue's Return. They've previously married in Canada, but it was a bit irregular, so they decide to do it again to be sure. Not to mention a little peculiarity of the name.

Villagers lined the winding street to wish Mr. Simon and his lady well.

Near the church, they stopped at the Bride's Well. Jancy gave Simon a look, but he dipped some water for her with a silver dipper and she drank as a virtuous bride was supposed to. When she didn't drop dead, everyone applauded, and they could enter the church.

This time they had a license and every detail was precise. Simon slid a new golden ring onto her finger, and then a diamond hoop above it, to guard it, as the tradition went. Jancy had the other one on a chain around her neck, however, for it would always have special meaning for her.

They left the church to ringing bells, to be showered with grain and good wishes, and walked back to Brideswell tossing coins and trinkets.

What fictional wedding is most memorable for you? I'll give a copy of The Rogue's Return to a randomly chosen answer that quotes a few words or sentences from the scene.

Cheers,

Jo