Divorce by legal process only became possible after the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857. Before that date, the only way to get a full divorce that allowed re-marriage was to obtain an Act of Parliament by proving adultery or life-threatening cruelty. The roll pictured is the Act for the Addison-Campbell divorce, which received Royal Assent on 23 June 1801, together with other documents relating to the same case. This is a significant legal milestone, as it was the first divorce to be obtained by a woman.
Jane Campbell divorced her husband, Edward Addison, on the grounds of “incestuous adultery” with her sister, Jessy Campbell. She also obtained custody of their children, which was very unusual for a woman in this period. Evidence was given by Jessy Campbell’s maid that Mr Addison had frequently visited her mistress in his dressing gown and slippers “about an Hour or an Hour and an Half after she had been Bed”.
For more information, visit www.parliament.uk/archives