As my characters share their stories in unfolding pages of manuscripts, I am constantly reminded our choices are defined by the times we live. Whether we rebel or embrace the social expectations and laws creating the fences of our experience, they do create the landscape. Weddings are included.
In Jane Austen’s England, weddings were becoming less private, stretching beyond family affairs that acknowledged legal agreements to enhance wealth, status, or land-holdings. With Lord Byron fueling the fires, love was being introduced as a reason for couples to get married. Romance and bridal veils were the mark of a rebellious bride.
The fence surrounding most weddings 200 years ago required couples to be married by a clergyman in their parish church between 8:00 a.m. and noon after their marriage plans were announced three Sundays in a row. This “reading of the banns” was most typical, but a common license was allowed if one had the money and status to get the signed papers from a bishop or archbishop. Then the wedding could take place in the church the bride or groom had attended for four weeks.
Breaking outside the acceptable was possible, but like any rebellious act, it left the couple under a cloud of disapproval, leaving many to wonder if the bride had been ruined before the wedding. Special licenses could be purchased from the Archbishop of Canterbury. This allowed a couple to marry any time or any place, though they still had to have two witnesses and be 21 years old or have written permission by their parents.
The very defiant and daring, or desperate, could elope to Scotland where anyone over 16 could marry without parental approval. With nothing more than two witnesses, anyone could conduct the ceremony. It took several uncomfortable days of travel on the Great North Road out of London, but the trip to Gretna Green offered adventure, especially if the couple was pursued by families trying to stop them.
Next week, I’ll be away from my computer, attending a wedding that has blossomed faster than a rose watered with Miracle-Gro. I haven’t learned where it will be or how it will look, but I do know it’s all about love and joy. It’s sure to be a ceremony that will reflect the choices of our time.
Notes along the way... Jeanne McElvaney
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