Regency Hot Spots: Gretna Green

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Like the Las Vegas of Georgian and Regency England, Gretna Green most prominently is featured in hist-ro plots as the site for elopements and runaway marriages.

But how did this one city develop into the beacon of hope for star-crossed lovers and romance novelists looking to add some scandal and intrigue into their plots?

There were three main factors that lead to Gretna Green being the destination of elopements.

1).  Scotts did not have to obey the 1754 English law requiring that people under 21 have parental consent to marry.

2).  According to the same law, marriages in England had to be recognized by the church and typically go through the three week process of the reading of the banns.  Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act stated that a marriage was only legally valid if the reading of the banns (or a special license) had occured.  A 1753 statute firmed this up by requiring the banns to be read in each of the couple’s parish churches as well as the church where the ceremony was scheduled to be held.  This was to give plenty of time to objectors who knew of legal impediments to a match, such as bigamy, a vow of celibacy, lack of consent, or kissing first cousins.

3).  The Scotts recognized marriages performed in front of two witnesses…no clergy or other specially licensed presider required.  It wasn’t until a 1940 law banned “anvil priests” that the tradition of the blacksmith striking his hammer against the anvil stopped marking many happy and unhappy occasions in Gretna Green.

Gretna Green was one of the closest border towns of Scotland, rocketing it into elopement infamy.  And with a respectable blacksmith willing and able to capitalize on Gretna Green’s location, it became a destination for couples needing or wanting to cut through the red tape and avoid English legal restrictions.  Apparently, it was more a happy accident for the little Scottish town’s economy than any deliberate desire to foil English courts.

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