THELWAL v. YELVERTON. Court of Common Pleas, Ireland. Report of The Trial in the Case of Thelwall v. Yelverton, before the Chief Justice and a Special Jury, on 21st February, 1861, Containing the Letters, Speeches of Counsel, Judge’s Charge, and Finding of the Jury.
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Dublin: J.M. O’Toole & Son, 1861. pp. 130 (double column). New quarter black buckram on original marbled boards. A very good copy.
The Yelverton Marriage Case was the most sensational Irish trial of the nineteen century, which
eventually resulted in a change to the law on mixed religion marriages in Ireland.
Under a Statute of King George II, any marriage between a Catholic (Popish) and a Protestant or a
marriage between two Protestants celebrated by a Catholic priest was null and void.
Theresa Longworth, an English Catholic, and Major The Hon. William Charles Yelverton (who later
became, in 1870, The 4th Viscount Avonmore), an Irish Protestant, met in 1852. They became
involved, but Charles insisted that he could not marry Theresa publicly because he had promised his
family he would not marry and thus, their relationship had to be kept secret. Their relationship
continued, with Charles refusing a public ceremony and Theresa refusing to co-habit with Charles
without a Catholic marriage ceremony. In 1857 they were “married” by a Catholic priest, in a
ceremony which consisted of a renewal of their marital consent previously declared privately to each
other. Charles continued to insist that the “marriage” be kept secret.
In 1858, after a miscarriage was suffered by Theresa, Charles met another woman, Emily Forbes, who
he now intended to marry. He demanded that Theresa renounce her status as his wife and offered her
money to relocate to New Zealand. Charles married Emily (née Ashworth) despite Theresa’s refusal to
renounce her status as his wife. Theresa then instituted an action to receive a wife’s maintenance,
which Charles resisted, filing his own claim to have him declared free of any marriage with her. The
initial case was heard in The Four Courts in Dublin. The jury’s verdict went in favour of the validity of
the marriage. Maurice Healy wrote that “the cross-exmination of Yelverton by Theresa’s counsel Sir
Edward Sullivan, was perhaps the finest in Irish legal history.”
After numerous appeals, ultimately to the House of Lords, the Lords ruled in Charles’ favour and his
first (Catholic) marriage was declared invalid. His marriage to Emily Forbes was declared lawful.
The case and its perceived unfair consequences, led to the enactment of the Marriage Causes and
Marriage Law Amendment Act of 1870, under which a mixed marriage before a Catholic priest
became valid and lawful, subject to the normal provisos of civil law
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