Wednesday, June 29, 2005

divorce in the Regency

I'm going to try to keep a writer's journal here to outline the process of writing this book. Difficult when I'm writing 20 pages a day to finish the rough draft.

The story revolves around the main character, Captain Lacey, trying to divorce his estranged wife. Before 1857 when divorce was more or less reformed in England, only the man could divorce, although the woman could get a separation for abandonment or cruelty (but it had to be blatant cruelty/abuse).

It is popular in historical novels and historical movies to throw around annulment like it was very easy to dissolve an undesirable marriage. Annulment, however, could only be granted in certain cases: insanity (had to be proved), impotence for three years by the man (had to be proved), the husband and wife being too closely related (ok for first cousins but not for brother-in-law/sister-in-law to marry), or one of the party being married beforehand.

You could not get an annulment simply because the marriage wasn't consummated. You could not get it because you changed your mind. Marriage was pretty much sealed in cement. Actually, a betrothal was a contract, and even breaking a betrothal could result in a lawsuit from the other party, for breach of contract.

Note too that a man was considered to be related to his brother's wife. They were brother and sister "in law" and therefore, a man could not marry his brother's widow, without special dispensation. (Henry VIII had to get special dispensation to marry Catherine of Aragon, because she had been married to his brother, Arthur. When Henry wanted to divorce Catherine, he argued that his marriage to her was illegal, because she'd been married to his brother, and that the dispensation should not have been granted. He liked to play both sides of the fence, didn't he?)

I could go on here, because marriage/divorce in the Regency is complicated. Many of the older medieval laws existed; reforms did not happen until the 1830s and later in the Victorian age.

Will talk later about what legal separation meant and the many steps a man had to go through to be granted a divorce. No one married lightly!

Ashley Gardner


Annalee Blysse said...

Saw your "chat" at Kayelle's group tonight. Mysteries in Regency England too. Intestesting.

Sarah said...

You might want to get rid of the spam posts! Good site and helpful

Jennifer Ashley/ Allyson James / Ashley Gardner said...

It's a non-stop job chasing unwanted comments! Thanks for the heads-up.