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A Wedding at St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, Orkney
A Wedding at St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, Orkney

Scotland is a remarkably popular venue for marriages, and not just for Scots. In 2005, there were nearly 31,000 weddings in Scotland, and in 27% of these weddings neither the bride nor the groom was resident in Scotland. It's a fair bet that people don't come to Scotland to get married in order to take advantage of our weather, so why do so many people come to Scotland to get married?

Old Blacksmith's Shop, Gretna Green
Old Blacksmith's Shop, Gretna Green
Wedding Reception, Dalhousie Castle
Wedding Reception, Dalhousie Castle
Gretna Hall Hotel
Gretna Hall Hotel
Traditional Orcadian Wedding
Traditional Orcadian Wedding

There are two main reasons. The first is that Scotland is a country whose history, scenery and heritage combine to give it a strong sense of romance. The second is the extremely strong historical tradition of people coming to Scotland to get married that dates back over 250 years. In other words, people come to Scotland to get married because it is an established and popular thing to do: something given a particular boost when celebrities like Madonna get married here. There are practical benefits that go with Scotland's popularity for weddings, especially in the wide choice available when you need to find someone to help organise your wedding, provide a venue, car, flowers, dresses, or take photographs. You can find a list on our Marrying in Scotland Links Page.

Further down the page we look at the historical background to Scotland's popularity as a wedding venue, but first we look at a series of practical issues those thinking of getting married in Scotland should be aware of. This section is based on the much more comprehensive and definitive advice given on the General Register Office For Scotland's website, and specifically the "Getting Married in Scotland" section here. If you are seriously considering getting married in Scotland, that website should be your next point of call.

First, who can get married in Scotland? The answer is that any two people, wherever they live, can marry in Scotland so long as:

There are two forms of marriage in Scotland, religious and civil:

It is worth remembering the legal requirement that both parties to a proposed civil or religious marriage must submit marriage notice forms to the registrar of the district in which the marriage is to take place informing him/her of their intention to marry; that the relevant forms can be obtained from a registrar or via the GROS website; and that notice has to be given in the three months prior to the wedding, and not less than 15 days before it.

So how did the link between marriage and Scotland originally arise? Well, England in the early 1700s was facing serious social problems caused by large numbers of irregular marriages. The solution was an Act of Parliament introduced in 1754 which restricted the number of places in which marriages could take place; which tightened up the regulations on recording of marriages; and, most significantly, which outlawed marriages in which either bride or groom were under 21 unless both sets of parents or guardians consented. The new law was rigorously enforced, and clergymen faced 14 years transportation for breaking it.

But the 1754 Act did not apply to Scotland. Here it remained possible for anyone of 16 or over to get married with or without their parents' consent. And marriages could be carried out without prior notice and in a wide range of venues, without need for a clergyman to officiate. The result was a large increase in the numbers of marriages in places like Gretna Green, Coldstream and Lamberton (on the A1): the first places those coming from England to get married encountered in after crossing the border.

In Gretna Green runaway marriages were often carried out by the village blacksmith, as the tradesman of most respect in the community. And they were often carried out with a sense of urgency driven by the knowledge that one or other set of parents was in hot pursuit. The act of marriage came to be marked by the striking of an anvil by the blacksmith. This could be seen as symbolising the joining together of two pieces of metal in the heat of the blacksmith's fire. Like them, the couples involved were joined together in the heat of the moment and bound together for eternity.

An English Act of Parliament in 1857 meant that a marriage in Scotland would no longer be recognised in England unless one of the parties to it had been resident in Scotland for at least three weeks prior to the wedding. This reduced the flow of cross-border weddings and ended the tradition in Coldstream. But despite this, Gretna Green remained a considerable draw until 1940, when irregular marriages performed by someone other than a clergyman or official registrar were outlawed in Scotland. During the 13 years until 1940 Gretna Green's last "anvil priest" to officiate at the Old Smithy, Richard Rennison, is said to have performed 5147 weddings.

And for 37 years the flow of cross border weddings became a trickle. But in 1977 the three week residential requirement was removed for weddings in Scotland; couples instead simply needing to give at least 14 days written notice of their wedding. Then, in 1994, religious weddings outside church premises became permissible. And since 2002, Registrars have also been able to perform civil weddings in approved venues outside Registration Offices. Getting married in Scotland became popular again and the result is the statistic given in the opening paragraph above, that over a quarter of Scotland's weddings are now between non-Scots. And despite the fact that transport - and hot pursuit by angry parents - is no longer the issue it was in 1754, one eighth of all weddings in Scotland still take place in Gretna or nearby Gretna Green.

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