Wanting to spare the heroine from an arranged marriage to an ogre, the hero suggests that he marries her and they elope. The heroine agrees, since she has had a tendre for the hero since she was a schoolgirl. Unfortunately, the 1754 Hardwick Marriage Act has stiffened the laws of marriage. The heroine hasn’t yet reached her majority and they can’t take the time to obtain a special license in London. Waiting for the banns to be called is out of the question, as that will take three weeks and the parents and ogre suitor will catch up with them long before then, even if they can obtain parental permission for the under age—under twenty-one—heroine. Their only alternative is to elope to Gretna Green in Scotland.
Unfortunately again, Scotland is close to four hundred miles away. They must hire a post chase or go on horseback and, because the journey will likely take more than a week to accomplish, they will have to stay overnight before they are married, unacceptable to these two proper—other than eloping—young people. The situation appears hopeless.
Except it isn’t. The hero has some friends amongst the fishermen who have told him about carrying an eloping couple to an alternative marriage location.
In approximately fifteen hours of sailing,
the eloping couple can reach one of the Channel Islands, mainly the Island of Guernsey. Evidence presents us with the knowledge that boats waited at Southampton, Hampshire, to carry eloping couples across the channel. Logic says Plymouth, Falmouth, and a few other southern ports just might have provided the same service.
Guernsey is closer to France than England. Although it belongs to England, many of the laws differ from those of England. The marriage laws are one of those even today.
So many couples eloped to Guernsey that tracking the history of residents of the island has proven difficult, for distinguishing those who simply arrived in St. Peter Port to get married in haste, from those who lived on the island and married in the same parish, isn’t easy two hundred years later. Genealogists have focused on whether or not couples later baptized their children in that same parish in order to trace ancestry to Guernsey.
Nowadays, one does not need a license to marry in a Church of England ceremony on Guernsey. One does need a license for a civil ceremony on Guernsey.
So if your couple finds themselves hundreds of miles from Gretna Green, they can hop onto a fishing boat, or perhaps the hero’s yacht, and sail across the Narrow Sea to a channel island. First, however, he might wish to ensure that the heroine doesn’t get seasick on the way.
Laurie Alice Eakes