Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Gretna Green Marriages

Traditionally, in Scotland, a man and woman over the age of sixteen could be married by declaring themselves husband and wife in front of witnesses. Laws in England were much more strict following an Act of Parliament in 1745. This then resulted in many young couples fleeing north of the border to Scotland in order to get married. Gretna Green was the first stagecoach changing post north of the Scottish Border on the main route between London and Edinburgh. This then became a very popular spot to marry. The marriage ceremonies were carried out over the Smithy’s anvil with the "Blacksmith Priest" officiating. In fact, this was a marriage of declaration and not a civil marriage, but legal nonetheless.

Another Act of Parliament in 1857 (100 years later) imposed residential qualifications for those who married. They needed, by the new law, to live 21 days in the area before they could marry. This, too, became popular and couples would happily take up residence in Gretna or another Scottish Border town for the necessary 3 weeks and then would be married, as planned, at Gretna Green by the "Blacksmith Priest". 
In 1940, Parliament outlawed the "Blacksmiths Priests" and their anvil marriages. Marriages could only be conducted by a member of the clergy or a civil registrar. Today, there are no residency requirements and no parental consent is required in Scotland for people over the age of 16 who wish to marry. All that is required is for the couple to serve notice to the Registrar. Many continue to marry at Gretna Green even today. They are not running away so much as enjoying the rich history of Gretna Green as a place to marry. Gretna Green marriages “over the anvil” are as popular today as castle weddings. Scotland attracts visitors from all over the world as a place to be married

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