I have a great great uncle Ernest who was legally married in England in 1905. He and wife went separate ways shortly after the birth of their daughter, who died at 11 months, but they did not divorce.

Ernest went on to marry bigamously in 1914. He was caught and convicted. This seems not to put him off, as he married bigamously to another woman in 1927. He was still legally married to his first wife. He got away with it for about 12 months, but when he proposed to another woman while already bigamously married, and had banns called in two parish churches, his second bigamous wife got suspicious, informed the police, and he was sentenced to another much longer stint in prison. I know these details from various newspaper reports of his trials.

A marriage where one or both parties were already married was legally null and void. However, it is unclear to me whether the innocent party would need to obtain an annulment or declaration of nullity in order to marry again, since a void marriage never actually took place? Would nullity have been implied with conviction for bigamy?

1 Answer 1


Professor Rebecca Probert ("a leading authority on the history of marriage law and practice in England and Wales" to quote the blurb on her book) has written a useful book:
Divorced, Bigamist, bereaved? the family historians guide.

She writes:
"... a void marriage needed no decree of annulment..."

"Bigamy is, essentially, the crime of going through a ceremony of marriage while already validly married to another person... the second and subsequent marriages are void in English law. ... A void marriage is regarded by the law as never having existed. It is void from the start without any formal annulment by the court."

So, it's not the conviction that voids the marriage, it was void from the moment it took place.

  • Thanks, this was my understanding, but part of my confusion comes from information like this on the GOV.UK website: "When you can annul a marriage", under which it says "one of you was already married or in a civil partnership". I take it that the law must have changed in this respect?
    – Harry V.
    Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 11:03
  • Rebecca Probert invites readers of her book to get in touch with her:
    – Colin
    Commented Oct 10, 2016 at 18:07
  • Oooops! I hadn't realised that not all my previous comment had been sent; here's the missing bit: "I would like to put out a plea for information from those who have found bigamous, separated, divorced, or remarried ancestors to share their findings with me. ... And those who are seeking further information are also very welcome to get in touch ... please do contact me via the website and I will do my best to provide an answer [website] warwick.ac.uk/dbb"
    – Colin
    Commented Oct 11, 2016 at 8:07
  • @HarryVervet It does say on that same site: If a marriage was not legally valid, the law says that it never existed. However, you may need legal paperwork to prove this - e.g. if you want to get married again. So the law has not really changed - the amount of bureaucracy has just increased!
    – nkjt
    Commented Oct 13, 2016 at 18:18

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