A slightly over-excitable person suggested to me this week that back in the 80’s Dr Martin Dudley was the first Anglican clergyman to marry divorcees in Church — I have no idea from where they got this comically ignorant notion. Throughout the last century registrar general’s figures indicate there was a steady trickle of a few hundred marriages of divorcees every year in C of E churches. Among famous marriers of divorcees on TV, Mills and Boon fans may remember the Revd Jardine who married Edward VIII and Mrs Simpson in 1937, but that was abroad, of course.
Hang on, some will say, wasn’t Archbishop Cranmer himself the first Vicar to marry a divorcee, and a rather famous one at that? Well no, I’m afraid not. Despite nonsense Pop historicism, Hank never got divorced. To get divorced Hank would have had to get in a time machine and jet himself 129 years into the future, stopping off at the Rump parliament by way of Milton’s Cottage for the world’s first Reno Divorce. Even he couldn’t do that. His “divorces” were RC style annulments, perfectly standard practice at the time, but without the sanction of the Pope which was usually sought and given to rulers on political grounds. Standard Hank Histories give the details. Divorce in England was actually invented by puritans in the 1650’s.
Interestingly enough, before the last century the marriage of divorcees was essentially mandatory in the Church of England. Pressure for a blanket ban really took off as an part of the attempt to stem the growing tide of divorce after the first world war. Comparing divorce rates between 1918 and 1979 when the Church might be said to have came back towards its traditional pastoral policy, you can judge for yourself how successful the policy was. I can exclusively reveal (scoop, scoop) that Hundreds, nay thousands of Victorian divorcees were married in Church of England churches, abbeys and Cathedrals by clergy who were not Martin Dudley at all. The Courts of Judicature Amendment Act 1925 permitted clergy to refuse to conduct marriages of divorcees, but only if they secured for the couple the services of a another priest to conduct the service. The right to refuse to marry a divorcee tout simple was secured by Cosmo Gordon Lang in the aftermath of the abdication crisis — part of the wheeler dealing to obtain the compliance of bishops in the Lords with the 1937 A. P Herbert Matrimonial Causes act.
Like public school straw boaters, many ancient traditions which cause grief turn out to be newer than you think. This ancient traditional rule dates back to 1925; though the Canonical instruction only to 1957. The idea that marriage of divorcees was invented along with sexual intercourse in 1963 by the teenage Martin Dudley is way, way way off beam from reality.
I sometimes wonder, reflecting on the characteristic fruits of post 1960’s “Mr Angry” traditionalism, if a lot of it isn’t driven by depression, which can easily take a sociopathic turn. Back in the 1820’s Sydney Smith, famous depressive, recommended a treatment that’s still worth a go — take long, and I would advise accurate, views backwards and short views forwards. It helped him stave off meltdown anyway.