Notable Historical Trials III – Elizabeth Hervey

This trial is a bit of a come-down from the others in the book.  The trial was one for bigamy, and was apparently all the rage in 1776 in London, overtaking a little thing like a Revolution in the Colonies.

Elizabeth was born a Chudleigh, and through an aunt was exposed to men of quality. A Lord Hamilton was very interested, but the aunt prefered Mr Hervey. By various arts she managed to suppress Hamilton and exalt Hervey until Elizabeth secretly married him.  This match soon tired her, so she ignored it, fairly successfully except for the embarrassing moments when Mr. Hervey showed up.  She went to the extent of arranging to tear out the page in the registry of the marriage. Then Hervey became the Earl of Bristol, and she thought better of it and arranged to sneak the page back in.

Years passed with her moving in the high society, and she met the Duke of Kingston and wanted to marry him, as he was more amiable, richer, and sickly to boot.  Hervey, although no longer mooning after her, wasn’t keen on helping her out but she managed to get a court suit showing that her marriage to him ‘could not be proved’ and she married the Duke.  On his death soon after, she became very wealthy.

But trouble started to follow – one from a playwright who featured her story in a play as a form of blackmail.  The other was a former domestic who was now poor and was a witness to the first marriage.  Her story was very interesting to the other heirs of the Duke, and a bigamy suit was launched.  She was all but found guilty, but invoked the ‘privilege of the peerage’ to have a trial in the House of Lords and avoided prison.  She fled to France for the rest of her life.


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