4. Caroline Norton and George Norton’s messy divorce had a lasting impact on women’s rights in Britain
The messy end to the marriage of George and Caroline Norton was to have a major impact on women’s rights in Britain, and across the wider world. Caroline, who was born in 1808, married lawyer and politician George when she was just 19-years-old. She was clever and beautiful, while he was an ill-tempered brute, a drunk and a professional failure. He would take his anger and frustration out on his young wife. What’s more, George pushed Caroline to make the most of her beauty and charms to improve their standing in society. By 1836, Caroline had had enough. She broke up with George and demanded a divorce.
George didn’t take the break up well. He took the couple’s three sons and refused to tell Caroline where they were. According to the letter of the law, the children were his ‘property’. What’s more, he even took the Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, to court, charging that he and Caroline had been having an affair. The court threw out the case. However, Caroline still needed to fight for custody of her children. She even petitioned Queen Victorian herself. Eventually, she succeeded in getting Parliament to pass the Custody of Children Act in 1839 and then, later in life, the Married Women’s Property Act of 1857. Both were landmark pieces of legislation.