My sister was married “over the anvil” last week. As this is probably unclear to anyone who doesn’t read Regency romances, it means that she was married in a blacksmith’s shop in Gretna Green, Scotland. Gretna Green is located just over the border from England, and its blacksmith’s shop has been a favorite place for elopements for centuries. Today, one can get there from London in less than six hours using the M1 and M6 motorways. As my sister and her new husband live in Carlisle, it’s literally just across the border, less than ten miles away.
One reason to elope is to have a simple, no-fuss, inexpensive wedding. A second reason is to avoid local legal requirements. There are a couple of places in the United States that fulfill the same function as Gretna Green: Las Vegas, Nevada, and Elkton, Maryland. Elkton is where Interstate 95 (the main north-south East Coast highway) crosses from Delaware into Maryland. Marion Zimmer and Robert Bradley eloped there from New York in 1949 (she was 19, but the age of majority was 21 rather than 18 back then), and one of my classmates eloped from Richmond when we were in college (I think his bride was too young to marry in Virginia). Nevada is another state where getting married is easy: no waiting period and no blood tests. Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon married there, but I believe it was because it was a central location for their families (it was a fun wedding, too).
In England, with its established church, the laws governing marriage during the Regency period were similar to the requirements still in use in the Church of England today. In order to be married in church you must either have the banns read in your parish or parishes on three Sundays before the wedding (which means that everyone is going to know about your plans, and if the groom has an insane wife locked up in the attic, someone can tell the vicar before the ceremony--Jane Eyre might have appreciated that), or you must get a license, which can be expensive and is not automatically granted. Scotland, on the other hand, had Marriage by Declaration until 1939. No banns, no waiting period; all a couple had to do was stand up in front of two witnesses and declare their intent to be married.
Actually, getting married in the church is more difficult now than it was in the early 1800s. In addition to the banns or a license (or in America, the banns and a license), the church also requires pre-marital counseling. (Now that the state allows you to get divorced, the church wants to be sure you won’t.) Depending on the church, a couple may have to produce baptismal certificates, go through interviews with the priest in addition to the standard classes, and even produce friends to be interviewed about the state of the relationship. Between that and the dresses/tuxedos, music, flowers, photos, videos, finding a venue for the reception, arranging seating so that feuding family and friends are kept separated...you know, elopement may be the way to go after all.