The latest article from Rebecca Probert, Professor of Law at the University of Exeter, in The Journal of Genealogy and Family History is Escaping detection: illegal second marriages and the crime of bigamy. Here’s the abstract.
Official statistics on the number of prosecutions for bigamy clearly cannot be taken as an accurate guide to the number who went through a ceremony of marriage with a second ‘spouse’ while still married to their first. Nonetheless, when we compare those who were prosecuted with those who were not, the differences that emerge should make us cautious in assuming that the offence was common. There is evidence to suggest that many of the unprosecuted may not have been bigamists at all, given how long they waited to remarry. Even those who did not wait may have believed or persuaded themselves that their first spouse was dead and that they were entitled to remarry. Others adopted tactics to ensure that their bigamous marriage would not be discovered, with most moving considerable distances before remarrying and a few adopting aliases to disguise their identity. The data from the sample suggests that it was the fact that most of these bigamies were undetected, rather than tolerance of bigamy within the community, that explains why they escaped prosecution.
Do you have bigamous marriages in your family tree?
I have two instances. One where the first wife remarried under her maiden name, eight years after the marriage to my great-grandfather, who had a subsequent and long common-law relationship. In a second case, the wife married as a widow nine years after the first marriage, and seven after they broke up. Likely unknown to her and despite significant efforts to track him down in the UK her first husband was very much alive in the USA.