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Broken Lives: Separation and Divorce in England, 1660-1857
Lawrence Stone's trilogy on marriage in early modern England has been widely praised. The New York Times Book Review hailed the first volume, Road to Divorce as "sure-footed and fascinating commentary" and chose it as a Notable Book of 1990. Christopher Hibbert in the Independent found that the "absorbing and often extraordinary" stories in volume two,...
Lawrence Stone's trilogy on marriage in early modern England has been widely praised. The New York Times Book Review hailed the first volume, Road to Divorce as "sure-footed and fascinating commentary" and chose it as a Notable Book of 1990. Christopher Hibbert in the Independent found that the "absorbing and often extraordinary" stories in volume two, Uncertain Unions "throw a clear, bright light not only upon the making and breaking of marriages in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, but also on social customs and the intimacies of private lives." Now, in Broken Lives, the third and final book, Stone sets out to examine the various ways people ended marriages and the lengths to which they would go to do so. Drawing from a massive archive of court cases, Stone presents stories that paint a revealing portrait of divorce in the period before 1857. Divorce could only be obtained by Act of Parliament, and often at great expense and with much difficulty. As Stone writes, however extreme the circumstances, the legal breaking of a marriage on the grounds of cruelty was not easy to obtain in seventeenth-century England. For instance, in Boteler v. Boteler, Anne Boteler, wife of Sir Oliver Boteler, had overwhelming evidence of her husband's abuse (which included death threats and physical attacks on Anne and her children). Yet even though Sir Oliver's own relatives testified against him, it took Anne three years to obtain a legal separation. Of course, in some instances, the wife had the upperhand. In Lovedon v. Lovedon, we see an instance in which a wife could repeatedly appeal her husband's suit for divorce at his expense. By law, Edward Lovedon was obliged to pay all of his wife Anne's bills until they were officially divorced. And in Beaufort v. Beaufort we learn that women would often successfully countersue their husbands for divorce on the grounds of impotence--in those days, it was more than likely that a man would fail the public test he underwent to prove his virility. Other cases reveal intriguing and often spiteful aspects of marital breakdown: servants blackmailing their adulterous masters and mistresses; and husbands suing their wives' lovers for property damage (i.e. to the wives' bodies). One of the world's leading authorities on the history of the family, Lawrence Stone has mapped the arduous routes which people took to break marriages--from private separation agreements to Parliamentary ruling. And as he does so, he provides a fascinating glimpse into daily life and marital conduct, and allows us to eavesdrop on the testimony and conversations of men and women of all sorts and conditions--from the serving girl to the served--in the changing social world of early modern England.
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