This month we’re posting our best blogs from years past. Here’s one I found with a research emphasis from the 2007 publication of Blackthorne’s Bride. I don’t write nearly enough of these!
If you’ve read a few historical novels, you’re probably familiar with Gretna Green. I’ve married two of my fictional couples there, and I had so much fun researching this romantic spot.
In 1752 the English Parliament passed the Hardwicke Marriage Act, which prevented the rampant practice of clandestine marriages. These marriages were being used by unscrupulous men looking to marry an heiress and secure their fortunes. As you can imagine, the parents of these heiresses were more than slightly displeased, even more so when incidents of men being clandestinely married to three or four women came to light. Lord Chancellor Hardwicke proposed a bill to end the worst abuses of the clandestine marriages. The Hardwicke Marriage Act, as it came to be called, made elopement all but impossible in England.
So what’s a couple who lacks parental support to do?
Elope, of course! And the nearest spot was Gretna Green.
Of course a couple didn’t have to elope to Gretna Green. Boats waited at Southampton to take runaway couples to the island of Guernsey, where the clandestine marriages were legal. But Scotland was easier to access, and therefore more popular.
There are many romantic stories of prospective brides and grooms running away to Gretna Green, the bride’s father in hot pursuit. In fact, Gretna Green has built quite a reputation as a destination wedding spot off these legends.
The primary legend was that the first stop eloping couples made was the local blacksmith’s shop to be wed over the anvil by the local blacksmith—men called anvil priests. There’s probably not much truth to the legends about blacksmiths and anvils, but there were several men who made their fame and fortune marrying England’s desperate lovers. Robert Elliott was one. Some scholars speculate that Elliott married over 3000 couples.
Joseph Paisley was another anvil priest, and he was not your typical “priest.” He’d been a smuggler before he got into the marriage business, and he had a bit of a drinking problem.
Blackthorne’s Bride, my latest novel, incorporates a story about Joseph Paisley and mixed up marriages. Take one drunk anvil priest, a father with a pistol banging on the door to the blacksmith’s shop, and two couples in a hurry, and you get…well, let’s just say that I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed taking this real-life tale and weaving it into fiction.