“My forebear was an accidental bigamist”
Eilleen Parsons, North Devon
Eilleen uncovered the shocking truth about her forebear’s second marriage
Wills are often very revealing family history documents. However, I bet very few have led to a story as surprising as the one I uncovered about my 2x great-grandfather, Charles John Robinson.
The tale first came to light after a court case in 1868. The case revolved around the legitimacy of the will of Sophia Wombwell.
Being with no children, Sophie left a legacy to her niece, Catherine West Robinson – the daughter of Sophia's sister Harriett and her husband, Charles. The opposition claimed Catherine had no entitlement to it as she was illegitimate.
Apparently, in 1809, Charles (then aged 18) married a Mary Weston. He was a "Master in the merchant service", and later that year he was captured by the French. He remained a prisoner until 1814.
During this time, Charles heard nothing about his wife. On his return, he still couldn't find any news of her whereabouts. So, in 1824, presuming she must be dead, he married Harriett Wombwell, stating he was a widow.
It seems Charles discovered his error sometime between 1861 and 1868. Technically, his marriage to Harriett was invalid, and the resulting children all illegitimate.
Fortunately, the court found it was an "understandable" error to make. It therefore awarded to the Robinsons. In 1864, aged 73, Charles actually remarried Harriett after his first wife did actually die!