This week, I’m working on a chapter where two characters who have eloped marry at Gretna Green in Scotland.
In Regency England, there were several formalities that had to take place and there were a number of rules in place.
As per the Church’s rules, marriages had to take place in the church of the parish where one or both of the marrying persons resided.
The banns had to be read on three consecutive Sundays, during which it would be publicly announced that the couple was planning to marry, after which any objections regarding the matter could then be brought up with the priest (essentially similar to the “speak now or forever hold your peace” line common today). After the third reading of the banns, the couple would have ninety days to finalize any pertinent arrangements and marry. If they failed to do so within this timeframe, the process would have to be read again.
Couples also had the option of obtaining a license if they were able to pay the fees that came with doing so. There other stipulations that had to be met, depending on if it were a Common or Special license.
However, if the couple did not want to or could not have the banns read or pay for a license, they do as Pride and Prejudice’s Lydia and Wickham and Mansfield Park’s Julia and Mr. Yates did and travel to the infamous Scottish village of Gretna Green.
Scotland had different laws than England when it came to marriage. All that was needed was vows. Couples did not even need to wed in a church! It was quite common for elopers to be married by a “Blacksmith Priest“, hence the colloquial phrase Marrying Over the Anvil.
In the case my WIP, my protagonists elope to Scotland because of disapproval from the groom’s father.
While the scene is a melancholy one, since neither he nor his bride have their families with them and their witnesses are strangers in a blacksmith’s shop, it’s a scene I’ve been eager to write since I started working on the project and what better way to get in the mood than listening to some Gaelic and Celtic music!
I love listening to this stuff in general and even devoted an entire broadcast of my radio show to it every March when I was in college.
One of my favorite songs is Loch Lommond.
The vast majority of recordings I have listened to are pretty upbeat and chipper. However, a closer look at the lyrics make this melody feel a little bit off:
“The wee birdies sing and the wildflowers sing,
And in sunshine the waters are sleeping
But the broken heart it kens, nae second spring again,
Though the woeful may cease from their grieving.
O you take the high road and I’ll take the low road
And I’ll be in Scotland afore ye,
But me and my true love will never meet again
On the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.”
It’s actually very somber.
There are several interpretations out there, but most are connected to the Jacobite Uprising of 1745. One suggests it is sung by the lover of a captured Jacobite rebel facing execution. According to Wikipedia’s article, “The heads of the executed rebels were then set upon pikes and exhibited in all of the towns between London and Edinburgh in a procession along the “high road” (the most important road), while the relatives of the rebels walked back along the “low road” (the ordinary road traveled by peasants and commoners).”
A similar perspective is that the song is not in the voice of a lover, but two brothers or close friends. After the 1745 rising, The Hanoverian British victors had a reputation for playing cruel games with captured Jacobites, and the pair is told one of them will live while the other is killed~and the choice is left to them. This gives the chorus a whole new meaning, as its speaker is saying he will sacrifice himself to save the other.
Thus, it makes no sense for this song to be performed as a jaunty ditty as it so often is, and why Peter Hollens’s version is my absolute favorite. There is an appropriate solemness that brings these interpretations and others to life and evokes the true depth of its emotion.
It’s even more impressive because he does all of the vocals himself!
You might recognize it, since it went viral some time ago. I’ve liked Peter Hollens for a while, and I’m so glad to see him get him the recognition he deserves.
He also released it as a duet with none other than David Archuleta, which is also great!
Do you have any favorite Celtic pieces? Let me know in the comments below!