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Philip Antony Corri / Arthur Clifton:
Lord Hawke vs. Elizabeth August Corri,
P. A. Corri's first wife; The Courier, May 18, 1820
Consistory Court; May 16
Jactitation of Marriage.
Lord Hawke v. Corri, calling herself Lady Hawke.
Sir WILLIAM SCOTT proceeded to deliver his judgment upon this important and singular case to-day. The present suit he defined to be one of jactitation of marriage, instituted by an individual of noble rank and high connexions. It was brought by the Right Hon. Edward Lord Hawke against a Lady named Elizabeth Augusta Corri, who was described as falsely styling herself his wife, and therefore unjustly assuming the title of Lady Hawke. Proceedings of this nature were originally taken in order to prevent the fraudulent assumption of the characters of man and wife, where no such relation existed between the individuals by whom they were assumed. This, therefore, was the legal form of getting redress under such circumstances; which was to be effected in this way:--first by charging the supposed offender with having frequently and maliciously boasted of a matrimonial contract subsisting between that party and the party complainant; and then, on proof of the fact, by obtaining a sentence, admonishing him or her to abstain from such injurious misrepresentations for the future, and punishing the offender with the costs. To a charge of jactitation, three different defenses might be opposed; one of these was obvious--that the fact of having made any such representations might be denied. In such case, if the accusation were not proved, the accuser bore the heaviest part of the expenses occasioned by his or her unfounded charges. Secondly, it might be admitted that such representations had, indeed, been made, but they might be pleaded to have been true ones; for, that marriage had been actually promised, and in such a way, as to give the party the benefit of it. In this state of things, the proceeding assumed another shape--that of a suit of nullity of marriage, or restitution of conjugal rights. An inquiry into the facts might then be directed, in order to ascertain the validity of such pretended marriage; and it would depend upon the result of that inquiry, whether or not the party there proceeded against should be dismissed from observance of the suit. It was possible, also, that the Court might pronounce such pretended marriage null and void, and therefore enjoin silence upon the party for the future. In the former case, the Court would silence the accuser, who would be enjoined to return to cohabitation, and make restitution of conjugal rights to the accused, unless there should be something in the suit of a different nature from what had just been supposed. The third defense was one of rare occurrence in these Courts, and consisted in showing that, though no marriage had actually taken place, yet that full authority and consent had been given by the accuser to the party complained of to assume his name, and to assert their pretended marriage. Now, as far as the Court yet saw of this case, it was composed of these two latter descriptions of cases; for though in one part of the plea a fact of marriage was set up, yet in another part the defense was rested on such an authority given by Lord Hawke; and not only given, but liberally used by that Nobleman himself, upon such various occasions, as, to use the gentlest terms, could hardly have been expected. Before the Court proceeded in its observations upon this case, where the plea had assumed so doubtful a shape, it had a right to ascertain whether these depositions relative to Lord Hawke's conduct were to be retained, or the marriage withdrawn; because the Court might be materially guided in its opinion by an answer to that inquiry. If it were intended that the marriage should be adhered to--and, if not, he scarcely knew how the case could have come there at all--the Court was bound to inquire into its validity. If this plea were meant to be abandoned, the Court was bound to inquire into that other fact the authority granted by Lord Hawke to this Lady to call herself his wife. The description of the marriage certainly exited something like a doubt concerning its canonical regularity; for, in some degree, it intimated a supposition that the license was a false instrument, and the officiating Minister a mere pretender to ecclesiastical honours. At the same time, if there was no such fraud, the marriage might be as perfectly valid, if performed within a house by a special license, as a marriage solemnized in a church would be under the ordinary circumstances. Lord Hawke himself did not assert any material fact as of marriage; but he asserted this--that she was a married woman, and her husband was still living at the commencement of their cohabitation together. Taking this to be an undisputed fact, here was an end of this marriage, let it have taken place in the one way or in the other. But it was not an undisputed fact; for she asserted that at that time she was a single woman and unmarried. What the real state of the case was remained to be ascertained. All that the Court had to say upon the subject was--that if such a marriage ever did occur, it was a most unwarrantable act of profanation for both parties--of gross profanation, when it was considered that, after the most awful adjuration before the Supreme Being, administered in the most solemn manner, they had both declared they knew of an impediment to their lawful marriage, when each must have been conscious of an impediment which was inseparable. If that had been really the case, the Court was disinclined to stir a single finger in the cause--both parties having been concerned in eodem abusu; but the Court thought that, in this instance, the young woman had been imposed upon, either by the production of an artificial license, or by the exterior of a pretended Clergyman, it might deem it an arguable question whether such an atrocious fraud so practiced upon her might not bind the artificer of that cheat in all its consequences. It seemed to be the general opinion that a marriage under license, celebrated in a church by a person ostensibly acting as an officiating minister, and not known to be otherwise, might be in fact, although the minister were not duly authenticated, a valid marriage, for the parties who came to be married were not to be expected to ask that they should see his letters of ordination. The same reason might be not unjustly applied to the case of an innocent young woman, even in the instance of a marriage celebrated in a private house, where the special license authorized it to be solemnized with just as much solemnity and effect as if the ceremony had occurred in a church. If that license proved to be false, it might be deemed a subject of legal inquiry how far the innocent parties might be released from the difficulty imposed upon them by the supposititious license; for as little could it be expected that a young woman could ascertain the authenticity of the instrument by the authority of which he was to be married as that she should ask to see the minister's letters of ordination. On such topics as these the Court does not dwell, because it is not bound to inquire whether or no this is a case in which it is called upon to protect an innocent female against such a detestable fraud. The Court might, however, observe that these allegations stand still upon her own declaration. Was the Court to understand that this plea was to remain or to be abandoned? It had been contended, in the course of the argument, that if the Court should be of opinion that the marrige [sic] pleaded was proved, it was bound to proceed, and not to dismiss the suit. This had been conceded by the Learned Counsel; but how could the Court decide upon this until it was informed whether or no this plea of marriage was to be abandoned? The Court could not in the same breath inquire into a point which was disclaimed, and in which no real interest was set up. Was it to understand that this marriage, in short, was intended to be set up in the plea, or to be withdrawn from it?
Dr. JENNER said, that upon so important a point, on which he was thus called most unexpectedly to speak, it was necessary to consult his client.
The Court asked if he had any communication with his party upon the subject?
Dr. JENNER replied in the negative. They had certainly relied upon the difficulty of proof; but if the Court should be of opinion that the retaining of this plea threw an insuperable difficulty in the way of its decision, he should conceive himself justified in withdrawing it.
Dr. Lashington and Dr. Jenner now retired for a few moments to consult, and, on their return,
Dr. LASHINGTON informed the Court, that, upon the first communication he had with his client, such a representation was made of this marriage as had induced both him and his Learned Friend to believe the facts which were stated. In two or three subsequent communications which he had had with the same party, he had found no reason to alter that opinion; at the same time, he was perfectly ready to concur in any suggestion of the Court as to the propriety of withdrawing this plea.
Sir WILLIAM SCOTT continued.--The view of this matter was now a more contracted one. This question of the plea being so far decided on, it remained for the Court to consider the other ground of accusation brought by Lord Hawke against the defendant, which was, that Lady Hawke had used his name, during a cohabitation which subsisted between them for several years, by his permission; and this point had not only been admitted by the counsel for Lord Hawke, but it had been admitted upon his own plea: and there was reason in abundance to conclude, from the deposition, that not only had his Lordship not denied her this liberty, but that he had himself clothed her with this character; at all times and in all places; at home and abroad; at London and at his country-house; amongst his friends, his connexions, his tradesmen, nay, even among the representatives of their respective states--the foreign Ambassadors, whose connexion was a necessary passport to foreign society in general--but, what was more, he had introduced her to his children by his deceased lady as the successor of their mother in every respect. The Court was not speaking of the moral merits or demerits of this case. No language of his could be more strong than the facts themselves. The Court was bound only to say, that those facts did certainly deprive Lord Hawke of all right to complain, for he put them himself. He permitted the use of his name, the assumption of his title, the sacred character of wife, not in one single instance only, but in public and in private, and in different situations for years, and at times when a different course of conduct might have been expected of him; and the Court considered that it would be difficult to maintain that she was liable to a charge of malice for following his own directions--that she was liable to be accused of maliciously boasting of a marriage, in doing which she could only fulfill his own particular instructions. It seemed to have been an expectation on the part of Lord Hawke, and to have been rather instigated than advanced, that that permission was given her upon an understanding that it was to last during the term only of their cohabitation. This might be true, but it did not place the Ecclesiastical Court in any new situation with respect to the execution of its duties. The Court was bound in a cause of jactitation to see that one party did not usurp the sacred character of husband or wife to the injury or the complainant. But if that had been attempted in such a manner as it had here been proved to have been attempted on the part of Lord Hawke, the Court would leave him to release himself by his own exertions from the inconvenience of his own acts. It was too much to expect; that if a person deposed to acts of this nature having been committed, and to declarations of his character having been made by his consent and concurrence, the Court was to interfere in his behalf as soon as the consequences of such acts or such declarations became inconvenient to himself. The Court had no means by which it could come to the conclusion--no reasons upon which it could be satisfied of the justice of Lord Hawke's accusation. It had no power to prevent "malicious boasting" in this case, because that language had been long expressed and repeatedly authorized by the complainant himself. The question was one of a definite nature; but it was notorious that persons in such circumstances had their quarrels and their reconciliations--that their situations changed with the inconstancy of their transient affections--that the new favourite was dignified with the name and the consideration of her predecessor: but that Court could not sit there and decide at what particular point the appropriation of her honours, or the propriety of continuing her assumed title, should determine. According to Lord Hawke's own statement, he had been living in adulterous connexion with one whom, being the wife of another, he had authorized to call herself his wife. What protection he might find in other Courts it was not the duty of this Court to inquire. He must fight those difficulties which he had voluntarily encountered, and there could be no doubt that he would meet with that protection in other places to which he might be considered to be entitled. But this Court could not indulge Lord Hawke so far as to release him from the inconveniences of his own acts, by pronouncing a sentence of malicious jactitation against a person whom he had himself authorized to use the language of which he complained. He should, therefore, dismiss this suit.
Dr. LUSHINGTON and Dr. JENNER prayed the Court to pronounce also for costs against his Lordship; but the Court said it should content itself with dismissing the suit.
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