What made the Calverts’ 18-century divorce case unusual was not Leonard’s adultery, nor his falling in love with his mistress, nor his horrible and routine beating of his wife Charlotte. (Leonard Calvert was an heir of the man who owned the colony that is now the state of Maryland.) What made the divorce unusual was Charlotte’s behavior in the marriage.
To counter Leonard’s adultery, Charlotte went out and found her own lovers, not one or two, but several. This now happens all the time, but it just didn’t happen back then. Remember, we are talking about over 200 years ago, long before Ms. magazine and TMZ.
When Leonard grew tired of his wife’s running around, he filed for separation on the basis of her adultery. Charlotte launched a counterattack, which included allegations that he had committed physical abuse and adultery. Leonard was determined to win the case by any means necessary. Charlotte continued her adulterous relationships while the litigation was pending, and Leonard hired detectives to catch her in the act. The detectives were worth every penny Leonard paid them. On Christmas Eve, they notified Leonard that Charlotte was in bed with one of her lovers. Leonard paid the court bailiff to meet him at his wife’s house, and he also invited eight of his closest friends along for the ride.
One of the servants let Leonard and his companions in and they forced their way into Charlotte’s bedroom. They watched as Charlotte and her companion scampered to put on their clothes; a hard thing to do when people are watching (or, at least that’s what I have been told).
Leonard and his friends eventually left, but not without first stripping Charlotte of her diamond wedding ring, the contents of her purse and the buckles on her shoes. Leonard won the lawsuit. The court thought the evidence against Charlotte was so overwhelming that it ignored the evidence of Leonard’s adultery and abuse.
How do you prove under current North Carolina law that your spouse committed adultery? You have to show that your spouse had the opportunity and inclination to have sex outside your marriage. While it’s not a bad idea to hire a detective to follow your spouse to gather evidence of his or comings and goings, you don’t have to catch your spouse in the act of having sex with someone to prove adultery.
Excerpt from Divorces from Hell Copyright (c) 1995 by Jacqueline D. Stanley
Photo Credit: Visual Hunt