Elopement--Regency Style
by Shana Galen

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.

Check out an except at my website. While you're there, enter to win a signed copy of BLACKTHORNE'S BRIDE.


Anonymous Anonymous said:


Exactly how long did the trip to GG take way back when? In most of the stories I've read, it seems like a long, cold, miserable road trip!!


10:13 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

Can't wait to read the new book! What a fun story to have researched.


12:00 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

I think I'd rather take a coach ride up to Scotland than a boat in uncertain weather to Guernsey. I wouldn't fancy marrying someone after the one or the other had been sea sick.

12:07 PM  

Blogger ShanaGalen said:


It depends how much of a hurry you were in, but I think London to Gretna took at least 3 days and probably more like 4. There had to be a lot of stops to change horses.

Shana Galen

5:25 PM  

Anonymous Jo Anne said:

Loved BLACKTHORNE'S BRIDE, Shana. You made that particular trip to Gretna VERY exciting. Thanks for the fun read!
Jo Anne

7:15 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

Fun history, Shana. Thanks for sharing!

TJ Bennett

12:24 PM  

Blogger Kimberly Frost said:


Thanks for the wonderful entry. I just finished reading Good Groom Hunting and Sophie Jordan's Once Upon A Wedding Night back to back and enjoyed both. (In Sophie's book, the lovers go to Gretna Green to elope as well.)

As a reader, it's nice to have the additional bit of historical context. Thanks again!

12:29 PM  

Blogger Camilla Bartley said:

This comment has been removed by the author.

10:31 PM  

Blogger Camilla Bartley said:

According to my research, in the Regency era, "a Gretna Green elopement from London meant four days posting day and night."

I found this later ancedote: "The circumstances of the elopement of Lady Rose Somerset daughter of the seventh Duke of Beaufort in 1846, with Captain Francis Lovell, show that the old hazards were passing. They took railway tickets, and so, without foam flecked horses or anxious post boys came to Gretna."

10:34 PM  

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