In July 1816, Lord George Thomas Beresford sued for damages from his erstwhile friend, the Honourable Thomas Taylour, the Earl of Bective. Beresford accused him of the successful seduction of his wife Harriet Beresford and demanded the sum of £30,000 in compensation.
This was no twenty- first century quickie divorce or twentieth century legal court case with witnesses and co-respondents. Indeed it wasn’t divorce at all; merely a demand for compensation as a prelude to one. This was, in the parlance of Georgian times, a “Crim Con”- criminal conversation between the accused and the wife of another. The case of Beresford v Taylour is not a well known case, largely because it was not contested and there were no lurid details for the press to report. But it tells you a lot about the state of marriage in the Regency
Because it was uncontested, no witnesses were called. However, the wife was never called even if there was a dispute. The aim of the hearing was to assess damages. Beresford was asking for more that he was likely to receive- by that time this amount of money had been issued only once.
Beresford’s representative told the story at the Sheriffs Court at Bedford Row on June 17th 1816.George married Harriet Schultz, daughter of John Bacon Schultz, in 1808. She was “ a lady of high connection, immense fortune and was endowed with every accomplishment “ This may or not have been true but it was not meant as a compliment; this was a compensation case about loss of amenity, so it was very much in the interest of Beresford to portray his wife as something valuable and therefore a massive inconvenience to lose. After the first born, Harriet had fallen into a derangement that we might identify as post natal depression. However, it was spun to George’s advantage; he had not abandoned her; he was a good man, later to be betrayed. He could possibly feel the compensation rising as Sergeant Best spoke in his behalf
Another factor in assessing the compensation was the social standing of the people concerned; the higher the more compensation; nearness in social class would reduce it, as it would lessen the shame and humiliation. So there was little scope there to make money; both were the sons of important aristocratic landowners in Ireland. Instead, Beresford’s representative went to great pains to point out how close the two families were. If “Crim Con” involved betrayal and calculation, the compensation would rise accordingly
The successful seduction took place in the summer of 1815. George was, it was strongly pointed out, away only because he was a Major General fighting for King and Country. On receiving reports of the further derangement of his wife, he rushed home to care for her. However, acting on reports received he obtained a key from her writing desk which contained a letter, “ coached in the most passionate language” from Thomas Taylour, Earl of Bective and son of the Marquis of Headfort. It was a long and declamatory missive about a set of events that had already happened. The Earl tried to qualm her fears about her reputation. “No man, presumptuous, confident or artful, would think you lightly won”. He tried to reconfirm their love “Search now that bosom, and see that it still loves Bective”
He had been the seducer. The seductive had been difficult. He had exploited her illness and the friendship of the families. How was Beresford going to bring up their three living daughters without their mother? Before this, their life had been one of domestic harmony. George brought forward no less than five witnesses to prove it. An even now, George took care of her-rather than abandon her to “The London World”
Bective’s defence was brief. He was far from rich; this was irrelevant as somebody else was paying. He was young and naive. (The papers reported that he was “An agreeable young man, born in the same year as her ladyship”) He was sorry.
The jury took 30 minutes to agree compensation to George Beresford of £10,000.