Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

Brookes historian unearths scandalous divorce for BBC's Who Do You Think You Are?

Monday, 12 October 2015


Joanne Begiato (Bailey), Professor in History at Oxford Brookes University, is going to appear in the final episode of the current BBC 1 series Who Do you Think You Are? (Thursday 22 October) helping Frances de la Tour discover more about her ancestors. The award-winning actress, acclaimed for roles on stage and screen such as Alan Bennett’s The History Boys and numerous Shakespeare plays, recently starred in Vicious with Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi, and will always be fondly remembered as Miss Ruth Jones in Rising Damp. As an expert on the history of marriage and family life Professor Begiato helped uncover the scandalous divorce for adultery of Frances’s great-great-great grandmother Maria Gardner in 1805. One of only a few very rich men able to obtain a divorce and remarriage at the time, Maria’s husband, Alan Gardner, a royal naval captain, sued his wife for infidelity when he discovered her she had conceived a baby after he had sailed to the West Indies on a ship of war in 1802. Joanne helped research Maria Gardner, described in court as ‘one of the most beautiful creatures that the eye of man can contemplate’ and explained to Frances what happened when Captain Gardner took Maria’s lover to court to sue him for ‘criminal conversation’. These law suits allowed a cuckolded husband to seek financial compensation from his wife’s lover for the loss of her sexual, maternal and economic services. With a successful case a husband to go on and obtain a parliamentary divorce from his unfaithful wife. Long fascinated by criminal conversation suits, Joanne observes:
I enjoyed talking to Frances about her sexually-daring ancestor Maria and showed that Alan Gardner’s court case against Maria’s lover depicted her as so beautiful that she was too great a temptation to other men. It was also fun to see that the lover was defended by the famous lawyer Mr Garrow, immortalized in the BBC television series Garrow’s Law.
The episode airs on BBC 1 at 9.00pm, 22 October. More information about the series can be found on the BBC website. Join in the conversation on Twitter at #WDYTYA.