I’m sure I’m not the only one thinking that one of the most exciting and enjoyable things about writing a new book is the plotting and the squirreling of information. I won’t call it research; it’s a lot more fun than that. It’s hopping from website to website because I start looking for something and then I’m drawn to new and exciting titbits that have precious little to do with what I’m looking for, but they’re still irresistible. It’s the leafing through new and old books to discover customs, legends and a touch of historical detail that make the story more real and more believable. That’s how I come across all sorts of things I never knew, and I thought you might like to hear about some of them too.
For instance I never knew (did you?) that for many years Derbyshire folk didn’t have to spend all that time and money rushing all the way to Gretna Green. Instead they and people from other corners of England could (and did) travel in droves to the little village of Peak Forest in the Derbyshire White Peak. And all that because the Honourable Christian (sic) Bruce married William, the second Earl of Devonshire. (*)
Christian, Countess of Devonshire was deeply devoted to her religion and her king. So much so that in 1657, some thirty years after her husband’s death, the Dowager defied the law forbidding the building of churches and had a small chapel erected in Peak Forest. She even went one step further and dedicated it to Charles I, King and Martyr, although the country was still controlled by the Parliamentarians (or Roundheads).
The Roundheads were very fond of forbidding things that were fun. They were the Grinches that banned Christmas, forbade games and drinking, banned theatrical performances and holidays (because they were said to be ‘giving liberty to carnal and sensual delights’) and even banned church weddings. Whoever wanted to get married had to do so in front of their local justice of peace.
Eventually Charles II was restored to the throne and the puritanical excesses came to a jolly end. But St Charles’ in the Peak still stood and, falling outside the law, the chapel and its ministers were answerable to no one. Marriages could be almost instantaneous, without the necessary banns being read, and the little chapel became so popular that a separate register had to be kept for all the ‘foreign marriages’ (i.e. between people from outside the village).
Despite the Hardwicke Act of 1753, the practice continued till around 1804, when a special Act of Parliament was passed, then in 1876 the chapel was demolished (yet another reason I’m not so very fond of the Victorians) and replaced with the present church.
A pity that in 1804 Elizabeth Bennet was not of marriageable age (the Chapman calendar makes her 13). Georgiana Darcy would have been 8. Even if the Gretna Green of the Peak was still an option in 1812, I imagine both the master of Pemberley and a wily rogue like Wickham would have opted for an ironclad marriage that couldn’t be challenged or annulled. So, to be on the safe side, the Chapel of the Peak won’t make its way into my upcoming book, but other little squirreled details will.
On this note, I can’t help thinking that at some point or another all of us JAFF authors might be tempted to write an early-marriage scenario. It’s almost like a rite of passage, probably because it’s so poignant to imagine our favourite characters living together before they’ve learned how, and before they realise just how deeply they love each other (or rather before Elizabeth fully ‘gets it’).
As I might have mentioned already, I finally gave in to that temptation, so my upcoming book is an early-marriage scenario. For that reason, among other things, I really really needed to know if there were any Church of England restrictions regarding getting married around Easter. Apparently there are. English common law forbids marriages between Rogation Sunday and Trinity Sunday (i.e. no weddings from 36 to 50 days after Easter; they could only be scheduled in this interval with special dispensation). I also discovered there were church restrictions regarding weddings on 19 March (St Joseph’s Day) and 17 December (considered unlucky).
Then, if we start looking into popular superstitions rather than actual restrictions, there’s more than enough of them as well. The month of May as a whole was considered inauspicious, as was the second part of the week:
“Monday for wealth, Tuesday for health, Wednesday is the best day of all,
Thursday for crosses, Friday for losses, Saturday for no luck at all.”
April wasn’t considered a good idea either:
“Married beneath April’s changing skies, a chequered path before you lies.”
As luck would have it, in my next book our favourite characters do marry in April.
Which is fair enough, I think. After all, what’s JAFF without a chequered path for Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet?
Any words of wisdom about weddings in your neck of the woods?
(*)Jill Armitage, ‘Romantic Haunts of Derbyshire’, The History Press, Stroud, Gloucestershire 2008