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  • Print publication year: 2020
  • Online publication date: January 2020

1 - Divorce in Two Legislatures: Irish Divorce, 1701–1857


This chapter explores Irish bills for divorce brought to Westminster from 1701 and to the Irish parliament until the Act of Union in 1800. The moral, reputational and financial impact of divorce is considered from a gendered and class-based perspective and noteworthy cases such as that of Sir John Dillon and Lord Abercorn are examined. The profile of the first Irish divorcees in terms of gender, religion, class and grounds for divorce is determined. Moreover, themes of female agency, illegitimacy, collusion, adultery, false testimony (procured in particular from servants) as well as the association between the availability of divorce as an incentive to adultery which became a recurring theme in both clerical and lay debates are also explored in both jurisdictions. The impact of the Act of Union on the rate and profile of Irish divorces is analysed. In addition, the popular criticism and press reportage of Irish divorce allow the tropes of immorality and moral superiority to be defined and considered.