Another case from Unquiet Lives:
In November 1788, Eleanor Smith confessed to her husband, William, a Northumberland clergyman, that she had been unfaithful and that their youngest child was in fact fathered by her lover. Eleanor and the little boy went to live with her mother and by November 1790 William had gained a separation. Yet he paid maintenance to Eleanor and 2s a week towards the child’s support. Interestingly, when William died in 1812, nearly twenty-two years later, he left no will and Eleanor, described as his widow, was appointed as administrator.
How would you like to see this show up in a book? I always love brought-together-by-a-will plotlines, even when they’re totally ridiculous from a legal standpoint. Some thoughts:
1. The hero is Eleanor’s son by her lover. When Eleanor must return to administer William’s will/estate, he falls in love with William’s poor orphaned niece, who has been serving as William’s hostess and now has nowhere to live.
2. Eleanor is the heroine, and the hero is William’s lawyer. (Is the lawyer also her lover from so many years ago?)
3. The heroine is William’s oldest daughter, whose family was torn apart when she was a little girl. Now she’s reunited with her mother and half-brother and must untangle her complex feelings about the past…I assume she has a long-term suitor she hasn’t been able to trust because of her conflicted feelings about marriage.
What do you think?
I’ve always hesitated to write a hero and heroine who can’t marry at the end. Could it be a satisfying HEA in a historical romance? And yet I’d love to write a heroine who’s separated from her husband, without having to kill the husband off. This, from Unquiet Lives, is making me rethink some assumptions:
In 1771 the Newcastle Courant lamented the death of Mrs. Grizzel Ross. Stating that she was 100 years old, and born of noble parents, it commented matter-of-factly that she had ‘eloped from her husband about 45 years ago,’ and settled at Hepple, Northumberland, where she ‘gained the love and esteem of all her neighbors.’
Of course, it sounds like Mrs. Grizzel Ross lived alone (in this period “eloped” was used when women left their husbands even if they weren’t eloping with anyone), but I’ve got some examples of socially accepted bigamy coming up, too! The Regency was probably more sexually conservative than the 1770s as it transitioned towards Victorian mores, but I need to keep reminding myself that even then, there was a much broader range of behavior available to people than is portrayed in Dickens novels, just as not everyone in American in the 1940s lived their lives by the Hays Code.
What do you think? Could you believe in a historical HEA where the hero and heroine couldn’t marry?
I just finished reading Unquiet Lives: Marriage and Marriage Breakdown in England, 1660–1800, by Joanne Bailey. There were more statistics than I wanted, and less details about individual court cases/newspaper ads/etc., but I learned a lot of fascinating stuff. Overall, I think what I learned is that separations were not that uncommon, and neither was cohabitation or even remarriage after a separation. I’m going to be posting some of the most interesting cases/plot bunnies…
[trigger warning: references to domestic violence]
The fact that their [local clergymen’s] remit included reconciling warring couples is highlighted by the church court prosecution of the curate John Turner in 1706, which claimed that ‘[you] doth breed strife and sedition amongst your Neighbors and very often between Man and Wife by adviseing them to part from one another (whereas by your holy office you should be a peace maker…)’
[…]Edward Bearparke complained[…]Turner had endeavored to widen a breach between him and his wife, by telling her to procure a warrant from a justice of the peace against him [which would require him to appear in court for “mediation, usually between wives and violent husbands or husbands who refused to contribute to the domestic economy”]. She probably saw this somewhat differently.
1. Bearparke is my new favorite name and I WILL be using it.
2. I’d love to read a romance with a separation- and warrant-encouraging curate as the hero! Who should the heroine be?