legal basis, the practise, which is known to have happened a few hundred times, was conducted publicly on purpose. It prevented any civil actions being taken, either by people claiming that the first husband was responsible for his wife's subsequent debts, or by any actions for 'loss of his wife's virtue' made by the first husband against the second.

Another option was to lose your partner through death. This could be achieved without bloodshed, for if a partner vanished for seven years, they could be declared legally dead, and the other party was free to marry again.

Childbirth imposed terrible risks on mothers in the past. One often finds men having a string of children, then losing their first wife and almost immediately marrying a younger woman. Usually, such situations are explained on the grounds that the man needed a woman to look after his children. I suspect, however, that in some cases the husband may already have had his eye on the younger woman, and hastened his first wife's

COUPLE: Major Joseph Adolph and his wife Beryl, pictured in Palestine before their divorce. After her divorce was granted, my grandmother chose to revert to her maiden name, Waters, but retaining her title of 'Mrs'

demise by subjecting her to relentless pregnancy.


In 1853, Parliament set up a royal commission to examine divorce law. The result was the

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