Unfortunately, this was supposed to have posted on St. Patrick’s Day but was mistakenly saved as a draft instead of posting. Definitely a user error! Hopefully all you readers will keep in mind that this was posted with Ireland in mind on St. Patrick’s Day. Happy reading!
If you read historical romance novels, odds are you have read one from the Georgian or Regency era. And odds are there’s been some mention of Gretna Green. But for those of you who aren’t aware (and in connection-ish with today’s holiday, St Patrick’s Day!) Gretna Green is part of Dumfries and is a town just over the border of Scotland traveling from England. It is on what was a main coaching route from England to Scotland and is located at the junction of five old coaching roads, the junction being known as “Headless Cross.” And because of its location, Gretna Green became well known for runaway marriages. This tradition began about halfway through the 18th century when Lord Hardwiske’s Marriage Act was signed into law in England. Under this Act, no minor (under the age of 21) was allowed to get married without parental consent. However, in Scotland, boys were able to marry by age 14 and girls able to marry at age 12 with or without the consent of their parents.
This difference in laws created a large influx of young men and women who would flock to Scotland to get married against their parents wishes. And given Gretna Green’s convenient location (right over the border and on the main route from London to Scotland in the 1750’s) many couples would immediately stop here to get hitched as soon as possible. And luckily, in Scotland it was easy to find someone to marry you since, as long as your had two witnesses, almost anyone really could perform a “handfasting” ceremony or a “marriage by declaration.” Since the blacksmith shop was a central hub of towns at this time, most of these runaway marriages were performed over the blacksmith’s anvil, and blacksmiths in Gretna Green became known as “anvil priests.” As noted from the Gretna Green Wedding website “the hammering of the anvil soon became a notorious sound; romantically it is said that like the meals he forged, the Blacksmith would join couples together in the heat of the moment but bind them for eternity.”
To this day, people still flock to Gretna Green to get married, I’m sure some find the concept and tradition romantic (I do). It is mentioned in a lot of books and was even mentioned on the well-known TV Show Downtown Abbey. Even further, Gretna Green marriages have come to represent a general term for marriages that are entered into in a different location than where they live so that they can avoid certain laws or restrictions imposed on them in their home town/country. These “runaway marriage” locations in the United States have included at certain points Elkton, Maryland, Reno, and Las Vegas.
If you’d like further information on getting married at Gretna Green, there is a website you can visit here.