Gretna Green: The Jane Austen connection

Arriving in Scotland after hours on a tour bus, I was a sweaty and harried mess — and desperate for both the loo and WiFi. I had no idea that our “comfort stop” would be in Gretna Green, a town famous for its clandestine marriages and elopements for centuries.

I recognized the name instantly from Jane Austen’s classic Pride & Prejudice; it’s the town to which Lydia and Wickham were believed to have been headed in an effort to “seal the deal” and marriage in secret. As the Jane Austen Centre points out, eloping in Austen’s day was anything but romantic — and would only lead to scandal and heartbreak for the families of the “fallen” woman who would agree to or be coerced into such a terrible thing.

Gretna Green first gained its reputation for quick marriages for underage lovers when, in 1754, England passed a law “requiring all marriages to be recognized by the church and that couples under 21 have parental consent,” the Centre writes. “Scotland was more liberal at the time; couples as young as sixteen could marry freely simply by having their marriage proclaimed in front of two witnesses, no clergy needed at all. This caused a veritable stampede of anxious young lovers, spurring on their horses only as far as the first town across the Scottish border, where they could marry safely and consummate their unions with a clear conscience.”

And y’all know teenagers are all about consummating their unions.

Wickham never had any intention of marrying poor, naive and ridiculous Lydia, though; the guy was a schemer and a jerk (though totally hot, especially in that uniform). Though they did eventually marry, eloping was seen as a bad omen for the start of wedlock: a union not blessed by a member of the clergy had no bearing, regardless of whether or not it was “legal.” And goodness knows the Bennets were none to pleased with the arrangements, though at least Lydia was married and not just living in sin with the guy.

Today, the Old Blacksmith’s Shop still stands to welcome those wishing to marry without delay — and a bevy of shops and a Scottish bagpiper are accommodating to visitors, too. As we wandered through the stores (and may or may not have purchased a few flasks of Scotch Whisky), the Blacksmith’s Shop began to buzz with the entrance of a bride and groom. We didn’t get to stay for the wedding, but we did hear a few traditional songs on the bagpipes — and I snapped tons of photos.

A lovely little place and a worthwhile stop. I can see why Lydia would have wanted to make haste to seal her union with Wickham . . . I mean, let’s be honest: Darcy is brooding and unexpectedly kind, but Wickham was the real roguish hottie in P&P. You can’t fight danger and intrigue!