Essay On Divorce And Marriage

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The shadowy figure of Death could be relied on to end some marriages, for in the early modern period Death was a frequent visitor, and it was not uncommon for a person to be widowed several times in their life.Indeed, non-consummation was no guarantee that a case would be successful.In 1715 for example, Sir George Downing and his wife Mary tried to get their marriage of fifteen years annulled.In these circumstances, the best a couple could hope for was a "divorce from bed and board".This would not dissolve the marriage bond, and thus they would be unable to re-marry, but it would give them legal permission to live apart.In the early modern period, the institution of marriage was seen as almost sacred.Protestant theologians denied that it was a sacrament, but they maintained the pre-Reformation view that it was a holy union ordained by God for the prevention of sin and fornication. It was believed to be an institution essential for the preservation of law and order, and was seen as a microcosm of society at large.They were actually marry'd according to the form prescrib'd by the Church of England..are therefore man and wife both by the laws of God and the land." (4) The most common ground on which couples tried to seek an annulment, and the ground on which they appear to have been most successful, was that of pre-contract.A couple could gain an annulment even if that pre-contract had been unsolemnized and unconsummated, and in the sixteenth century it could be granted without any proof, although some kind of evidence would normally be requested.Martin Ingram states in his influential book, Church Courts, Sex and Marriage in England, "To be sure, unsatisfactory unions were more likely to be resolved by the early death of one of the parties than is the case today, but since the median duration of marriages in pre-industrial England may have been as high as twenty years there was still much scope for marital misery".(2) Both the law and the Church were aware that in some cases separation was necessary, and there were ways an unhappy couple could separate.

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