by David William Wilkin
To write this post today, which on a personal note is the 10th anniversary of my wedding (and a birthday as well), seems to be at cross purposes--writing about a divorce, when there were so few in Regency England, and mixing that in when I should be only celebrating good successful marriages.
But wait a bit and you will see there is method to this madness.
In writing my most recent novel, Beggars Can't Be Choosier (look for it this month!), I thought to use the time-honored device of marrying for money and then after a suitable time had passed, divorcing so the spouses could then lead the lives they truly wanted.
One reader, Nancy Mayer, who maintains an excellent resource blog pointed out that this was a problem as there were very few divorces in the period. The term was used to imply legal separation so the spouses in a marriage were still married but pursued their own affairs so to speak.
That stumped me. This plot device so used by others was no longer valid? I felt I must look into such a matter and see how it applies.
Some of those larger than life members of the ton got away with the very actions that so few others did. But that is what Regency Romance is about. We create fictitious dukes, earls, and even princes of the royal family. (That's a nod to our founder of EHFA, Debra Brown and her Companion of Lady Holmeshire.)
My tale, of course, involves larger than life members of the ton--men and women whose behaviour will be on dits and most likely would have gotten the approbation of Ms. Jane Austen in a letter to Cassandra Austen. But then Jane did not lead the life of the ton, but the rather much more sedate country gentility which we might not want to trade for those of Town, yet those of Town give us so much to follow and discuss.
(I have not taken a poll or compiled a list of the ratio between Regencies that discuss Town and those that discuss Country, but I hazard that there is a greater weight to the doings of the titled of Town then the gentry of the Country.)
We now come to the research. There were between the high two hundreds and mid three hundreds in number of divorces that Parliament granted during the Georgian and Regency Periods. Not many. There are probably that many each hour now in the countries that read these types of stories.
Yet to be true to the manner of the period, one has to think of how that integrates.
Scotland was the solution.
Many know of Gretna Green, famous for our Regency couples who have no permission to wed, or have not posted the banns. It was the closest place in Scotland, from England, to marry.
Scotland also provided the Reno of the Regency Times (for those who do not live in the US or are not familiar with US history, you can go to Reno in Nevada, "The Biggest Little City in the World", establish residence, and get a divorce.)
In historical novels of the period, our heroes and heroines could go to Scotland, establish residence by living there six weeks, and then get divorced. You had to have cause, adultery being ever a good reason with evidence to back it up.
In a Regency Romance, it is most likely that should a divorce be discussed, it is a conflict plot point that the author is using as contention to separate his hero and heroine before bringing them together in the end. We as readers expect this to happen, and often we know that history is repetitive. Everything we think is new probably has happened before.
A good divorce that then results in a marriage of love and a healthy relationship would serve as an example for our Regency Heroes and Heroines. Despite Jane Austen, in the country writing tended to be about love as the reason that people marry, and not to protect property and status--the reason so many in the ton married. Being forced into a marriage with someone you did not love and then finding there was someone that you did could cause a conundrum for anyone, and when they are our esteemed legends of the Regency, then what?
The Iron Duke (he wasn't that yet) had left the Peninsula to answer the charges of the terms of surrender at Rolica. He would be exonerated, but General Sir John Moore had taken over the British army at that time, and his commander of cavalry was Sir Henry William Paget whose father was the Earl of Uxbridge. Henry was married to the daughter of the Earl of Jersey, Lady Caroline. They liked each other well enough to produce eight children. Before going on campaign with General Moore, Henry fell in love with Charlotte Wellesley, however, who was married to Henry Wellesley, the younger brother of Sir Arthur.
Paget was very successful during the Corunna campaign at keeping the French from destroying the British presence in Spain and Portugal. He was a hero even then. But because of the affair with Lady Charlotte, Sir Arthur would not use him. General Moore died at Corunna, and Sir Arthur later returned to take charge of the forces in Portugal and then in Spain, very successfully as we know.
Henry, returning to England got Charlotte with child, and Caroline had her own new lover in the Duke of Argyll. Henry and Charlotte went to Scotland where residency and reason can bring about a divorce. Henry was sued by Henry Wellesley and had to pay 20,000 pounds, but still, the outcome of all was that the Wellesleys were divorced, and then Henry Paget and Lady Caroline were granted their divorce in Scotland. A week later the Duke or Argyll took to wife Lady Caroline, and Henry Paget married his Charlotte.
Later, at Waterloo, Henry famously had his leg shot off and yet lived 39 years more. He was made a Marquess (of Anglesey) and he and Charlotte had ten children besides the one that was born before they wed. Most of the children of the Marquess married well. Fourteen of Paget's children lived to adulthood, and as for their spouses, one married a duke, others the granddaughter of a duke, a marquess, a baron, a baron, an earl, an earl, an admiral, a general, another earl, another general, and the son of an earl. This gives us evidence that the haute ton which Austen was not a part of, accepted the children of a divorced couple freely. The Marquess was of such stature that the doors he wished opened to him were opened. There may have been some who were tarnished because they were divorced, but obviously there were those who were not.
Society, the ton that we see in the Regency and in the Regency Romances show that this is accepted behavior--not just the device of a divorce, but the actual carrying out of such. Jane Austen wrote to Cassandra and did not want to know such people. Austen's heroes marry for love. Historically the people she wrote of married for money. (It is crass, but when you break it down that appears to be the reason.) We know of many married couples of the period who had affairs because they looked for love as well. That they did divorce to achieve love in their married lives seems evident. It may have been difficult, but it was done.
Researching the subject and connecting the dots, a divorce may provide an on dit but that seems, as most on dits in Regency Novels, temporary. After a few years in a second marriage, how often do we speak in our societies about our friends and the previous spouse? Gossip is momentary, and we (and those who lived 200 years ago) surely turn our minds to other things.
Divorce in England was rare. That is something to keep in mind. Also remember that it was a term used for permanent legal separation, but not a severing of the marriage status to allow a new wedding. But there was always Reno--I mean Scotland, to bring those truly in love together. Whether just that trip to Gretna Green or the desire to live in Scotland for six weeks and secure freedom from a marriage, one wanted to leave for a new chance at happiness.
Mr. Wilkin writes Regency Historicals and Romances, Ruritanian (A great sub-genre that is fun to explore) and Edwardian Romances, Science Fiction and Fantasy works. He is the author of the very successful Pride & Prejudice continuation; Colonel Fitzwilliam’s Correspondence. He has several other novels set in Regency England including The End of the World and The Shattered Mirror.
His most recent work is the humorous spoof; Jane Austen and Ghosts, a story of what would happen were we to make any of these Monsters and Austen stories into a movie.
And Two Peas in a Pod, a madcap tale of identical twin brothers in Regency London who find they must impersonate each other to pursue their loves.
He is published by Regency Assembly Press
The links for all locations selling Mr. Wilkin's work can be found at the webpage and will point you to your favorite internet bookstore: David’s Books, and at various Internet and realworld bookstores including the iBookstore, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords.
And he maintains his own blog called The Things That Catch My Eye where the entire Regency Lexicon has been hosted these last months as well as the current work in progress of the full Regency Timeline is being presented.
You also may follow Mr. Wilkin on Twitter at @DWWilkin
Mr. Wilkin maintains a Pinterest page with pictures and links to all the Regency Research he uncovers at Pinterest Regency-Era