Standen Versus Standen: A Man’s Attempt to Bastardize His Own Son

On 5 June 1789, at Westminster-Hall, a case was brought by a son against his father in Standen versus Standen. If the son did not prevail, his father’s marriage to his mother would be discredited and the son would be “ruined and undone.” The case began when the son, Charles, produced the registry and showed that the entry of his father’s marriage had been made and signed by a clergyman.

Standen Versus StandenCharles’s parents had married one year before the birth of Marie Antoinette. The marriage happened in 1754 at the Savoy church and was registered as a “complete marriage de facto.”[1] However, this fact did not stop the father from arguing that after the marriage “had been solemnized, agreeable to the forms of the church of England, that it was to be beat down, after the space of twenty years, because the banns were not published three times; but only twice.”[2]

To prove that the banns were only published twice, testimony rested upon one individual in the case of Standen versus Standen. And who was that individual? The father. Furthermore, by testifying to the fact that they had not been published appropriately, the father was attempting to bastardize his own son and impeach his marriage in order that “he might prevent an indictment being preferred against him for felony.”[3] It seems that the father had since married another woman and wanted to avoid charges of bigamy.

Charles’s attorney, a man named Erskine, stated that he would prove the son’s position and disprove the father’s claims. Erskine also noted that he would show that the father cohabited with another woman. Moreover, the attorney alleged:

“[T]he plaintiff was acknowledged to be his legitimate child, and … that the banns of the marriage had been published in church by [the father’s] own direction.”[4]

Standen Versus Standen: Lord Kenyon, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Lord Kenyon. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Presiding over the Standen versus Standen case was Lord Kenyon, who served as Master of the Rolls and as Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales. He noted:

“[I]f he was called to decide whether the publication of banns for three Sundays was necessary or not, he should be bound to say that it was necessary, according to the opinion he entertained of the meaning of the Marriage.”[5]

So, Lord Kenyon pointed out that the real question became “whether there was a publication of banns agreeable to [the] act.”[6] Lord Kenyon also noted that as the marriage was conducted 35 years ago and that the minister must have known that he would incur severe penalties if he did not publish the banns properly according to the Marriage Act. Moreover, Lord Kenyon noted that the father came into court “stating his own infamy, and wish[ing] the Jury to believe that all the Minister had put in this register was absolutely false.”[7]

After having heard the evidence in Standen versus Standen, Lord Kenyon addressed the jury. He told them that they must judge the veracity of the father’s testimony by stating:

“[You must either believe the written testimony or give] credit to the assertions of a man who, according to his own account, had entrapped a girl of 17 gone through the solemn ceremony at the altar, with an intention to deceive her, and now appeared on purpose to bastardize his son, and so deprive him.”[8]

Lord Kenyon then concluded by stating:

“[I] would not decide the smallest right that belonged to mankind on the testimony of such a witness, much more so the rights of this man, of which if he were to be robbed, he would be deprived of all connections, of all descendable blood, and colateral relations.”[9]

Therefore, he advised them “with great earnestness” to reject the father’s testimony.  The jury “perfectly agreed” because they immediately found in favor of the son.


  • [1] “Law Case,” in Sheffield Register, Yorkshire, Derbyshire, & Nottinghamshire Universal Advertiser, 13 June 1789, p. 4.
  • [2] Ibid.
  • [3] Ibid.
  • [4] Ibid.
  • [5] Ibid.
  • [6] Ibid.
  • [7] Ibid.
  • [8] —, in Saunders’s News-Letter, and Daily Advertiser, 12 June 1789, p. 1.
  • [9] “Law Case,” p. 4.

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