Divorce as we know it today was not permitted in the sixteenth century, but there were some situations in which one of the parties to a legal marriage could be granted what was then sometimes known as a ‘divorce’, which was also known in Latin as a separation a mensa et thoro (separation from bed and board). This did not give the parties the right to remarry, only the right to live apart, and the woman could sometimes then claim a form of maintenance.
Additionally, if one of the parties was already legally married and had contracted a bigamous second marriage, this second marriage would be declared invalid and the parties to this second marriage would be separated by a ‘divorce’.
Dissolution of a marriage which was invalid for other reasons was also known as a divorce. Sometimes a sentence of divorce might specify that the parties, or one of them, was free to marry again.
R. H. Helmholz, Marriage Litigation in Medieval England, (London, 1974).
Ralph Houlbrooke, Church Courts and the People during the English Reformation , (Oxford, 1979).
Annulment on unknown grounds
EDC 5/7/1 – Hugh Holland contra Joan Bruckefeld or Holland
Separation on the grounds of adultery
Separation on the grounds of adultery and cruelty
EDC 5/1580/1 – Elizabeth Cowley alias Johnson, wife of Richard Cowley alias Johnson, contra Richard Cowley alias Johnson
Separation on the grounds of bigamy
EDC 5/1/3 – Margery Thornycrofte contra John Cokkes alias Stokes