Gretna Green

Love will always find a way.

When I was a young boy in North Carolina I became aware that young couples would sometimes make a mad dash for South Carolina and get married there.  It was a runaway marriage or elopement, referring to a marriage conducted in sudden and secretive fashion.  Usually it involved a hurried flight away from one’s place of residence together with one’s beloved with the intention of getting married without parental approval.  Sometimes it was done simply to avoid the hurly burly and expense of a formal church wedding. At that time marriage laws were much less restrictive in South Carolina. 

Many of you who are familiar with the works of Jane Austen read of a place called Gretna Green.  Remember, when the Bennett’s youngest daughter Lydia disappeared, it was thought that she might have run off to Gretna Green with Wickham.  Perhaps you wondered at its significance.

In the middle of the 18th-century England approved new laws that tightened marriage arrangements. Couples had to reach the age of 21 before they could marry without their parents’ consent, and their marriage had to take place in a church.

Scottish law, however, was different: you could marry immediately in a simple marriage ceremony that only required two witnesses and assurances from the couple that they were both free to marry.

With such a relaxed arrangement within easy reach of England, it soon led to thousands of young couples running over the border to marry. Gretna Green was the first village in Scotland and conveniently situated on the main route from London into Scotland.  “Gretna Green marriages” became part of the dictionary.

Laws may change.  Human nature and conduct always remain the same.

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