Scottish Marriages and Elopements in the Regency Era

Those of us who read and write Regency novels have all heard of elopements to Gretna Green. Harking back to 1754 and the introduction of a new controversial Marriage Act in England, Gretna Green flourished as a haven for runaway couples. It even receives mentions in not just 1 but amazingly 3 of Jane Austen novels, Pride & Prejudice, Sense & Sensibility and Mansfield Park.

“MY DEAR HARRIET, You will laugh when you know where I am gone, and I cannot help laughing myself at your surprise to-morrow morning, as soon as I am missed. I am going to Gretna Green, and if you cannot guess with who, I shall think you a simpleton, for there is but one man in the world I love, and he is an angel.” – Lydia Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 47

From Austenonly, we learn, “References to Scotland in Jane Austen’s adult works are few, but she did  make use of the different marriage laws in Scotland in three of her novels: Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park. In Sense and Sensibility, Colonel Brandon had planned to elope to Gretna with his poor Eliza but was thwarted at the last minute by the folly of her maid exposing their plans. In Pride and Prejudice Wickham planned to elope with Georgiana Darcy to Gretna Green, but his dastardly plan was foiled by Georgiana’s confession to Darcy before they could set out on the road. Quite typically he had no such plans to take Lydia Bennet there, though she was initially under the misapprehension that Gretna was to be their final destination. In Mansfield Park, Julia Bertram and Mr Yates run off to Gretna to be married amid the turmoil of the adulterous goings on between Maria Rushworth and Mr Crawford.

Why Gretna Green? Gretna, or Scotland as Jane Austen mostly wrote when she used the term in her novels, was, in the late 18th Century a place where couples thwarted in their plans to marry legally in England and Wales could resort, in order to marry legally without parental consent. From the implementation of the Clandestine Marriages Act of 1753, it was impossible for anyone under the age of 21 years age to legally marry without their parents ( or guardians) consent.”

We must remember that Scotland is approximately 320 miles from London. The main thoroughfare from London to Edinburgh followed the Great North Road or a series of turnpike roads on the western side of the country. The journey was not an easy one. The average carriage travelled between 5-7 miles per hour––that is not accounting for poor weather, tolls, meals, changing out the horses, etc. Even traveling 12 hours per day, it would take a couple some 4 days to reach Scotland, more than likely 5 days. Do not forget that many times irate family members were in hot pursuit.

 But Gretna Green was not the only place for elopements in Scotland. The Great North Road took couples to Scotland via Northumberland. Lamberton, Berwickshire, Scotland, for example, is 4 miles north of Berwick-upon-Tweed in Northumberland. The now demolished Old Toll House at Lamberton, situated just across the border in Scotland, was notorious for its irregular marriages. From 1798 to 1858 keepers of the Toll, as well as questionable men-of-the-cloth, married couples in a hurry to escape relations.

Paxton, Berwickshire, Scotland, lies 1 mile west of the border with Northumberland, Berwick-upon-Tweed. Mordington, another Scottish village, was 5 miles from Northumberland. It is said that many chose to be married by the toll keepers of these two border towns.


Marriage and Toll House at Coldstream Bridge on the Scottish side of the border

Sometimes the couple chose to cross the Coldstream Bridge, which links Cornhill-on-Tweed, Northumberland, to Coldstream, a civil parish in the Scottish Borders area of Scotland. Much like Gretna Green, it was a popular centre for runaway marriages. As with the other towns mentioned, couples were joined in marriage at the toll house.

Who performed these marriages? The simple answer is: anyone who wanted to do so. Declaring one’s vows to live together before witnesses could constitute a binding marriage. One did not require a clergyman to be deemed a wedded couple. These ceremonies would also provide a certificate as proof of the marriage, for when the couple returned home.

Irregular Scottish marriages simply required the couple’s agreement and witnesses to the act to be legal. A couple could publicly promise to abide in marriage, which could be followed by consummation as proof or simply by cohabitation with repute. Any citizen could witness a public promise. The idea of “marrying over the anvil” in the legend of Gretna Green came about by the blacksmith being one of the first building encountered by the couple seeking a Scottish marriage in the village, and the blacksmith was a “citizen.” A marriage of “cohabitation with repute” was an old style of common-law marriage.

MDF eBook Cover Introducing MR. DARCY’S BRIDEs

I much prefer the sharpest criticism of a single intelligent man to the thoughtless approval of the masses.

ELIZABETH BENNET is determined that she will put a stop to her mother’s plans to marry off the eldest Bennet daughter to Mr. Collins, the Longbourn heir, but a man that Mr. Bennet considers an annoying dimwit. Hence, Elizabeth disguises herself as Jane and repeats her vows to the supercilious rector as if she is her sister, thereby voiding the nuptials and saving Jane from a life of drudgery. Yet, even the “best laid plans” can often go awry.

FITZWILLIAM DARCY is desperate to find a woman who will assist him in leading his sister back to Society after Georgiana’s failed elopement with Darcy’s old enemy George Wickham. He is so desperate that he agrees to Lady Catherine De Bourgh’s suggestion that Darcy marry her ladyship’s “sickly” daughter Anne. Unfortunately, as he waits for his bride to join him at the altar, he realizes he has made a terrible error in judgement, but there is no means to right the wrong without ruining his cousin’s reputation. Yet, even as he weighs his options, the touch of “Anne’s” hand upon his sends an unusual “zing” of awareness shooting up Darcy’s arm. It is only when he realizes the “zing” has arrived at the hand of a stranger, who has disrupted his nuptials, that he breathes both a sigh of relief and a groan of frustration, for the question remains: Is Darcy’s marriage to the woman legal?

What if Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet met under different circumstances than those we know from Jane Austen’s classic tale: Circumstances that did not include the voices of vanity and pride and prejudice and doubt that we find in the original story? Their road to happily ever after may not, even then, be an easy one, but with the expectations of others removed from their relationship, can they learn to trust each other long enough to carve out a path to true happiness?

Excerpt from Chapter 11 of MR. DARCY’S BRIDEs.

Darcy handed her down from the let carriage before a small inn. They were a little less than three hours removed from Allard’s estate, but he had noticed how with each mile of the journey, Elizabeth’s shoulders had relaxed a bit more.

Their return to the manor house had been executed in relative silence. As he walked beside her, Darcy’s mind had reviewed all his interactions with Allard and how he had failed to notice the weaknesses in the man’s business aplomb before arriving on the man’s threshold. Thankfully, Elizabeth had not attempted to tease or cajole him from his self-chastisements. She was not that kind of woman, one who chattered on, filling the air with nonsense. No. Elizabeth Bennet was a woman who used language as she did every other facet of her life, with a combination of intelligence and economy.

It was only when the manor came into view that she offered, “I must beg your pardon, Mr. Darcy, for I have again interfered in your well-structured life.”

He halted their progress and turned her to him. “I consider your presence in my life a blessing, and you are not to think otherwise. You have prevented me from making two monumental mistakes. How can you think me from sorts?”

She searched for the sincerity in his expression for several elongated seconds before the worry set her features transformed into a smile that had Darcy’s heart skipping a beat. “Shall that be my role in your life, Mr. Darcy? Savior?” Good humor filled her tease, and he found himself smiling in return.

“My personal guardian angel,” he said softly as he brought her gloved hand to his lips, where he kissed the inside of her wrist.

A flush of color raced to her cheeks, but she did not rip her hand from his grasp. Instead, with a delightful laugh, one that had a rush of warmth filling his abdomen, she taunted, “Mrs. Bennet will testify that I am more devil than angel, and you, sir, would do well to remember as such.”

“May I be of assistance, sir?” The innkeeper rushed forward to greet them.

Darcy tucked Elizabeth closer to his side. “My cousin and I require rooms,” he announced. They had agreed that as they traveled in the direction of the Flynns’ estate that it was probable that they would encounter others from Flynn’s household, who might recognize Elizabeth, and so she was now Darcy’s relation instead of his wife. He would go to extremes to protect Elizabeth’s reputation, for he had grown truly fond of her.

The innkeeper eyed them suspiciously. “Not many of your ilk come this way.”

Darcy understood the man’s insinuation. “My cousin and I were guests at the Allard estate outside of Edinburgh, but measles have struck some of those employed upon the estate. We thought it best to depart early before the illness spreads to those in the main house.” He told the truth—just not the complete truth.

“Measles, heh?” the man asked as he turned the register so Darcy might sign it. “That be a bad business.” He handed Darcy the pen, but did not place the ink well upon the table. “Before ye be signing, sir, ye shud know there be a weddin’ occurrin’ here this evening. Not exactly the weddin’, more along the lines of the celebration. There be no assembly hall or meeting place large enough to hold the sizable family gathering. Most in the area call in here regularly. Might’n be a bit loud.”

Darcy did not wish to climb back into the crowded let carriage with Sheffield and Hannah observing his every interaction with Elizabeth, but he dutifully asked, “And the next decent inn?”

“For the likes of you, sir, some twelve miles along the main road south.”

Darcy leaned down to ask, “What say you, Elizabeth?”

“In truth,” she said softly, “I could sleep through the roughest storm God chose to deliver.  A few partiers will not disturb me. A good meal and a bath are all I require for the evening.”

“Then we will stay.” He grinned at her. “You heard the lady. Two rooms as far removed from the jubilation as possible.”

Within a quarter hour, they dined in the common room of the inn. Only three others occupied the room, so they were relatively alone and could speak freely. “I wish to extend my apologies,” he said in serious tones. “I thought myself in charge of what has occurred between us since you ran from the church, but I fear I have done you irreparable harm. I have placed you in a abrasive surrounding and opened you to further accusations. You must permit me to do more than present your sisters with a larger dowry.”

She looked up in alarm. “Such as?”

“I would not be opposed to our joining,” he stated honestly. Since taking her acquaintance, Darcy had often considered the possibility of calling her wife.

Elizabeth shook off the idea. “I could not entertain your address, Mr. Darcy. Even if you had not brought me aboard your yacht, my actions at the church discredited my name. It was foolish of me to think such cheekiness could be ignored. Even if I had simply thwarted Mr. Collins’s plans, I named my fate. I doubt either the gentleman or your aunt would have remained silent regarding my purposeful slight. And I find it hard to believe that my father will be capable of controlling Mrs. Bennet’s aspersions. He has failed miserably in the past when Mrs. Bennet sets her mind to such misery. Most certainly, all in the neighborhood know something of my ill-advised bravado by now.”

He did not approve of her decision, but Darcy nodded his agreement. “I must abide by your choice.”

Silence settled between them, and it was not the kind of silence that caused distress. It was more of the manner in which two friends can sit together, even when they disagree upon something important. He searched for a means to change her mind, but he knew Elizabeth adamant in her opinions. Before he could form an argument to persuade her, the wedding party, literally, carried the newly-wed couple into the inn. The bride and the groom were perched on the shoulders of four bulky Scotsmen, who proudly hefted the pair higher, to the cheers of all those trailing behind them.

“Oh,” Elizabeth sighed heavily as she looked on. “Is she not beautiful? Such joy upon her countenance. Do you suppose they are in love?”

Darcy studied the pair as their escorts set them upon the floor. “The groom appears enthralled with his bride.” He noted the look of longing upon Elizabeth’s face, and he felt a bit sad that because of him, she would never know such happiness. “Is that your desire? To marry for love?” Such would go a long way in explaining why she had refused him, for Darcy knew her affections had not been stirred by their acquaintance.

She shrugged off his questions. “Do you find it odd, Mr. Darcy, that I am as susceptible to the idea of discovering a man who holds me in deep regard as are my sisters? Is it not foolish for a woman of my years to carry the wish of the Cinder Maid buried deep in her heart?”

“My parents married for love,” he admitted. “Together, they were a force with which to be reckoned.” Darcy chuckled in remembrance. “They were quite remarkable. I always believed if I could replicate their devotion to each other in my own marriage that Pemberley could survive and prosper.”

“Then when did you have a change of heart?” she challenged. “From your own lips, Miss De Bourgh did not claim your heart.”

“I do not know exactly how to define that particular moment.” He sat staring out the window over her shoulder. “I thought I had several years before I must choose a wife. Thought myself above entering the marriage mart. But…” He closed his eyes to drive away the taste of bile rising to his throat whenever he considered the betrayal practiced at George Wickham’s hands.

“But?” Elizabeth prompted, as she slipped her hand into his. “Know that I can serve as your confidante, Mr. Darcy.”

He opened his eyes to study her beautiful countenance. How was it possible that they had known each other less than a fortnight; yet, she was essential to all that he held most dear? “But a former friend used our relationship to attempt a seduction of my sister.” He had said the words aloud, and all his fears of the world swinging away from its axis had proved false. “I blundered—not giving her the attention she required,” he explained, “and Georgiana is so broken that I am desperate to restore her good humor. I thought that Anne might prove a comforting force for Miss Darcy. Mayhap even lead my sister to a better understanding of Georgiana’s lack of fault in the matter.”

Tears pooled in Elizabeth’s eyes. “And who is to lead you to a better understanding of your role in the matter, Mr. Darcy?” she asked in sympathetic tones.

He squeezed her hand. “My fault will never be obliterated. It is Georgiana’s heart that requires protection. She is not yet sixteen and was easily misled by a man she recognized as part of our family’s legacy. Miss Darcy trusted him, but all Mr. Wickham, who was my childhood chum and the son of my father’s steward, wished was my sister’s substantial dowry.”

“Oh, William,” she whispered. “You cannot take the blame for some blackguard’s disposition. You can only execute your life with honor.” She smiled weakly. “I know young girls. I was one very recently.” A bit of a tease entered her tone. “We give our hearts away many times before we discover a man worth knowing.”

“Pardon, friends,” the innkeeper said as he set two steaming plates before them. “Wanted to get yer meal out before the celebration became too rowdy.” He chuckled good-naturedly as he glanced over his shoulder at the wedding party. “The bride be the daughter of Sir James Metts, a knight who earned his title via our local bishop. She be a good girl. Don’t know much of the groom. He be Greek. And Catholic. Never knew a Greek before. Some sort of diplomat, I hears. They met in London at a musicale, whatever that may be.” He set two tea cups upon the table without saucers. “Don’t know ‘bout the spirits, but the young man claims this a traditional drink for those of his kind. Says it tastes of aniseed or fennel. Wishes you to join him in a toast to his bride.” The innkeeper poured two fingers full in the cups.

Elizabeth eyed the drink suspiciously. “And what does the gentleman call these spirits?”


She glanced to Darcy. “Are you familiar with the drink?”

“It may surprise you, my dear,” he said with a genuine smile, “but I never experienced a grand tour nor do I associate with high rollers.”

Her mouth formed a teasing pout. “Then I suppose it falls to me to taste the brew first. I would not wish to stain your immaculate reputation by demanding that you imbibe first.”

Darcy’s smile widened. “We will partake of the brew together.” He lifted his cup to tap it gently against hers. “To life.”

“To love,” she added.

Then they turned as one toward the happy couple, and with the others gathered in the room, they declared, “To a happy marriage.”

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Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s “Visionary”


via Wikipedia

To really understand Prince Albert’s role in British history, one must know more of his early life. Albert Francis Charles Augustus Emmanuel of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was born on 26 August 1819 at Schloss Rosenau, in Bavaria, the younger son of the duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Albert’s roots were planted in a small European duchy, which held little influence in the great scheme of international politics until Prince Leopold married George IV’s only child, Princess Charlotte of Wales. Later, Leopold’s sister Victorie married another of George III’s sons, the Duke of Kent. Saxe-Coburg-Gotha’s “insignificance” added to Albert’s growing vision of a relationship between those who govern and those who are governed. 

When Albert was four, his mother, Duchess Louise, chose to no longer tolerate her husband’s infidelity. She sought solace in the arms of a young officer in Coburg’s army. Duchess Louise abandoned Albert and his older brother Ernest. When he was seven, Albert’s father, Duke Ernest divorced his mother in absentia on grounds of adultery, and she was sent to live in Switzerland and forbidden to see her children ever again. Duchess Louise died eight years later (1831). The duke remarried, and Albert and his brother developed a healthy relationship with their new stepmother, Princess Marie of Württemberg, who was their cousin. 

Albert was an excellent student, possessing an intelligence that proved more ordered than his future wife, Queen Victoria. He was musically talented. He studied ancient and modern history, French, Latin, natural sciences, English, mathematics, etc. He practiced an unvaried schedule throughout his life, but as a youth 6 – 8 A.M. daily was set aside for his deeper studies. Albert was educated at Bonn University.

As Queen Victoria’s consort, Albert “adopted” England’s so-called enlightenment, which was obviously nothing like the enlightenment now practiced within the United Kingdom. Albert openly purported the idea that a fair-minded monarch (who did not endorse party politics) should preside over Parliament. As devious as this might sound in light of today’s political posturing on both sides of the ocean, Albert saw his daughters as a means to spread his ideas to the thrones of other countries into which they marry. His sons’ destinies were prescribed as the children of the queen and the British rule. 

NSBqIymY_400x400Queen Victoria came to appreciate Albert’s many talents and abilities. He began by overseeing the queen’s domestic affairs of their two households. However, during her lying in and delivery of their first child, Victoria permitted Albert to act in her stead on “official” business. She pressed Albert to write memos and instructions to her various ministers, an act that Lord Melbourne referred to as “The Prince’s observations.” Albert’s efforts earned him new respect from those involved in the Queen’s business. With his keen insights, Albert managed to place his wife’s position on policies and laws in a kinder light than would likely have been achieved by Victoria herself. 

In Victoria’s Daughters (Jerrold M. Packard, St Martin’s, 1998) we learn, “Victoria’s premarital fondness for and dependence on her first prime minister, Lord Melbourne, had been thought a dangerous thing, leading to serious difficulties between the sovereign and Melbourne’s successor when Melbourne lost office. It was Albert who diplomatically, and with unarguable logic, taught his wife that the breaking of ties to any minister had to be faced to prevent constitutional injury to the monarchy. In keeping with the passionate nature of her personality, Victoria soon thereafter came under the almost complete tutelage of her prince. One official would write of Albert as ‘in fact, tho’ not in name, Her Majesty’s Private Secretary.’ Another minister went further, stating that the queen had turned Albert into a virtual ‘King-Consort,’ which had, ironically, been the title she suggested for him when the marriage negotiations first got underway.” 

From BBC History, we discover, “Albert’s role as advisor to his wife came into full force after the death of Lord Melbourne, the prime minister, who had exerted a strong paternal influence over Victoria, and Albert began to act as the queen’s private secretary. He encouraged in his wife a greater interest in social welfare and invited Lord Shaftesbury, the driving force behind successive factory acts, to Buckingham Palace to discuss the matter of child labour. His constitutional position was a difficult one, and although he exercised his influence with tact and intelligence, he never enjoyed great public popularity during Victoria’s reign. It wasn’t until 1857 that he was formally recognised by the nation and awarded the title ‘prince consort’.


Prince Albert, 1854 history/historic_figures /albert_prince.shtml

“Albert took an active interest in the arts, science, trade and industry. He masterminded the Great Exhibition of 1851, with a view to celebrating the great advances of the British industrial age and the expansion of the empire. He used the profits to help to establish the South Kensington museums complex in London.

“In the autumn of 1861, Albert intervened in a diplomatic row between Britain and the United States and his influence probably helped to avert war between the two countries. When he died suddenly of typhoid on 14 December, Victoria was overwhelmed by grief and remained in mourning until the end of her life. She commissioned a number of monuments in his honour, including the Royal Albert Memorial in Kensington Gardens completed in 1876.”



Posted in Act of Parliament, British history, Great Britain, titles of aristocracy, Victorian era | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

London Run Riot: The Overt Politics of Austen’s Gothic Romp, a Guest Post from Collins Hemingway

(This post originally appeared on the Austen Authors’ blog on November 1, 2018. Enjoy!) 

During Jane Austen’s life and beyond, England was beset with constant internal strife—labor protests, political riots, and military mutinies. These came as the result of falling wages–caused by increasing mill automation–high-priced food, and the harsh conditions and poor pay of military life. From the mid-1790s through the end of Austen’s life, a major insurrection would boil up at least once every couple of years.

These rebellions, coupled with the revolutions in the United States and France—the latter disintegrating into the wholesale slaughter of the aristocracy—left Tories deathly afraid that they, the King, and traditional British order would be overthrown as well, either by the demon Democracy or la Terreur.

Yet one must read Jane Austen carefully to find topical mentions of these big issues of the day. Northanger Abbey, her least mature work—completed first, published last—turns out to contain the most overt references to political dissent.

The first such reference involves General Tilney’s reading material. During Catherine Morland’s stay with the family, he says to her one evening: “I have many pamphlets to finish before I can close my eyes, and perhaps may be poring over the affairs of the nation for hours after you are asleep.” Catherine is not impressed by his pompous self-regard. She assumes that his late-night activities relate instead to her Gothic vision of wanton cruelty to a wife rattling about in hidden rooms of the abbey: “To be kept up for hours, after the family were in bed, by stupid pamphlets was not very likely. There must be some deeper cause.”

We never learn the details of the pamphlets, but we can presume that the Tory general, who by age would have fought against the Americans in the Revolutionary War, is not reading the latest tract on the freedom of man by the firebrand Thomas Paine. More likely, he is reading a pamphlet published by the Bath Loyal Association (BLA), which he would have picked up while in the resort town. Set up under the auspices of the Bath mayor at the time of the French revolution, the BLA was an “Association for preserving Liberty and Property and the Constitution against the Levellers and Republicans.”

Among other things, it published a declaration pledging undying loyalty to the King. Signed by hundreds of people, the pledge declared that “the wild doctrine of equality, newly propagated, is unknown to the English Constitution, is incompatible with Civil Society, and only held forth as a Delusion to mislead the lower ranks of the people, to poison the minds of his Majesty’s subjects … and to substitute Anarchy in the place of our mild and happy Government.”

By equating equality and a republican form of government with anarchy, conservatives created a deadly self-fulfilling cycle. The government put down nonviolent pleas for reform as ferociously as insurrections, driving more people into the folds of the rebels and creating more anti-government plots.

Most of the insurgencies had the same game plan. One set of conspirators in London would try to seize the king, key members of Parliament, funds from the Bank of England, and weapons from the Tower of London. Another set of revolutionaries would simultaneously start a revolt in one of the northern counties, areas that seethed with unhappy factory workers, or in Ireland, which hated English rule. The hope was that a general uprising would bring in disgruntled soldiers. The northern militants would march south and join forces with the London cadre, and Liberté would reign.

Unfortunately for the rebels, England’s extensive spy network exposed the larger plots before they could be carried out. As detailed in Sue Wilkes’s Regency Spies: Secret Histories of Britain’s Rebels and Revolutionaries, the typical result would be local outbreaks of violence that were quickly put down, the execution of two or three leaders, and transportation (exile) for another dozen or so conspirators to the penal colony of Australia. The government and Tory press played up these intrigues to justify further harsh suppression of any protest.

In Henry Tilney’s condescending view, the women in “Northanger Abbey” are not aware of the bigger social and political matters of the day–though his sister, in fact, is very much up on current events.

This—a succession of threatened and failed revolts—is the historical context for one of the funniest scenes anywhere in Austen, when Catherine Morland and Eleanor Tilney talk past each other on current events and Henry Tilney eggs on their confusion. The exchange begins as Henry is “mansplaining” to the ladies about various important topics. When he pauses, Catherine solemnly says: “I have heard that something very shocking indeed will soon come out in London. … It is to be more horrible than anything we have met with yet. … It is to be uncommonly dreadful. I shall expect murder and everything of the kind.”

The last subject having been politics, Eleanor is startled, thinking Catherine is talking about a new uprising when instead she means the usual wild, horrific events sure to be part of a soon-to-be-released Gothic novel. Believing that the working classes are marching down from London to terrorize Bath, Eleanor reacts: “Good heaven! … You speak with astonishing composure! But … if such a design is known beforehand, proper measures will undoubtedly be taken by government to prevent its coming to effect.”

Henry sees what is going on but decides to join in the joke at his sister’s expense. “Government,” he says, “neither desires nor dares to interfere in such matters. There must be murder; and government cares not how much. … ” Eleanor responds: “Miss Morland, do not mind what he says; but have the goodness to satisfy me as to this dreadful riot.”

“Riot! What riot?” Catherine exclaims, now equally confused.

Henry then tells Eleanor that the only riot is in her brain, that Catherine is talking of nothing more dreadful than a scary new book featuring tombstones and lanterns. But he criticizes Eleanor’s gullibility, which leads her to picture “a mob of three thousand men assembling in St. George’s Fields, the Bank attacked, the Tower threatened, the streets of London flowing with blood, a detachment of the Twelfth Light Dragoons (the hopes of the nation) called up from Northampton to quell the insurgents, and the gallant Captain Frederick Tilney, in the moment of charging at the head of his troop, knocked off his horse by a brickbat from an upper window.”

Henry’s jocular but condescending point is that Eleanor, Catherine, and women in general have no understanding of public issues or other weighty subjects. Given Catherine’s rapid switch of topic and lack of clarification, however, Eleanor has every reason to be alarmed at the very real possibility of public violence—especially if the army is involved. Eleanor insists on an apology for his affront to her, which he gives in his usual half-serious manner.

This is Henry’s typical treatment of his sister, and even to Catherine, to some degree. As the scene ends, we’re unsure whether he has actually apologized or is still laughing at them rather than with them.

Next Wednesday: Does Henry’s riot reference change our understanding of when Austen finished Northanger Abbey?

The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen, which traces love from a charming courtship through the richness and complexity of marriage and concludes with a test of the heroine’s courage and moral convictions, is now complete and available from Amazon and Jane Austen Books.

The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen: Volume I (Volume 1) The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen: Volume II The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen: Volume III

The trilogy is also available as a Kindle “boxed set”:

The Marriage of Miss Jane Austen: The Trilogy

Posted in Austen Authors, British history, Georgian England, Georgian Era, Guest Post, history, Jane Austen, Living in the Regency, Northanger Abbey, real life tales, Regency era, research, world history, writing | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Celebrating the Release of “In Want of a Wife” + a Giveaway


Back in late November, a story was bouncing around in my head, and as any good Muse does, my inner voice kept telling me I needed to write this one. As many of you know, my Pride and Prejudice vagaries generally stay as close to canon as I can get them. Even my vampiric tale incorporated more traditional tales of vampires so that when I was “forced” to abandon the Austen’s original tale, my characters still reacted as one might think Austen would have expected them to perform. So it is with my In Want of a Wife. The premise is simple, although maneuvering Darcy and Elizabeth to respond as I wished them to do was not. 

Elizabeth has had an accident. She has been knocked over by a carriage as she darted across a London street. The result: she has no memory of her marriage to Darcy, of what happened at Netherfield, his first proposal at Rosings Park, nor of her family. She knows nothing of Jane and Bingley or Lydia and Wickham. Her mind is very much a clean slate. She can start over and learn to love Darcy again. Right? Well, not exactly. She is without her former prejudices against him, but her pride, a deep-seated emotion for both her and Darcy, has not abated. Moreover, she cannot just up and leave Darcy. They have been married a week when the accident occurred. The marriage has been consummated. Divorce was a very public and disagreeable business in the Regency era. Testimony for public divorces of the “rich and famous” was published in the newsprints. She has nowhere to go, no money, and despite his distrust of her, Elizabeth realizes Darcy is the one person who will see her through her recovery. 

The first line of Austen’s tale — “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” — takes on new meaning in mine. Darcy is “in want of a wife” — his wife. The wife that shared his bed and engendered his hopes for a future for Pemberley and himself. A woman who would drive away his loneliness and isolation behind. Yet, in her delirium, Elizabeth has called out Mr. Wickham’s name, and Darcy’s head, which is singing of betrayal, must permit his heart to lead if they are to know a resolution to the early trials of their marriage. 


“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” – Jane Austen

Elizabeth Bennet Darcy wakes in an unfamiliar room, attended by a stranger, who claims she is his wife and she has suffered an injury to her head. He accuses her of pretending her memory loss, but to Elizabeth, the fear is real.

“Surely you know me,” he protested. His words sounded as if he held his emotions tightly in check. “I am William. Your husband.”

She thought to protest, but the darkness had caught her other hand and was leading her away from him. With one final attempt to correct him declaration, her mind formed the words, but her lips would not cooperate. Her dissent died before she could tell him: I do not have a husband!

Fitzwilliam Darcy despises his new wife, for he fears she has faked her love for him, and if love is not powerful enough to change a life, what is?

“This is unacceptable. I realize I was never your first choice as a husband, but it is too late to change your mind. The vows have been spoken. The registry signed. You cannot deny your pledge with this ploy. I will not have it. No matter how often you call out George Wickham’s name, he will never be your husband. I will never release you.”

As I am certain some of you recall, I presented you the first part of chapter one with my November 2018 Austen Authors post on turkeys in England. I would encourage you to read it HERE, if you have not done so previously,  before you read what follows. This is the rest of chapter one and the beginning of chapter two. 

It was two more days before she ventured from her bed. With the assistance of her maid—a woman who claimed her name was Hannah and she had been serving her for several weeks—as well as Mr. Darcy’s housekeeper, Mrs. Romberg, Elizabeth was able to have a bath and a proper toilette. She was surprised when Hannah chose a gown and robe she could not imagine she would have owned, for it was satin and lace, and although she knew nothing of her past, she thought herself more likely to choose a more sensible gown.

“A gift from Mr. Darcy,” Hannah explained when Elizabeth’s eyebrow rose in question.

She was settled upon the bench and Hannah was brushing her hair when a soft knock at the door announced her “husband’s” presence. Despite her best efforts, her breath caught in her throat. The sheer power of his demeanor was almost too much to bear. “I am glad to see you from your bed.” He approached slowly, and Elizabeth swallowed hard against the panic rising in her chest. “Might I?” He gestured to the brush Hannah held. The maid quickly handed it over. “Why do you not fetch Mrs. Darcy a shawl? I thought my wife might enjoy a bit of fresh air.”

“That would be lovely,” Elizabeth said softly.

Hannah curtsied and then disappeared into the bowels of the house. He motioned for Elizabeth to turn around, but she waved off the idea. “I would prefer to remain as I am.”

His frown spoke his concern. “Are you still so dizzy?” He crossed behind her and applied the brush to her still damp hair.

“I am not yet steady on my feet, but that is not the reason I do not wish to turn upon the bench.”

His efforts slowed. “Might you trust me enough to explain?” She could hear the caution in his tones. Since the first day they had argued over her loss of memory, they had avoided the subject, instead spending time as do long-time friends, playing cards and his reading to her.

A sad smile claimed her lips. “I cannot bear the looking glass. It is a stranger I see staring back at me.”

He came around to kneel before her, catching her hand in his. “You do not recognize yourself in the glass? Is that what you mean?”

She turned her head to glance into the mirror. “I know nothing of the woman I view before me.”

He caressed her cheek. “I know the woman within and without.” He brushed his lips across hers. “Permit me to chronicle the splendor of the woman I married.”

Before he spoke again, he returned to brushing her hair. “I certainly cannot style your hair as Hannah might, but I believe I can manage a braid.” He divided her hair into three sections. Casually, he began his tale. “I recall the first time I viewed your hair undone. You had walked to Netherfield to visit with your sister, who had taken ill.”

“I have a sister? Does she live at Netherfield?” she asked in eager tones.

“You have four sisters,” he said as he began to overlap the sections of her hair. “You are the second of five. And yes, the former Miss Bennet resides at Netherfield, but, in Hertfordshire, at that time, she had not yet married Netherfield’s master, Mr. Charles Bingley.”

“Then why was my sister in residence at Netherfield? Surely nothing from propriety was practiced? You are not saying my sister is a woman of loose morals?”

“Nothing of the sort,” he assured. “Miss Bennet is your favorite sister. Mr. Bingley’s sisters invited Miss Bennet to tea. Despite an impending storm, your mother sent your sister Jane to Netherfield on horseback.”

“She glanced over her shoulder at him. “You are implying something in your tone.”

He admitted, “Mr. Bingley is quite wealthy and your sister is very comely. I do not know whether it was Mrs. Bennet’s hope for Miss Bennet to take ill or not, but, such is neither here nor there, for Miss Bennet and Mr. Bingley are married, and, for all intents and purposes, quite happy.” He gathered her hair again. “Yet, their marriage was not my intended tale. I planned to describe the first time I viewed you with your hair down. You had walked the some three miles from Longbourn, your father’s estate, to Netherfield because Miss Bennet had taken ill with a fever after her wet ride the previous evening. You were announced into the morning room, where Miss Bingley and I shared the table.” He paused to lean closer to her ear to whisper, “You stole both my breath and my heart in that moment. Your cheeks pink from the exercise. Your lovely eyes sparkling with humor, for, most assuredly you realized Miss Bingley would not approve of either your skirt tails steeped six inches deep in mud or the blowsy arrangement of your hair about your shoulders. I, however, knew my earlier attempts to ignore you were fruitless.”

“Why would you wish to ignore me?” she demanded.

“Such is a long story I will gladly explain in detail over the next few days, but, for now, suffice it to say I acted with misplaced pride. A man in my position and with my wealth is often pursued by families seeking a profitable match for their daughters. I had become accustomed to their deference and built my defenses against their attempts to trap me in a marriage, not of my choice.”

“Surely, you did not think me of that nature?” she accused. His words had her again ill-at-ease. What was she truly like before she had come to this place? Did she practice morals? Possess opinions? Was she shy or did she speak when she should not?

“At the time, I possessed no means of knowing the truth of your character, for our acquaintance was new; yet, such does not matter. My hard-honed logic had lost the battle because the most beautiful woman of my acquaintance had bewitched me: body and soul.”

She found herself sucking in a breath of anticipation. Despite what he said, she could not imagine herself married to such a man. Were they equal in station? Part of what he said implied they were not. Yet, if her sister married a wealthy man who lived in a grand manor, then, most certainly, her family was not destitute. Did not her supposed husband just say her father also owned an estate?

She glanced up to his reflection in the mirror. In spite of her constant feeling of uncertainty, she could easily see how belonging to Fitzwilliam Darcy was something quite special. Comforting even, in an odd sort of way. The man appeared built for protection. At least, he meant to see to her welfare. Yet, an unanswered question, one that danced along the edge of her memory, but did not make an appearance, would not leave her be. It plagued her that she held no memory of the man who stood lovingly behind her, dressing her hair. However, no matter how often she had set her mind to the problem, she held no memory of having fallen in love with the man. Did she love him?

Although she assumed they had shared intimacies, she knew nothing of his touch or the taste of his kiss. “How long have we been married?”

Before he could answer a knock at the the door interrupted them. “Mr. Darcy, the table and chairs you requested placed in the garden are ready, sir.”

“Thank you, Mr. Thacker.” He turned to her. “Permit me, my dear.” And without preamble or her permission, his arms came about her. He lifted her, to cradle her against his chest. With a flutter of butterflies in her stomach, she clung to him, arms laced about his neck. For a brief second, she worried if she might prove too heavy for him, but he appeared sure footed and not from breath as they descended the elegant staircase.

Curious, she glanced about her to discover a stately Town home, one, obviously, belonging to a wealthy man; yet; not a speck of opulence could be viewed. Fine art upon the walls. Polished marble. Thick rugs. And plenty of windows to permit the light to fill the space and to announce to the world how well heeled the house’s owner was. “It is magnificent, William,” she said softly against his neck, as she nestled closer to him.

“I am pleased you approve.” He kissed her forehead, before shifting her weight to turn them through the door of what most certainly was his study to cross the room and exit through open patio doors. “It remains warm for this time of year, but I asked Hannah to provide you a blanket and shawl to be certain you did not take an ague.”

“You are very good to me,” she said obediently.

“You are my wife,” he responded, as if that fact should explain his actions, and, for a brief instant, she considered challenging him; but, then, he added, “I am eternally grateful to our Lord for not stealing you away from me. I would be lost without you in my life, Elizabeth.” And, her heart instinctively called out his name. She remained so confused regarding what she should feel.

He gently placed her in a waiting chair and knelt before her to tuck a blanket across her lap. “Tell me if you become chilly.”

She tilted her hand back to squint up into the weak November sun. “It feels wonderful to be outside.”

He leaned in to whisper. “I recall the sprinkle of freckles across your nose when I met you quite unexpectedly upon Pemberley’s lawn last August.”

She eyed him suspiciously. “Pemberley?”

He smiled and dimples brightened his expression. “My home in Derbyshire.”

Without considering his reaction to her response, she asked, “If I am from Hertfordshire, why was I in Derbyshire?”

The passion that had marked his smile of moments ago disappeared. “If you are marked by forgetfulness, how are you aware of geography?”

Her focus shifted quickly. “You believe I am practicing some farce,” she accused. Since he had entered her quarters a half hour earlier, it had been she who had asked the questions. She had yet to set aside his previous remarks regarding her honestly, and, now, his skepticism had returned.

“Perhaps the sunshine has brought you enlightenment.” He leaned forward to capture her chin in his large palm. “Has your mind cleared? Are you lucid enough to make your explanations to me?”

“How dare you!” she snapped, as she shoved to her feet. “I am suddenly chilled, after all. I shall return to the house.” She would like to say she would pack her belongings and leave, but she had no idea where she might go or how she might manage a journey on her own. Even now, she swayed in place, her vision blurry.

Immediately, he caught her to him to steady her stance. His warmth along her front offered the comfort his words did not. “I beg your forgiveness, Elizabeth,” he whispered as he tightened his embrace. “My infernal pride eats away at my soul as did the eagle eat away at Prometheus’s liver. I truly do not care if you have acted against me this once. I simply wish my Elizabeth—my wife—back.”

She again wished to ask him to prove they were married, but she feared both the return of his anger and the method he might employ as proof. Instead, she chose a different response. “From what little I have observed of your life, I would be fortunate to be called ‘wife’ by you, and I truly understand the chaos you suffer, for I suffer it also. It is quite daunting to wake in an unfamiliar room with a stranger claiming me as his wife. I cannot help but to question our relationship.”

“Why would I name you otherwise, if we were not faithfully married?” he countered. “What could be my purpose? You have observed the quality of my household, and, although it will sound vain to say so, many consider my countenance more than passable. What would be my motive?”

How could she explain her hesitation? He had done nothing that should cause her unease, but she experienced the emotion, nevertheless. She attempted to soften her tone when she responded. “Any woman would know pleasure at calling you ‘husband.’”

“But you do not?” His eyebrow quirked higher in response.

“I seriously do not know what to feel,” she protested. “What is real? You demand I accept your words as truth—to accept your honesty. Honesty from a man who claims to be my husband.”

Claims to be?” he hissed in disapproving tones. “You use that phrase quite often when you speak of our relationship.”

“I would know nothing of my life if you did not tell me what you know of it.” She attempted to explain the unexplainable.

His left hand drifted to the small of her back to nudge her closer. “Perhaps it is time I show you what lies between us. To teach you what to feel so you will no longer doubt the depth of our love.”

“I am not certain—” she began, but a touch of his finger against her lips silenced her completely.

“I am certain,” he said with what sounded of customary assurance in the truth of his words. “I wish to feel my beautiful wife tremble with anticipation and need while in my arms.”

GIVEAWAY: I will present THREE eBook copies of In Want of a Wife to those who comment below. The giveaway will end at midnight EST on Saturday, February 16, 2019. 

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Victoria, Princess Royal, Becomes a Mother


Wikipedia ~ the marriage of Victoria and Fredrick

Previously, we spoke of the marriage of Victoria, Princess Royal, to Prince Frederick of Prussia, later Frederick III, German Emperor and King of Prussia. View that article HERE. The princess was only 17 when she married “Fritz,” and she was most certain Queen Victoria’s daughter. Her mother’s influence spelled doom from the beginning for the young princess. From Unofficial Royalty, we learn, ‘It was, and still is, customary for the wedding to be in the bride’s home territory, but Vicky was marrying a future monarch and the wedding was therefore expected to be in Berlin.  However, Queen Victoria had other ideas: “The assumption of it being too much for a Prince Royal of Prussia to come over to marry the Princess Royal of Great Britain in England is too absurd, to say the least…Whatever may be the usual practice of Prussian Princes, it is not every day that one marries the eldest daughter of the Queen of England.  The question must therefore be considered as settled and closed…’  Queen Victoria got her way and the wedding was scheduled for Monday, January 25, 1858, in the Chapel Royal of St. James’ Palace in London, England, where the bride’s parents had been married.”

The problems between Frederick and Vicky rested in her inability to assimilate to her new home. She still thought of herself as “English” and superior to her husband’s family and people. Vicky filled long letters to her mother where she described the ignorance of those in the Prussian court. Though her estimations were likely “astute” in many ways, her impetuous judgments caused Princess Victoria to lose the support of those she required, while she foolish made intimates of those who did not hold her best interest to heart. The princess wished to please her mother, and so she listened to Queen Victoria’s rebukes to operate in a Prussian court as if she were still in an English one. In justice to Vicky, the princess had spent a lifetime attempting to please a difficult and exacting mother. At such a young age she could not be expected to break the ties that bound her to the British Queen. 

Vicky became pregnant shortly after her marriage. This did not please her mother who thought the pair should have waited before becoming with child. Queen Victoria expressed her “disappointment” to Fritz, saying “you men are far too selfish!” 

For her 18th birthday, Vicky and Fritz moved into the newly refurbished Crown Prince’s Palace, where they escaped the “drab weariness” of the Royal Palace. The pair also, with the permission of Fritz’s father, Wilhelm I, took possession of the 200-rooms and three storied mansion known as Neues Palais. It was to become their true “home” throughout their marriage. Princess Victoria spent many years making Neues Palais a showplace. 

With the approach of the princess’s baby, Queen Victoria further opened wounds, in her daughter’s name, that were never healed. The Queen demanded that her daughter be attended by those who had attended the Queen during her later pregnancies. She sent her personal physician, Doctor James Clark, and a midwife, Mrs. Innocent, to tend the princess. Clark brought with him a bottle of chloroform, an accepted anesthetic in British childbirths, but not in Prussian ones. 

On 26 January 1859, the princess went into hard labor. Doctor Wegner, the German physician attending her, sent for a colleague, Doctor Edward Martin. By this time, Princess Victoria had been in labor eleven hours. Martin’s examination of her showed the baby in a breech position. If the child could not be turned, forceps would be used to pull it out. Some within the court privately sent an announcement of the demise of the princess and the child to the German press. 

Over Wegner’s objections, Martin requested that Clark administer the chloroform to the princess. Martin then manipulated the baby into a proper position. In Victoria’s Daughters by Jerrold M. Packard (St. Martin’s, 1998, page 74), we learn, “At 2:45 on the afternoon of the 27th – nearly fifteen hours into labor – the baby started to emerge. First its rear end appeared, and then the legs, which had been folded up against its stomach and chest. Following another dose of chloroform, the doctor surgically stretched Vicky’s uterus, after which the baby finished descending through with its left arm folded up behind its head. During the enormously difficult birth, the considerable force used to pull this arm free severely damaged the limb – whether from the application of forceps is unclear. The newborn baby did not immediately seem to be breathing. What is very likely, and would go far in explaining the future personality of the infant, was that long moments – perhaps some minutes – were passed until its first breath was taken, with some brain damage plausibly the result of the delay. The attendants rubbed the baby, possibly causing yet further unintentional damage to the already injured arm; the doctors evidently believed that a perfect baby had been born despite the horrifying circumstances of the delivery, and the severity of the injury to the limb was no even realized until three days later.”


29 January 1858 ~ Princess Victoria and Prince Frederick ~ Wikipedia

The child Wilhelm or “Willy” would spend a lifetime suffering first one medical experiment and gadget meant to FIX his deformed hand and shorter arm. Obviously, Princess Victoria was appalled to know she brought a less than perfect child into the world. Despite Willy’s disabilities, she was determined to mold her son into the future King of Prussia, a course that would destroy their relationship.

Posted in acting, British history, Great Britain, Living in the UK, marriage, medieval, royalty, Victorian era | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Gretna Green: Secret Engagements, Elopements and the World’s Most Famous Anvil, a Guest Post from Eliza Shearer

(This post originally appeared on the Austen Authors’ blog on December 1, 2017. Enjoy!)










After many years in my “to visit” list, I finally had the chance to make it to Gretna Green recently, as part of a family trip to England. The actual place we stayed at was Gretna, which is right alongside but couldn’t be more different. Whereas Gretna Green conjures images of forbidden romance, runaway brides and clandestine weddings, Gretna’s main claim to fame is mostly utilitarian: it was built during the Great War to provide homes for the 30,000 employees of what was the biggest munitions factory in the world at the time.

But back to Gretna Green. A pretty village, it is just over 10 miles from Carlisle, the last English town along the road, and it sits right on the border. An ideal location, therefore, for anybody desperate to reach the safety of Scotland. And why Scotland?

Relative Laws

Those of you familiar with the British Isles will know that Scots law is different from English law. A law in England does not a law in Scotland make, and this is precisely what happened with the Hardwicke Act of 1753. The new law made it compulsory for young people under 21 to obtain parental consent prior to their marriage, and for marriage ceremonies to be preceded by a publication of the banns, performed in a public ceremony in the parish of those getting married and presided by a Church official with the necessary license.

However, the Hardwicke Act applied to England and Wales only. Scotland maintained the old customs, which allowed boys over the age of 14 and girls over the age of 12 to marry without parental consent, provided they were not close relatives or in a relationship with a third party. All that brides and grooms had to do was make a public declaration. No surprise, then, that from 1753 onwards, a steady stream of Romeos and Juliets began the dash for Scotland to marry without parental approval.

A Very Convenient Location

To begin with, those eloping weren’t aiming for a particular place, other than somewhere north of the border, but in the 1770s a new toll road made Gretna Green the most accessible Scottish village for those travelling from the south. It quickly became thedestination for those aiming for a secret wedding, because as well as fast access, ceremonies in the village had the added charm of being presided by the local blacksmith over an anvil.

Some say that the blacksmith’s shop was right next to the coaching inn, and he was so regularly asked to marry young couples that he ended up making a career out of it. However, I prefer an alternative explanation, which says that English couples, in spite of their eagerness to be married without the legal constraints of their country, were keen for their ceremony to be presided by someone in a position of authority in order to give it a more legitimate feel.

The Gretna Green blacksmith was happy to oblige, and added some theatricals to the ceremony by way of hammering on the anvil to symbolise the joining of new couples “in the heat of the moment but binding for eternity”. Genius!

Elopements to Scotland in Austen’s Novels

Whatever the actual reason behind the blacksmith’s story, the combination of the convenience of the toll road and the romance of the legendary anvil proved irresistible, and many couples of star-crossed lovers made Gretna Green their destination. By Jane Austen’s time, elopements to Scotland, mainly with Gretna Green as destination, were so established that they are mentioned in several of her works.

In Love and Freindship, Laura and Sophia convince young Janetta, who is to marry a man her father has chosen for her, that she is in love with Captain M’Kenzie. They manage to do the same with the gentleman, and they end up running away to “Gretna-Green”.

In Mansfield Park, Julia Bertram and Mr Yates elope to Scotland to marry. In Pride and Prejudice, Lydia and Wickham are thought to have run away to Scotland when word gets out of their escape, and the bride herself declares Gretna Green to be their destination in the infamous letter she leaves to her friend, Mrs Foster:


“You will laugh when you know where I am gone, and I cannot help laughing myself at your surprise tomorrow morning, as soon as I am missed. I am going to Gretna Green, and if you cannot guess with who, I shall think you a simpleton, for there is but one man in the world I love, and he is an angel. I should never be happy without hi, so think it no harm to be off. You need not send word at Longbourn of my going, if you do not like it, for it will make the surprise the greater, when i write to them and sign my name “Lydia Wickham.” What a good joke it will be!”

Pride and Prejudice, Chapter 47

And who does not remember the tragic love story between a young Colonel Brandon and Eliza, his father’s guard, in Sense and Sensibility? Before Eliza is forced to marry Brandon’s brother, the doomed couple plan to elope and get married in Gretna Green, but they are betrayed by “the treachery, or the folly” of Eliza’s maid.

In any case, the Gretna Green legend remains, so much so that the town has quite successfully marketed itself as a romantic wedding destination. And, I should add, rightly so, for who can resist the lure and romance of Scotland and of a marriage over the world’s most famous anvil, whether parental permission has been granted or not?

What do you think of Gretna Green’s reputation in history? Where should it feature in a list of Janeite locations in the UK?

Posted in British history, buildings and structures, Church of England, customs and tradiitons, Georgian England, Georgian Era, Great Britain, Gretna Green, Guest Post, history, Jane Austen, legends, Living in the Regency, marriage, marriage customs, marriage licenses, Pride and Prejudice | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pre-Elizabethan Drama: Morality Plays


The 1522 cover of “Mundus et Infans,” a morality play ~ Wikipedia

Previously, I did a piece on Liturgical Drama. Today I would like to look at Moralities. As compared to the Miracle or Liturgical dramas, the morality play was one where the playwright had to come up with an original story line, which many consider to be a major step forward in the history of drama. No longer did the playwright use the scripture for his plots. He did, however, employ a well-known allegory, popular for several centuries in England and upon the European continent, but which had rarely been celebrated as the central issue of a tale, as it was in the moralities. 

A morality play was defined as “an allegorical drama popular in Europe especially during the 15th and 16th centuries, in which the characters personify moral qualities (such as charity or vice) or abstractions (as death or youth) and in which moral lessons are taught.” (Britannica) The issue was the struggle between good and evil in claiming the soul of man. Vice and Virtue became the central characters. In these plays, mankind always desired to chase after the vice, but he is well aware that if he does he will face eternal damnation. Evidently, the medieval mind thought much upon the dichotomy presented in the plays. 

mummers2.jpgThe characters in the plays were personified abstractions. In moralities we find Friendship, Riches, Good, Evil, Knowledge, Mankind, etc. The action of the morality play centers on a hero whose inherent weaknesses are assaulted by such personified diabolic forces as the Seven Deadly Sins, but who may choose redemption and enlist the aid of such figures as the Four Daughters of God (Mercy, Justice, Temperance, and Truth). Customarily, the play began with Man being summoned to the Grave. The action that followed involved the conflict for the possession of Man’s spirit.

The purpose of the Moralities was didactic. In Everyman, for example, the protagonist is made acquainted with the entire Catholic scheme of salvation. In the play, Man dons the jewel of Penance and later, the robe of contrition. He also consumes the seven “blessed sacraments.” Through the action, the play teaches its audience that all men must adhere to the tenets of the church. The play ends with the Doctor or Expositor reemphasizing the moral of the story. He shows the audience how Pride, Beauty, Wealth, and other worldly aspirations abandon “Everyman” at death. Only Good Deeds will accompany him to the underworld. These early plays were solemn personifications of church sermons. 

MoralityFigures.JPGAmong the oldest of morality plays surviving in English is The Castle of Perseverance (c. 1425), about the battle for the soul of Humanum Genus. A plan for the staging of one performance has survived that depicts an outdoor theatre-in-the-round with the castle of the title at the centre. Everyman was published in 1500. They both were from the York Paternoster Plays, which date back to 1378. These plays were similar to the early moralities. They took their names from the belief that each clause of the Lord Prayer could counter one of the seven deadly sins. 

The character of Vice became the first element of comedy in 16th Century Moralities. Vice’s purpose was to irritate and arouse the ire of the Devil. Vice prodded the Devil with sticks. He taunted him. He baited him into arguments. The character of the Devil was a crossover from the Miracle plays. He “excited” the audience for they anticipated his antics. Both characters met the demand of the latter audiences for action rather than sore sermons. 

“Morality plays were an intermediate step in the transition from liturgical to professional secular drama, and combine elements of each. They were performed by quasi-professional groups of actors who relied on public support; thus the plays were usually short, their serious themes tempered by elements of farce. In the Dutch play Het esbatement den appelboom (“The Miraculous Apple Tree”), for example, a pious couple, Staunch Goodfellow and Steadfast Faith, are rewarded when God creates for them an everbearing apple tree with the property that whoever touches it without permission becomes stuck fast. This leads to predictable and humorous consequences.” (Britannica)


History of Morality Plays 


New Advent: Catholic Encyclopedia 


Posted in acting, Age of Chaucer, Anglo-Normans, Anglo-Saxons, British history, drama, medieval, playwrights, Vagary | Tagged , , , , ,