Gretna Green of the Peak or ‘Did You Know That about Derbyshire?’

Gretna Green of the Peak or ‘Did You Know That about Derbyshire?’

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





33 Responses to Gretna Green of the Peak or ‘Did You Know That about Derbyshire?’

  1. Joana…most excellent post. I loved the progressive artwork of the hasty marriage…the away…the arrival…and the fait accompli. I assume that was her father or guardian. I had no idea of the many restrictions on marriage. I can’t wait to see your new work. Blessings as you work toward the launch. JWG

    • So glad you liked it, Jeanne! Yes, the artwork says it all, doesn’t it 🙂 The fait accompli is so sweet, and the dad/guardian looks quite reconciled to the idea. I guess he’d have to be, not much point in cracking the groom’s skull with the riding crop NOW 😀
      Thanks ever so much for the good wishes!! I hope you’ll like the new story too. All the best,

  2. Fascinating post, Joana! Thank you so much for sharing all of these interesting tidbits. I have an 1820 Book of Common Prayer, so if there’s anything you need me to check in there, let me know. I don’t think things would have changed too much from whenever your early marriage takes place.

  3. Thank you for sharing. A variation could occur a decade earlier with every one older than canon. The published version is a revision of the earlier work with s different name,

    • Thanks, Donna. Oh yes, we can play with their ages as well as with everything else and that’s such a great point, that First Impressions was a 1790s novel. Plenty of time for them to get to marriageable age by 1804 🙂

  4. This is a wonderful post. I loved learning all of these customs, laws and traditions! I completely understand how you feel about the “research” process too. I could spend my whole life online, lol!!

    Best of all, I can’t wait to see how these details fit into your next book… Oh, every time I know you have a new book in the works I get sooo excited! Who doesn’t, lol?

    • Thanks ever so much, Claudine, for the encouragement with the new book, you’re so kind!!!!! Digging up details about JA’s time is so addictive, isn’t it? It’s always so tempting to keep going from link to link. Gretna of the Peak is on www too (everything is 🙂 ) but I first came across it in a book I bought in Derbyshire last June (HUGE warehouse on the outskirts of Buxton, stayed there for hours and left with an armload, as you do 😉 ). I found all sorts of fascinating stories in that book, lovers vows, wedding customs, angry ghosts. Goodness knows what weird ideas it’s going to give me 😀

    • It really was, Caitlin. What’s the point of artistic licence if we can’t have fun with it? 😉 I’m just puzzled why people were still going all the way to Gretna if the Peak was an option. Maybe it was better known locally than to, say, people from the South? They worried that it might still somehow fall under English jurisdiction? It does sound like something I’d love to play about with one day. Thanks for the lovely comment and happy writing, can’t wait to see what comes after ‘The Coming of Age’!!!

  5. Joana thank you for the history info. I have a question. In the picture below your writing it shows Elizabeth & Darcy’s wedding. On my DVD it didn’t show their wedding! Did I get gipped? Where did you find that picture?

  6. I do know that in the Lutheran Church marriages are forbidden during Advent and Lent, so no Christmas or Valentine’s Day weddings for you. I wondered about the other Liturgical Churches as I could see that during the Church Year there would be times when wedding would be considered inappropriate.

    • Yes, I heard about that too, which is why I wanted to check. Still not sure I found all the restrictions but thank goodness for Google 🙂
      Thanks for stopping by to read the post and comment!

  7. Joanna, I am so excited to hear that your new book will have an early-marriage! I love reading these and watching them grow up together. And I know that in your capable hands it will be a wonderful story!

  8. Interested in more about the Chapel in the Peaks especially its history after 1754. I wonder how strict the church was in enforcing those days when marriage was in or out ( as one almanac had it) . Probably left it up to the clergyman concerned. Interesting post.

    • I do wonder about that too. I could only find that it was built as a private chapel, outside of a bishop’s jurisdiction and that the loophole was firmly closed in 1804, with a special Act of Parliament ( ). Can’t quite figure out why people were still going to Gretna Green of the Chapel in the Peak was an option. Maybe the legality of the Gretna Green marriages was a lot less open to interpretation. Hope you can find more details. I’d love to hear them if you do!

  9. I love reading about the Commonwealth and Restoration period (Horrible History’s Charles II rap is now playing in my head). Very interesting stuff!

    I’m from a multicultural background and have coped with a lot of different marriage traditions, but the only “rule” my family insisted on when I was married was that the wedding couldn’t be on a Saturday because in Judaism there’s no marriage on the Sabbath. Even though I wasn’t married by a rabbi. It was either go along with tradition or be boycotted.

    Great post!

    • I love Horrible History!!! Did you get to hear their ‘Four Georges’ song? Hysterical 😀 So glad you liked the post and thanks for sharing traditions, they’re so fascinating. Especially when it turns out that several cultures have traditions springing from the same long-lost nugget. No idea what’s the nugget behind ‘Saturday for no luck at all’, but looks like those guys 200 years ago weren’t in favour of Saturday marriages either. I wonder why… There must be some site somewhere telling us all about it. I’ll store it in my ‘squirrel store’ when/if I find it 🙂 Thanks for reading & for the lovely comment!

  10. Joana, This was so fascinating. You always come up with the most intriguing pieces. There are so many great tidbits here. Those Roundheads sound like a jolly lot. I can’t wait to read your new WIP. It should be very unusual. Thank you for this lovely post.

    • So glad you liked it, Barbara!! LOL I really can’t figure out how the Roundheads got away with it, so much bigotry really boggles the mind. You’re so kind about my new book, thanks!! Not sure how unusual it’ll be, there’s loads and loads of books about them getting married before they’re both head over heels in love, but they’re such fun to read and also such fun to write. Thanks for the wonderful comment and happy writing 🙂

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