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Bigamous marriage in early modern England

By B. S. Capp

Abstract

Though divorce followed by remarriage was illegal in early modern England, a considerable number of people whose marriage had failed or whose spouse had deserted ventured to marry again, either uncertain of the law or choosing to defy it. Bigamy, traditionally a spiritual offence, came to be seen as a significant social problem and was made a felony in 1604. Drawing on ecclesiastical and secular court records and a variety of other sources, this article examines the legal framework, offers a typology of bigamists, and explores the circumstances surrounding their actions. It finds that offenders, predominantly male, ranged from the unlucky or feckless to the cynically manipulative, among them a small number of serial bigamists. It also asks how such offences might come to light in an age of relatively poor communications, and examines the plight of those who had married a bigamist in good faith. Finally it examines the likelihood of conviction, and the punishment of those who confessed or were convicted

Topics: HQ, DA
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Year: 2009
OAI identifier: oai:wrap.warwick.ac.uk:2165

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