Marriage at Gretna Green

GG 1I’m putting another comma in Harriette’s story today, and sharing something else I discovered recently.

Last month I travelled up to Gretna Green to do a little research. I’d been  trying to find out what actually happened when couples arrived there for ages, and I’d found nothing valuable on the internet so I thought, right, get in the car and go there, and they’ll be something around there I’m sure. Oh, I can’t tell you how right I was. We discovered this fabulous little museum set up in an old ironmonger’s forge, one of the places where marriage ceremonies used to take place.

I learned so much I didn’t know.

Prior to the 12th Century, a man could just take a woman to his home and call it marriage. But the church, being more powerful than kings at the time, wanted some control over who married who, and so they began introducing formal religious ceremonies.

In 1563, the Church then became even more defiant over its role in marriage, and said that marriages would only be deemed valid if they were recognised by the Church. But even so Civil Law still stated that if a man and woman made a declaration before two witnesses, that was enough.

So there was a divide then, in places where the Church had no sway, people could be deemed officially married under civil law, on ships for instance. But what I didn’t know was about the industry which developed in London for quick marriages, in the Fleet Prison.

Apparently by the 1700’s jailed priests, who did not care about any reprisal from the church, had expanded their illicit marriage business from the prison chapel to sixty ‘Fleet marriage rooms’ outside the jail. They’d set themselves up there to perform hurried weddings, and people would elope and run to the Fleet Prison.  Men even went out touting for business to encourage couples in off the street. And there was no care about who they married, numerous bigamous marriages took place, and marriage certificates might be backdated, to avoid having an illegitimate child. Or marriages, as they were performed anytime of the day or night, might be a drunken couple, who’d regret it in the morning.

GG 2So in 1754, Hardwicke’s Marriage Act was voted in by the House of Lords, whose daughters were often caught out by the seduction of penniless men, and when they only had to persuade the woman to go as far as the Fleet, their angry family didn’t have much chance to catch them up before the deed was done.

The Act introduced three distinct changes to marriage law. Couples had to marry in a church, and secondly, they had to be 21 to marry without the written consent of their parents, and lastly they had to give notice of their marriage, so bans would be read in parishes, to ensure both couples were eligible for marriage.

In a rush to beat the deadline for the new law 217 marriages took place in and around the Fleet Prison on 25th March 1754. But the law only changed in England, and once it had, so Gretna Green came into its own. As Gretna was the first place people reached when they came over the eastern Scottish border, this was the place couples wishing to marry without parental consent started rushing up to. Scottish marriages were recognised in England, and Scottish law still allowed anyone over sixteen to marry, just with a statement before witnesses.

GG 3Therefore anyone could set themselves up as the person to host marriages, and many people did in Gretna, to satisfy demand. Including the ironmonger, at the forge I went to. The museum had records of thousands of marriages, and details of the history of some of those who undertook marriages there.  And here’s a picture of the anvil the ironmonger used.

The ironmonger ‘the anvil priest’ is believed to be the most remembered because of the symbolism of metal being forged together, as two people might be in marriage, and a mystical element grew up around this. There were letters there, written to the ironmonger of Gretna, mostly by women, asking for good luck in winning the man they chose, or advice, or even asking him to help plot their elopement.

GG 4An artist eloped with the daughter of a friend he’d been staying with in Carlisle, in the early 1800s. And later he painted pictures of his experience, they were the most telling thing for me. There was an image of their hurried coach ride.  Then one of the couple arriving at the ironmonger’s forge, standing on a mud track outside as he walked out with his leather apron on, wiping his hands. They merely stood before the man in the squat old building as they made their declaration and he declared them  forged together in marriage, and then banged his anvil to declare it. There weren’t a lot of houses around the forge, and no one else there, just the ironmonger and his family. When her father arrived the couple are merely walking back and the ironmonger is turning his back and leaving the couple to it.

So that’s the experience of a couple visiting Gretna Green, until in 1856, when the cooling off Act was introduced and Scottish marriages only became recognised in England when one of the marriage parties had been born in Scotland, or had resided there for 21 days.  And that was the end of the booming marriage trade in Gretna Green…

More of Harriette’s story at the weekend.

Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional love stories.

See the side bar for details of Jane’s books, and Jane’s website to learn more about Jane. Or click  ‘like’ on Jane’s Facebook  page to see photo’s and learn historical facts from the Georgian, Regency and Victorian eras, which Jane publishes there. You can also follow Jane on twitter at @janelark


The Regency courtesan, Harriette Wilson’s arrival at the Marquis of Worcester’s love nest

Harriette_Wilson00The way Harriette Wilson speaks of her agreement with Lord Worcester is poles apart from how she told her love story when she wrote about Lord Ponsonby. But his affection for her bleeds from her words, while her own affection seems to be only a shallow liking and perhaps gratitude (or gloating) for his adoring behaviour.

But before I progress, as usual, for anyone joining this series of posts today let me do a quick recap on the history, and if you’ve read it before, please skip to the end of the italics.

In 1825 Harriette Wilson, a courtesan, published a series of stories as her memoirs in a British broad sheet paper. The Regency gentleman’s clubs were a buzz, waiting to see the next names mentioned each week. While barriers had to be set up outside the shop of her publisher, Stockdale, to hold back the disapproving mob.

Harriette was born Harriette Debochet, she chose the name Harriette Wilson as her professional name, in the same way Emma Hart, who I’ve blogged about previously, had changed her name. Unlike Emma, it isn’t known why or when Harriette changed her name.

She was one of nine surviving children. Her father was a watchmaker and her mother a stocking repairer, and both were believed to be from illegitimate origin.

Three of Harriette’s sisters also became courtesans. Amy, Fanny and Sophia (who I have written about before). So the tales I am about to begin in my blogs will include some elements from their lives too.

For a start you’ll need to understand the world of the 19th Century Courtesan. It was all about show and not just about sex. The idle rich of the upper class aspired to spending time in the company of courtesans, it was fashionable, the thing to do.

You were envied if you were linked to one of the most popular courtesans or you discovered a new unknown beauty to be admired by others.

Courtesans were also part of the competitive nature of the regency period too, gambling was a large element of the life of the idle rich and courtesans were won and lost and bartered and fought for.

So courtesans obviously aspired to be one of the most popular, and to achieve it they learnt how to play music, read widely, so they could debate, and tried to shine in personality too. They wanted to be a favoured ’original’.

The eccentric and outspoken was admired by gentlemen who liked to consort with boxers and jockeys, and coachmen, so courtesans did not aim for placid but were quite happy to insult and mock men who courted them, and demand money for any small favour.

Harriette had a two-day journey from London to her new love nest in Brighton. But in his dedicated style of romantic hero, unlike her other lovers, Lord Worcester did not await her arrival; instead he rode out to meet her carriage. Unlike the view Jane Austen gave the Bennets in Pride and Prejudice, when Harriette sees a young man in uniform riding up the road, she is not impressed ‘A gentleman always looks so much better in plain clothes.’ But she had forgotten that Worcester’s purpose for being in Brighton was to join the regiment.

She describes the young Marquis as blushing and bowing by the side of her carriage as he welcomes her, and explains that he has a servant readying the new house he has rented for her in Rock Gardens.

Again here she stirs up my suspicions over her interest in the young wealthy future duke. I still believe she’s busy picturing her happy ever after.

She says, when they arrive, the servant has readied the house with such a desire for her comfort, that she could have been the Duchess’s chosen daughter-in-law, and then only two paragraphs below, when she complains about the servants, she describes herself as having, ‘very unmarchionesslike humility’ then adds, ‘but then I never set up for anything at all like a woman of rank.’ – again, I think she doth protest too much.

She describes their first night together in a lot of detail, and once more Worcester is passive and charming. She says when his servant leaves them alone downstairs, Lord Worcester holds her hand to his lips and then his heart, and cries over the fact he has finally won her, then offers not to invade her bed that night, but to let her sleep alone to recover from her journey; offering to sleep on the servants’ bed in his dressing room.

Harriette accepts the chance of escape, again showing her lack of any deep feeling when she says, ‘At present everything is a little strange here, therefore, if I am a little melancholy, you must not, my dear Worcester fancy it proceeds from want of regard for you.’  (Protesting too much again).

However after sharing a very pleasant dinner with him, when he walks her so charmingly up to her room, she declares herself regretting her decision not to take him to bed, and in the style of jolly, scheming, teasing and confident Harriette, she says, ‘Do you think there are any ghosts in this part of the world?’ Hoping the young Marquis will offer to keep her company and safe, by sharing her bed. But the innocent young man does not pick up her hint, and merely declares himself only a bell pull away 😀

Next week I’ll share just how Harriette settles into life as the mistress of a young member of the regiment…

Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional love stories.

See the side bar for details of Jane’s books, and Jane’s website to learn more about Jane. Or click  ‘like’ on Jane’s Facebook  page to see photo’s and learn historical facts from the Georgian, Regency and Victorian eras, which Jane publishes there. You can also follow Jane on twitter at @janelark