Married by the Blacksmith?
Under the early marriage laws of Scotland, there were multiple ways of marrying. In addition to marrying before a cleric, Scotland allowed for irregular and common-law marriages. These had some interesting influences.
Traditional common-law marriage was allowed under the law. This occurred under two circumstances: “Cohabitation and repute.” First, the couple had to cohabitate (live under the same roof). They also needed to indicate to others that they were living as man and wife. This type of marriage was not abolished until the Family Law (Scotland) Act in 2006.
Another type of irregular marriage was created by mutual agreement. The couple simply decided that they would be married, and they were recognized as such under the law. Lastly, a couple could marry by making a public promise, then consummating the marriage. The promise needed to be made before a citizen.
Because of their lax marriage laws in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, many English couples crossed the border to marry in Scotland. The 1753 passage of the marriage act required parents’ consent if a party to the marriage was under the age of 21. The age of consent in Scotland, however, was 14 for boys and 12 for girls.
Gretna Green was the first village in Scotland on the main route from England to Scotland on the west coast. Many English couples eloped to Gretna Green to escape the restrictions on their marriage in England. Thus the term “Gretna Green marriage” came into use for a marriage occurring outside the jurisdiction where the parties resided, to avoid restrictions on the marriage. Irish couples also took advantage of Scotland’s laws. Even today, Gretna Green is one of the busiest places for marriage.
As previously mentioned, one requirement of the marriage was that it be witnessed by a citizen. Those who practiced the trade of blacksmith were citizens in Scotland. Because they were easily recognized in the village (as they could usually be found near their forge), English couple would often head for the village blacksmith to get married.
In 1856 the law was changed to require residence in Scotland for 21 days prior to the marriage. This made it much more difficult, but not impossible, for eloping couples. In 1929 the age of consent was raised to 16. These last two types of marriages were abolished by the Marriage (Scotland) Act of 1939. This took effect 1 January 1940. In 1977 the residency requirement was abolished.
If you are having difficulty finding a marriage record for your ancestors in England or Ireland, you may wish to check the border towns in Scotland. Perhaps they are hiding there, and it would give you a great new outlook on the couple.