Welcome, fellow genealogists! My blog will teach you about U.S. land records and United Kingdom research. My family has roots in Niagara County, New York; Norfolk, England; and northeast Germany.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Wisdom Wednesday: Gretna Green Elopement

In the second season of Downton Abbey, Lady Sybil Crawley and the chauffeur, Tom Branson, headed for Gretna Green, Scotland, with plans to elope. Since Lord Grantham’s estate is in Yorkshire, if any of us North American’s were listening carefully, it probably seemed they were just heading for the nearest border where marriage laws were different.

Indeed that was the case, but people came from further away to marry in this first town inside Scotland on the main road from London to Edinburgh. In fact, the phrase “Gretna Green Elopement” came to mean any marriage ceremony performed without complete parental approval away from the local parish church. The village today advertises itself to couples wanting a destination wedding, similar to Las Vegas without the neon.
For genealogists with English families, it might pay to look at the Scottish records if you are having trouble finding a marriage in the south.

In 1754, the Hardwicke Marriage Act declared that brides and grooms under age 21 needed parental approval and all weddings needed to be performed in a Church of England. However, the laws of Scotland differed and much younger teens could marry without permission. About fifteen years later, Gretna Green had become the border town most known for these ceremonies.
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. The blacksmiths in Gretna became known as "anvil priests" because the blacksmith’s shop was at the main crossroads in town, and the smithie performed so many marriages over his anvil. (wikipedia, Gretna Green)

1 comment:

  1. Susan,

    I want to let you know that your blog is listed in today's Fab Finds post at http://janasgenealogyandfamilyhistory.blogspot.com/2014/08/follow-friday-fab-finds-for-august-8.html

    Have a great weekend!