Hell is the only way to describe the 18th century marriage and divorce between Elizabeth and Holcroft Blood. One time when she found poison in his coat pocket, she automatically assumed he was plotting her demise. And maybe she was right.
When someone had suggested that he use the poison to kill his wife’s dog he said “No, God damn me, the poor homeless dog had not deserved it, it was for the bitch herself.” (“Bitch being his affectionate reference to Elizabeth.) The divorce trial testimony revealed that the poison (mercury) was not for her or the dog. Holcroft used it as a treatment for venereal disease.
According to Elizabeth, he was a habitual adulterer. She claimed that one night when he thought she was asleep, he and his mistress had sex in the same bed she occupied. She also alleged that he had fathered six illegitimate children, but at the trial she could offer no evidence to support the allegation.
She left home when Holcroft assaulted her after a failed attempt at reconciliation. She took the majority of the household furnishings with her, some of which she knew she had no claim to. She ran up outrageous bills with local vendors and then encouraged them to throw him in jail for failing to satisfy the debts. She filed assault charges against him. Holcroft threatened that if she did not drop the charges he would get one of her associates to testify to witnessing her having sex with a horse and a dog. She refused to back down from her charges and filed for legal separation. He didn’t oppose the separation, but paying alimony was out of the question.
Desperate to settle their suit, he asked her to help him bribe a witness to give false testimony that would support an annulment. In exchange for her help, he promised to pay all her debts. Since an annulment would have extinguished her claim to alimony, she refused to go along with his scheme. Holcroft then alleged that she had committed adultery, and he tendered witnesses to support his claim. Consequently, Elizabeth’s cliam for alimony was denied because adultery was a bar to alimony.
Elizabeth appealed the court’s decision. She brought into court the persons who claimed to have seen her commit adultery or spending time with another man. None of the purported witnesses was able to pick her out of a six-woman line up. Their failure to identify her proved that they had give false testimony, and Elizabeth was granted alimony and a divorce.
Today, in North Carolina, if the judge finds that the supporting spouse committed adultery then he must award the dependent spouse alimony. If the judge finds that the dependent spouse or both spouses committed adultery, then it is within the judge’s discretion whether or not to award alimony.
Excerpt from Divorces from Hell Copyright (c) 1995 by Jacqueline D. Stanley
Photo Credit: Visual Hunt