This book is for the writer/reader interested in the history relating to marriage, separation and divorce before the first Divorce Act in 1857.
Broken Lives: Separation and Divorce in England 1660-1857 by Lawrence Stone.
ISBN: (Hardback) 0-19-820254-7
(While there were some historians who were unhappy with his methods and the conclusions he reached in his earlier books, but they still make interesting reading.)
Where marriage was concerned, it was much simpler for the ordinary man and woman than for the wealthy. Even if love was involved in their relationship, money came into it at every stage, even with divorce.
(Now pass over the next bit if you are already familiar with the financial aspects of marriage within the wealthy class.)
At marriage a dowry was paid by the bride's family to the groom's. In response, provision would be made for the couple so they had income to live on. And in case she became a widow, her jointure- an annuity for the rest of her life was agreed (a pension).
All her personal property- jewels, furniture and money became her husband's to do with as he pleased when she became a Mrs.
So a wife risked a great deal to separate from her husband but some still did it, despite the social and financial ruin they would incur, as well as the loss of access to any children they had.
The section of the book that I find the most interesting is the case studies taken from the court documents, statements from the parties involved and those of witnesses ( often they were bribed to give a particular version). This is the ugly side of social history of the wealthy.
A few years ago I had an idea for a novella set at the turn of the 19th century. My hero, Hugh, was the child of a broken marriage. So I created a back story to explain the separation and set about researching its plausibility. I researched what might be available in the county library, borrowed this book and began reading.
I came across a case in the late 18th century. It even fitted into the same time period my fictional characters would have broken up.
While my scenario didn't share any similarity to the distressing circumstances of the case, the offending male did.
I won't reveal more as I've started writing Hugh's story, but it shows that what we think may be unlikely, if we just look we may find it could have happened.
While the rich lived comfortable lives, behind closed doors some of their relationships were hell.
If they lived now- without the riches- quite a few of those wives would be residing in refuges for battered women or on long-term anti-depressants.
So when I see portraits of the aristocracy hanging in art galleries, I do look at their faces and wonder...