By Cheryl Bolen
Divorces, while not unheard of in the Regency, were extremely
rare. Only the wealthiest could afford the expensive process of filing a
bill of divorce, which must be approved by the House of Lords before
moving to the House of Commons. It sometimes took years for Parliament
to grant a divorce.
As women had few legal rights, the divorce petition had to originate
with the husband, and in almost all cases was initiated because of the
Because few men wished to own they had been cuckolded, only the most
furious of husbands would set themselves up for such notoriety.
For the divorce hearings B where witnesses gave testimony to prove
adulterous liaisons B generated tremendous notoriety. Printings of the
transcripts made bestsellers.
Few woman wished to expose themselves to such scandal. A divorced woman
was barred from court and from almost all aristocratic functions. She
could not obtain custody of her children, either. And if she went on to
remarry (some divorce decrees forbid the wife to marry her seducer) she
would be prohibited from presenting legitimate daughters from the second
marriage. This happened to Lady Holland when her first husband (with her
full support) divorced her so she could marry Lord Holland. (She also
had to sign away her fortune to the first husband, Sir Godfrey Webster.)
Some men braved the notoriety the absorbed the expense of divorce in
order to ensure they would not have to give their name to a child
fathered by the wife=s lover. By English law, any child born during the
marriage was the legitimate issue of the marriage and could claim
titles, land, or other inheritances.
A much cheaper B and more common B option for a couple trapped in a
miserable marriage was an ecclesiastical separation. The drawback to
separation was the inability to remarry.
This article was first published in The Regency Reader in