Monday, September 21, 2009

Question from Jacque - Edward Seymour's annulment from Catherine Fillol

I understand that Edward Seymour's first marriage to Catherine Fillol was annulled because she had an affair with Edward's father. Was this (adultery/incest) an actual grounds for an annulment? I know there has been previous discussion on this blog about grounds for an annulment, but this was not given as one of the reasons. Also I have heard before that Catherine Fillol entered a nunnery after her marriage was annulled. Is this true? If so, was it absolutely necessary for her to do this or just a "good idea" for a woman who has had her marriage annulled to do so?

[Related threads linked below]


  1. Yes, Jacque, adultery was grounds for a kind of divorce under church law in the Tudor period.

    I say "a kind of divorce" because Roman Catholic canon law, which was still followed in England at the time of Seymour's reported separation from Katherine Fillol, is extremely precise on the issue of marriage. For example, canon law does not recognize "divorce" if the marriage was properly entered into and consummated. And "annullment" is a very different condition from "divorce," since a "declaration of nullity" (the proper legal term) states that no proper marriage ever existed in the first place, even if consummated. (In the most proper canon legal terms, Henry VIII annulled Katherine of Aragon; he did not "divorce" her.)

    In the case of Seymour and Fillol, the marriage was considered proper, since both of his sons by that marriage remained legitimate. Because the marriage was proper when it began, "annullment" was not possible under canon law.

    If the Seymour-Fillol marriage was dissolved, it was dissolved by means of a "divortium imperfectum," or what we would today call an "official separation." The marriage remained intact but the partners were living apart and the husband was no longer obligated to support the wife financially. In a case of adultery, a "divortium imperfectum" or "official separation" could be obtained. But as with modern "separation," neither partner was allowed to remarry, since the marriage still legally existed.

    However, if a wife or former wife entered a convent and actually took vows as a nun, she and her former husband were freed from their marriage vows. The sacrament of holy orders supercedes that of marriage, and the two are ordinarily mutually exclusive (you cannot usually be both married and a nun). But the wife had to actually take vows as a nun, not simply reside in a convent as so many separated wives did.

    From what I can determine, the story that Seymour separated from Fillol and that Fillol then entered holy orders seems to have been popular in the 1600s, long after all of those involved were dead. But it has never been confirmed. It is nonetheless possible, if Fillol actually did have an affair with her father-in-law, that Seymour obtained a divortium imperfectum and that Fillol, left without financial support and in social disgrace, sought refuge in holy orders. Upon her taking of vows as a nun, Seymour would (conveniently) have been immediately freed to remarry.

    But no, it was never "absolutely necessary" for a woman separated from her husband to enter a convent. If her family was willing, she could return to the home of her parents, or that of a brother or sister, or even of an adult child. Entering a convent for anything other than true religious fervor was something of a last resort.

  2. On a somewhat related note, I was wondering if a wife had committed fornication before her marriage, could her marriage be annulled? Or does this fall into the "precontract" category?

  3. If the fornication was committed with any relative of the husband and that relative was within the proscribed degrees of consanguinity, then yes, the wife would be considered too closely "related" to her husband, but by affinity rather than blood.
    But whether or not the marriage might be declared null on grounds of consanguinity/affinity would depend on one or more of several factors:
    Were either of the two parties aware of the existing impediment before the banns were posted? If so, annullment was unlikely.
    Was anyone other than the couple aware of the impediment before the actual marriage ritual ceremony? If so, annullment was unlikely ("speak now or forever hold your peace").
    Was there a verbal promise to marry in the future made before the sexual contact? If so, the marriage might be annulled.

    If the "fornication" was committed with someone outside the forbidden degrees, annullment might be granted only if there was an actual verbal promise to marry made by the man to the woman.

    In the example of fornication, existence of a "pre-contract" might have been difficult to prove. Did anyone other than the two individuals involve know of a promise made to marry at some undefined point in the future? If not, it would boil down to "he said, she said." Only if some third party knew of the promise to marry might a valid pre-contract be considered to exist. No third-party witnesses made it very difficult to prove pre-contract.

    But virtually all of this applies only to those with sufficient financial means to make the necessary appeals, to hire the necessary canon lawyers, and to pursue the case with the appropriate authorities. And those authorities were never local. The local parish priest was never empowered to grant annullments, and local or regional bishops and archbishops were only very rarely so empowered. More often, such cases had to be pursued in Rome, which only the wealthy could afford.

  4. Dear all, does anyone know if there are any documents available about the Edward Seymour / Catherine Fillol seperation / annulment? also I understand that their sons John and Edward were returned to the 'Blood line' by an act of parliament. Again does anyone know of any documents relating to this please? I have done my best trolling through the National Archives website with no success.

  5. My ancestor, John Seymour 1535-1605was apparently the son of Edward Seymour, grandson of John Seymour 1474-1536; however, I cannot find documentation of who his mother was: Catherine Fillol or Anne Stanhope.

  6. This case is enough to constitute a divorce. Annulment is different because it means that there should be grounds that will make the marriage void in the first place. The results are almost the same, except for the reallocation of their properties.


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