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Southern Magic - History Tidbits

The Victorian Age in England

By Carla Swafford

During the late 1800's, nearly 100 American women married peers or the younger sons of peers. In the United States, the public census considered it a social coup for a woman to marry a British peer. But for the British man, though the American heiress would help the family fortune and the country's economy, he was held in contempt. He was thought to be of low character, the type of man that would think nothing of "stooping" to marry an American just because he was broke.

Weddings were required to be held in the morning until the late 1880's. Even after that period, the hours were only extended to three p.m.

During this time, when a woman married, the woman's property and money transferred to her husband. She could not enter into a contract or make a will without his permission. But should she commit a crime, the man would be legally liable. It was thought that a wife did not act without the man's influence. It makes you wonder if a wife shot her husband, would they believe he committed suicide?

Up to 1857, a divorce was difficult to obtain, even then you would only have three possible choices. One was by annulment and this was due to relationship by blood, insanity or impotence. This choice allowed you to remarry, but your children would be illegitimate. The second choice was by separation, and you were not allowed to remarry. The reason for this divorce, if you could call it that, was adultery, sodomy, or cruelty of the physical kind. The third choice, available mostly for men, was by Parliamentary divorce. You could divorce your spouse, then sue her or him for adultery. Once you were successful in your lawsuit, Parliament would grant you a real divorce. Just think, your children would be legitimate.

Divorce was an expensive endeavor. Men held the purse strings, thus the one thousand to fifteen hundred pounds, sometimes twice as much, would be impossible for the wife. Only four out of ninety parliamentary divorces were secured by women before 1857.

You think the "wealthy" wives had it rough. When a poor man decided to divorce his wife, he could place a halter over her head and take her off to auction, along with his cows and pigs. Yep, it was legal up to 1850.

An interesting side note is, when Queen Victoria died at the age of eighty-one, the court officials were at a loss on the proper procedures to follow on the death of a sovereign and coronation of a new one. No one under the age of seventy had ever llived under another British monarch.


Taken from Magic Moments - December 1999 Volume 2/Issue 12