cuckolded husbands of 18th-century England

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Seymour, Bisset is looking at you ... Worsley, his wife and Bisset had once attended a bath-house in the town and, while Lady Worsley was getting dressed, her husband had allowed Bisset to climb on his shoulders to ogle her half-naked form through a window.

Seymour, Bisset is looking at you … Worsley, his wife and Bisset had once attended a bath-house in the town and, while Lady Worsley was getting dressed, her husband had allowed Bisset to climb on his shoulders to ogle her half-naked form through a window.

Sex, Scandal and Divorce

?Lady Worsley had 27 lovers and Sir Richard was a Voyeur, a Pervert, a Deviant

The Battle between Sir Richard Worsley and George Bisset

In 1782, the chattering classes of Britain and the United States were held transfixed by the trial of George Bisset for criminal conversation. The transcript had seven printings in the first year–even George Washington requested one.

Lady Worsley ran off with her husband?s best friend, Captain George Bisset and by March 1782, their names and cartoon images were plastered all over London. Sir Richard was a voyeur who used to pimp Lady Worsley out to his friends, and then tried to unsuccessfully sue Bisset for 20,000 pounds in a Criminal Conversation, or adultery trial. The couple took great pains to completely ruin each other ? and the public loved it. They queued outside booksellers shops for copies of the trial transcripts and the newspapers covered the farce for months. Poems and pamphlets of purported exploits were printed and hungrily consumed all that year and in the years to follow.

What legal options were available to the cuckolded husbands of 18th-century England? Divorce was a fantastically costly, excruciatingly public business, and only really viable for those blessed with deep pockets and lofty social rank.

The so-called parliamentary divorce was one possibility, which obliterated the marital union and left the parties free to re-marry.

However, there was also the solution dispensed by the ecclesiastical court of Doctors’ Commons: a legal separation of “bed and board” might be pronounced, but the former husband and wife were not then entitled to find new spouses. This was the vengeful cuckold’s first port of call: a wife who was unable to remarry stood an excellent chance of falling into penury.

What, though, of the scoundrel who had ravished her? Here the concept of “criminal conversation” – a euphemistic way of saying “having adulterous sex” – came to the fore.

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