Thursday, 17 February 2011

Who's the wife?!

Here is an interesting newspaper story from the Edinburgh based Caledonian Mercury, Monday July 23rd 1849, concerning a man with two irregular wives - or is that two wives from irregular marriages?! You decide! Both women tried to claim that they were the wife of the same man at the Court of Session:

Both parties belong to Glasgow. Mr B-- , a young man of considerable property, resident in that city, eloped with a young girl of seventeen, E--, the daughter of an innkeeper there, named M--. The parties proceeded to Edinburgh by the railway, on the 21st July 1846, and went to the Albion Hotel, where they occupied separate apartments for the night. On the following day they waited upon a solicitor who prepared a formal contract of marriage, which was signed before witnesses, and B-- wrote to several of his relations announcing his marriage. There was no religious ceremony; but the parties proceeded to Kirkcaldy, and lived together at the George Hotel, for three days and three nights, during which they slept together.

Immediately thereafter, B-- deserted the young woman E-- M-- , and went off to live with another woman of the name of J- McD-, with whom it was alleged he had formerly cohabited. A declarator of marriage was then brought by E-- M-- against Mr B--, for establishing her rights as his wife. The proof led, consisted of the contract and correspondence, and the cohabitation of the parties for several days at Kirkcaldy, and Lord Wood found the marriage to be clearly established, by an interlocutor on the 5th June 1849.

The case came before the First Division of the court by a reclaiming note at B--’s instance, on Tuesday last (the 17th July). It was then stated by the counsel for B--, that J-- McD-- the daughter of a dyer in Glasgow, had raised a declarator of marriage against him, setting forth that they had been married, by mutual consent, in the end of May 1846; and that two children had been born of the marriage, one in March 1848, and the other in May 1849.; and he moved the court to delay giving judgement in the action at E-- M--’s instance till the claim put forward by J-- McD-- was disposed of.

The court overruled this motion, and adhered to Lord Wood’s interlocutor, finding the marriage between E-- M-- and B-- to be clearly established, and without giving any opinion on the claim of McD-- , which was not then regularly before them.

Here is an instance of two irregular and clandestine marriages said to have been contracted by parties belonging to Glasgow, and where two women are each laying claim to the same man. After about three years’ litigation, one of the women succeeds in getting a judgment declaring her marriage with B-, but in place of having her status conclusively fixed by this decision, she finds the whole case re-opened by her competitor, J-- McD--, who pretends to have a prior claim to B--, in respect of an alleged irregular marriage of an earlier date; and the position of wife and children is thus left in a state of lamentable uncertainty till another litigation has run its course.

You won't find every Scots marriage in the church records pre-1855. But you will find more about how to locate them in my forthcoming book, Discover Scottish Church Records, coming soon from Unlock the Past! (UPDATE: now available from or in ebook format from


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