Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Marriage, Over the Anvil

It's been a long time! Too long. I am now a year into to my expat life in Switzerland. My daughter has started kindergarten, and suddenly I can find time to blog once more! Yeah! I'm not sure what my frequency will be for a time - I'm trying to finish writing all the books I abandoned a year and a half ago - but I have to start somewhere.

That somewhere is Scotland. I'm off to Edinburgh tomorrow to reunite with dear family and have an all around excellent time. I haven't been there since I was fourteen, an age at which I did not yet see Austen associations everywhere, but my adult self feels the need to mark my journey with a discussion of the infamous Gretna Green marriages over the anvil, which three of Austen's novels utilize as a plot device.
"We were within a few hours of eloping together for Scotland. The treachery, or the folly, of my cousin's maid betrayed us. I was banished to the house of a relation far distant, and she was allowed no liberty, no society, no amusement, till my father's point was gained." - Colonel Brandon, Sense & Sensibility 
"I am going to Gretna Green, and if you cannot guess with who, I shall think you a simpleton, for there is but one man in the world I love, and he is an angel." - Lydia Bennet, Pride & Prejudice
Why Gretna? Anywhere in Scotland might do, and several other border towns were well known for performing runaway marriages. The Marriage Act of 1753, aimed at curtailing underage marriages and those without parental consent, declared that the banns (an official wedding announcement) be read on three Sundays during Sunday services in the home parishes of both bride and groom. This gave anyone objecting to the marriage an opportunity to stop it. Faster marriages could take place by special license, but if the bride or groom were under twenty-one they required parental consent. So what's your Regency Era Romeo and Juliet supposed to do? Make a run for the border, of course.
"You may not have heard of the last blow--Julia's elopement; she is gone to Scotland with Yates." Lady Bertram, Mansfield Park
It was called marriage over the anvil because Scottish wedding ceremonies did not have to be performed by a clergyman, and often the first person available to perform a ceremony would be the blacksmith, stationed in proximity to the coaching inn. Only two witnesses were required to make the marriage legal. The practice continued unabated until 1856, when Scottish law was changed to require a twenty-one day residency before a ceremony could take place.

Gretna remains a popular wedding destination, and tourists flock to the old smithy to touch the historic anvil, which is supposed to convey luck in love. I won't make it there this trip, but it would be delightful to visit someday, perhaps renew some marriage vows. An elopement to Scotland sounds romantic, but as countless Regency heroines have learned the hard way, it really wasn't all it was cracked up to be. Still, the aura of romance persists, and I feel the lure.
"... Sophia and I experienced the satisfaction of seeing them depart for Gretna-Green, which they chose for the celebration of their Nuptials, in preference to any other place although it was at a considerable distance from Macdonald-Hall." - Laura, Love and Friendship