By Maggi Andersen
“I publish the Banns of marriage between Groom’s Name of–his local parish–and Bride’s Name of–her local parish. If any of you know cause or just impediment why these two persons should not be joined together in Holy matrimony, ye are to declare it. This is the first [second, third] time of asking.”
In the third of my Baxendale Sisters series, LADY HOPE AND THE DUKE OF DARKNESS, lovers set out on the long journey to Gretna Green. Whether they marry there or not, I shan’t reveal, but since Georgette Heyer first created her charming Regency world, we have been reading about lovers escaping to Gretna Green to be married, when no other option is open to them.
So why Gretna Green?
The introduction of the “Scottish Elopements and the Marriage Act of 1753. An Act for Better Preventing of Clandestine Marriage, was also known as Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act), and was the first statutory legislation in England and Wales to require a formal ceremony of marriage. The Act prevented clandestine marriages (valid marriages performed by an Anglican clergyman but not in accordance with the canons). And ended the notorious Fleet Marriages associated with London’s Fleet Prison.
Scottish law allowed for “irregular marriages,” meaning that if a declaration was made before two witnesses, almost anybody had the authority to conduct the marriage ceremony. To be married “over the anvil,” meant that the eloping couple took their vows at the blacksmith’s shop. “Blacksmith priests” conducted the ceremony, which was a public acknowledgment of a couple’s desire to pledge themselves to one another.
Any man could set himself up as an ‘anvil priest.” Although they were frowned on by the local church for calling themselves a priest, the fee and a tip which could be as much as fifty guineas, made it very attractive. Couples could also marry at an inn.
So where is Gretna Green?
The village of Gretna Green lies on the main road from Carlisle to Glasgow and is situated on the most southerly point of the English border on Scotland’s west side. The Sark River marks the border itself, a half mile from Gretna Green.
From Gretna Green Memoirs by Robert Elliot (1842):
Near the Solway Firth, the Regency era’s Greta Green is “…[a] small village with a few clay houses, the parish kirk, the minister’s house, and a large inn. From it you have a fine view of the Solway, port Carlisle and the Cumberland hills, among which is the lofty Skiddaw; you also see Bowness, the place where the famous Roman wall ends.”
LADY HOPE AND THE DUKE OF DARKNESS Coming soon.
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