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Sometimes, when trawling through historical records, a researcher comes across personal stories that seem destined for Hollywood. Take this dramatic tale of romance triumphing against all the odds, featuring sexually-charged teenage servants, illegimate pregnancy, forced separation, triple bigamy, a few deaths, and a gouty clergyman in a sedan chair. All in that world-renowned town of passion and enchantment… Bicester.

Before I offer a summary of events, take a deep breath and…:

one

two

 – Oxford Journal, Saturday 3 May 1766


So, the script runs thus:

– Plucky young Buckinghamshire barmaid Elizabeth Smith [interesting that she is the only party named in this story] falls pregnant, and also falls for one of her fellow servants (it is unclear in what order these two events occur).

– Although he is under age (then 21) the couple wed, only to be cruelly wrenched apart by his somewhat unimpressed friends and their respect for the recently-introduced marriage law.

– She embarks upon a friendless journey to Oxfordshire, where she marries again (her first baby seems to have no further part in the story).

– She soon discovers that not only does her new husband have another wife, but that her new husband’s other wife also has another husband. .

– MEANWHILE, our hero also remarries – only to find that his new wife… has another husband. Ah, the sanctity of marriage.

– Elizabeth once again finds herself pregnant. Fortunately, though, pretty much everybody except the original happy couple dies within the space of a few short years and they are eventually free to marry each other. Again. Hurrah!

– Called to assist, the local gouty clergyman conducts the ceremony, immediately after which her latest infant is then hauled in to be baptised.

flowerIt’s only a matter of time before someone in the movie biz picks this up. I vote William Shatner for the gouty Oxfordshire clergyman.

***

Just in case you fancy visiting the scene of Elizabeth’s romance at New Inn by Stowe Gardens, it is now owned by the National Trust:

New Inn at Stowe

412_889_New+Inn_thumb_460x0,0[1]© NTPL / Paul Watson

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Image (top): Detail from ‘Wedding scene from Ramsay’s The gentle shepherd, Act V’, 1798 (courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library).

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16 thoughts on “The tale of Elizabeth Smith (and her second husband’s first wife’s first husband), 1766

  1. Oh, definitely William Shatner for the clergyman. With Jennifer Lawrence as our erratically-married heroine Elizabeth. Get David Lynch as director, and it can’t miss.

  2. I would like to know the circumstances of the first marriage of Miss Smith and the grounds on which she was separated from her husband. The bigamous marriages of the other parties was one thing the new marriage law (1754) was supposed to combat. I doubt the servants married by license. If they married by banns the protests had to be made by a father or guardian before the ceremony. If no protest was made the marriage was valid and by separating them the friends made them adulterers and bigamists.
    It would make a good novel and movie.

  3. Was it common during this time/in this social class for people to have multiple spouses at the same time without letting one spouse know about the other? Like, how bizarre is this in context?

    Hilarious post!

    • Hi Julia, unfortunately it’s virtually impossible to tell how many couples went their separate ways and remarried… as they themselves were trying to cover up their pasts there isn’t too much hope of finding records. But the fact that this was reported as ‘extraordinary’ suggests it certainly wasn’t considered run-of-the-mill! E

  4. Pingback: The tale of Elizabeth Smith (and her second husband’s first wife’s first husband), 1766 | My BlogThe Philosopher's blog.

  5. Pingback: History A'la Carte 2-12-15 - Random Bits of Fascination

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