Frances Wilson

Criminal Conversation

Lady Worsley’s Whim: An Eighteenth-Century Tale of Sex, Scandal and Divorce

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Crim con is one of those great eighteenth-century terms. Jaunty and crisp, it sounds like it must be a lot of fun, whatever it means. The unabbreviated phrase, criminal conversation, is a euphemism for what was otherwise known as ‘debauching, deflowering, laying with, and carnally knowing’. Lady Worsley’s Whim is about the crim-con trial that took place in a chilly corner of Westminster Hall on 21 February 1782, between Sir Richard Worsley, Governor of the Isle of Wight, and George Bisset, an officer in the Hampshire militia and one of Worsley’s neighbours. When his wife ran off with Bisset, Worsley claimed £20,000 damages, and I’ll wager that no one outside the offices of Mishcon de Reya has come across anything on the scale of what happened next. Worsley v Bisset makes the fall-out from the Wales or McCartney unions look like a shower of confetti.

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