Monday, 1 April 2013

Divorce of John James and Charlotte Frances née Dana

John James (1808 - 1855), a solicitor from Newnham Gloucestershire, married Charlotte Frances Dana (1820 - 1904) on 14 May 1839 at St Peters church, Worfield near Albrighton Shropshire.

They had two children, Charlotte Constance (1840 - 1935) and John Henry (1841 - 1842).

In November 1847 Charlotte left her husband and daughter and eloped to France from Ventnor on the Isle of Wight with Philip Champion Crespigny. They lived in France under different names including Mr and Mrs Rae and D'Estair. They moved from Havre to Rouen to Paris and then to near St Malo.1 Their daughter Ada Isadora was born at Paris on 15 May 1848 and christened at the English Protestant Chapel, Saint-Servan-Sur-Mer. Saint Servan is two miles from St Malo. Their son Philip was born 4 January 1850 at St Malo and christened on 14 January. A second son Constantine Pulteney Trent was born on 5 May 1851 at St Malo and christened on 28 May.2

In the mean time John James had engaged a solicitor to pursue his wife and Philip. The solicitor
"stated he had used every effort to induce Mr. Crespigny to put in an appearance to an action for crim. con., but without effect. Indeed, whenever he had reason to think that that gentleman might be in England he had sued out a writ. He had sued out at least seven or eight writs, but in no one instance had an appearance been entered."1

In February 1849 the divorce went before the Arches court. The court thought the facts were fully established beyond all doubt, and pronounced for the divorce.3

In March 1849 John James brought a bill for divorce before the House of Lords. Among the lords present were the Lord Chancellor, Lord Brougham, Lord Campbell, the Duke of Wellington, Lord Stradbroke, the Earl of Mountcashel, Lord Stanley, the Earl of Suffolk, and Lord Ellenborough.1

The marriage of Charlotte Frances Dana to Philip Champion Crespigny was formalised on 18 July 1849 at the British Embassy in Paris, France. The couple had been living at Fleurtuil in Brittany, a village near St Malo, and Philip C. Crespigny, rentier [i.e. "of independent means"], accompanied by his Dame [lady: probably not wife, which would be Femme] and their child [described as an Enfant, which would indicate a male child, but evidently Ada, who had been born on 15 May 1848] were granted a passport for travel to Paris by the local British Vice-Consul at St. Malo on 30 May 1849.4

Divorce for reasons of adultery was first made available in England in 1857. Parliamentary divorce was invented about 1700. Divorce by a private act of Parliament was abolished in 1857. Before 1857 three different legal systems applied: canon law, equity law and common law requiring different lawyers and judges and operating in three separate courts. Before 1857 only Parliament could grant a full legal severance of a marriage allowing both spouses to marry again.5

The Court of Arches was an ecclesiastical court located at Doctors' Commons in London.

The law provided for a husband to make a claim against a wife's lover for damages because of her adultery - an action known as 'criminal conversation', or 'crim. con.'. In later years this action reinforced the claims for a Parliamentary divorce. The original object of the crim. con. action had been to punish the seducers of married women and to compensate the latter's cuckolded husbands. By 1800, the great majority of actions were collusive, and their true function was to provide a legal smoke screen under which both husband and wife could obtain an undefended Parliamentary divorce and remarry.6 Philip Crespigny's refusal to be party to the crim. con. court case was unusual and threatened to derail the divorce action.7

Only the very rich could afford a Parliamentary divorce, the costs running into thousands of pounds.8 It is estimated that £5,000 in 1847 would be worth about half a million dollars today.9 In the ten years 1841 to 1850 only 43 Parliamentary divorce petitions were brought in England, about 4 a year. There were 85 matrimonial cases in the Court of Arches in that decade.10

In 1852, John James also remarried to Arabella Veronica Dighton. They had a daughter Vera Maria James. John James died in 1855.

Charlotte Constance James would never have seen her mother again. She married in 1859 to Francis Gamble Blood. They had a son, John Neptune Blood. Charlotte Constance divorced Francis Blood in 1870; it was a wife's petition.11 Charlotte Constance Blood died in 1935. Her son died in 1942 without issue having never married.



1. The Times, 21 March 1849, page 7 (images of the newspaper articles are below)
2. Notes on the family history prepared by my father Rafe de Crespigny August 2001: The record of baptism for Isidora Ada Charlotte, on 4 July 1848, gives her parents with Christian names Philip and Charlotte, but surname as D'Estrée. It seems that this must refer to the first child of Philip Champion Crespigny and Charlotte Frances nee Dana, born before their marriage, but there appears no explanation for the surname. Eighteen months later, on 14 January 1850 Philip Champion and Charlotte Frances had their infant son baptised as Philip Champion, with the surname given as Crespigny. In each case, the address of the father was given as St Malo, and the quality or profession as "Gentleman". Both ceremonies were carried out by the same Chaplain John Penleaye; one would imagine the British community in the region of St Malo would have been small enough for someone to have noticed the variations.
3. London Daily News, 19 February 1849, pages 6-7, "Arches Court - Saturday"
4. Notes on the family history prepared by my father Rafe de Crespigny August 2001. He also notes that no place called Fleurtuil appears on the Michelin Map of France, nor is there any record of such a place on the Internet; on the other hand, this is true also of the sub-village Crépigny. The writing of the name, however, is a little uncertain: the initial could be an H, or possibly a P, and there is a Pleurtuit in the vicinity of St Malo, some distance up the Rance, about four kilometres from its western bank.
5. Stone, Lawrence. (1990). Road to divorce : England 1530-1987. Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press; pages 6, 20, 46
6. Stone pages 17, 26
7. The Hull Packet and East Riding Times (Hull, England), Friday, March 30, 1849; Opprobriums of Law
8. Stone pages 354 - 357
9. Computing 'Real Value' Over Time With a Conversion Between U.K. Pounds and U.S. Dollars, 1830 to Present from http://www.measuringworth.com/exchange/ calculated 1 April 2013
10. Stone pages 424, 432
11. Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle etc (Portsmouth, England), Wednesday, June 22, 1870


London Daily News, 19 February 1849, pages 6-7, "Arches Court - Saturday"


The Hull Packet and East Riding Times (Hull, England), Friday, March 30, 1849; Opprobriums of Law


The Times, 21 March 1849, page 7


Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle etc (Portsmouth, England), Wednesday, June 22, 1870

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