Arielle & Markus’s Humanist Elopement at the Royal College of Surgeons

“Elopement (noun): a marriage conducted in sudden and secretive fashion, without parental approval and usually involving a hurried flight from one’s place of residence”.

How things have changed since poor, naive Lydia ran off with the wicked Mr Wickham in Pride and Prejudice! In Jane Austen’s time, elopements were a cause of great scandal and they ruined the reputation not only of both bride and groom, but of their families. Despite that, they were immensely popular.

In England and Wales, ‘Clandestine Marriages’, where a couple simply declared their wish to be married in front of two witnesses, were widespread until the introduction of the Marriage Act of 1753 which explicitly forbad the marriage of people under the age of 21 without parental consent.

Then as now, Scotland had its own separate legal system. Girls over 12 and boys over 14 could get married by “declaration,” meaning they only had to announce vows in front of witnesses and parental permission was not required. Better still, Scots law allowed any citizen to perform a marriage, and anyone else to bear witness, so until 1940, when marriage by declaration was disallowed in Scotland, thousands of couples crossed the border to elope in towns like Lamberton, Coldstream and – most famous of all -Gretna Green, where the blacksmith would forge the rings and pronounce the marriage by hammering the anvil.

You can read much more about the ‘anvil priests’ and the ‘forging’ of Gretna Green’s reputation as the a romantic destination in this fascinating article by Natalie Zarrelli, but an elopement today is a very different thing.

One thing that hasn’t changed is that an elopement is a decision made with the heart. And in their ceremony, Markus and Arielle completely opened their hearts to one another. They don’t just enjoy a challenge, they embrace it.

1 They were living in two different time zones and countries.

2 They wanted to get married just two months after they first got in touch with me.

3 Despite not being UK citizens – and despite having to get a Home Office Visa – they wanted their marriage to be legal.

4 And they wanted their marriage to remain a secret until they’d got home and told their family and friends over the Christmas holidays.

I absolutely LOVED their homework!

Arielle’s first line was, “Our story on one page? I have a document with 15,365 words that is only the outline to our story!”

Markus said, “We scheduled our first date on Valentine’s Day. I picked a wine bar. It was closed.”

On the day, the only other people present were their friends, Sophie and Tim.

(Apart from all those of us who were there to make sure it happened, like ace photographer, Euan Robertson, Mercedes, their wedding co-ordinator and Tani, from the RCPE itself).

Arielle and Markus really embraced the whole idea of writing their own ceremony.

They gave me plenty to say, but their secret vows were an absolute tour de force!

As you may have noticed, I decided to get out of the way while they were making their vows.

There was something so intensely personal about how their ceremony had come about and what it was that they wanted to say that I felt they should be able to speak directly to one another without any distractions.

That is where the magic lies in a humanist wedding; creating your future in your own words, by speaking it to the person who will share it for the rest of your life.

I did come back to pronounce them married

And then I made sure I was out of shot rather quickly…

And that – apart from a glass of very good champagne – was the end of my role in their day, but Euan and Mercedes took them on a trip around town to get some more beautiful souvenirs of their Edinburgh elopement.

A few months ago (while this post was still under embargo) Arielle sent us all some lovely thank you notes. This is what she said to me.

There were a few late nights (including the night before) where we may have questioned the ‘why are we writing everything from top to bottom?’ but we’re happy to eat our words now and say that it was the absolute best way to go about it. 

After all, we chose an elopement because we felt that this was a hyper-personal commitment that we were making to each other and wanted a space where we felt we could express that to each other. 

We got that by putting the time in to create something that was true to us, our values, showed our journey, how we think about marriage/commitment and what we hope for in our life together. 

The homework that led up to creating the ceremony is also a body of work that we will keep forever and it made for a very memorable date evening…

I bet it did, Arielle – that was at least part of my intention when I came up with the idea of ‘the date night’ – and I’m so glad that it was part of the process that created your beautiful, powerful ceremony.

May you have many, many more date nights in the months and years to come. And I hope you’ll look out those notebooks from time to time, and remind yourself of all the things that brought you to this very special moment.

Thanks to you, and of course to Euan for these gorgeous images.

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