Petitions to the Court for Divorce and Matrimonial Causes: A New Methodological Approach to the History of Divorce, 1857-1923

Jennifer Aston*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Although the subject of divorce and the development of divorce legislation in nineteenth-century England and Wales has received some academic attention, much work remains to be done. Existing studies have examined either a small number of cases from a limited period of the newly formed Court for Divorce and Matrimonial Causes’ history; answered a specific question over a longer period; or conducted detailed micro-studies of individual and high-profile cases. None have examined the surviving petitions made to the court (held at The National Archives under J 77) holistically over an extended period. This article seeks to revive the field by suggesting a new interdisciplinary methodological approach that will combine historical and legal studies with digital humanities to offer the first panoptic view of J 77 petitions. Far from being dry legal documents, this article argues that they hold a wealth of rich detail about petitioners, respondents, co-respondents, witnesses, children, solicitors, barristers, clerks, and judges, and stand at an exciting intersection of several fields of enquiry. Adopting such an approach will generate important new insights about gender, class, property ownership, intimacy, religion, childhood, and sexuality in nineteenth and early twentieth century England and Wales.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Legal History
DOIs
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 20 Jun 2022

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