Monday, May 16, 2016

The Rev. Henry Luxmore of Barnstaple

The Long Engagement by Arthur Hughes
On one of his regular calls upon the sick, the Rev. Henry Luxmore, vicar of Barnstaple, met a young lady named Elizabeth Irwin. A sometime schoolteacher, Elizabeth lived on the sunny North Devon coast with her sisters, orphans all, and with but a small fortune. Her friendship with the vicar blossomed and in 1826, they were engaged. Mr. Luxmore insisted they must wait at least two years for him to acquire the wherewithal to support a wife. Two years became a dozen years. The vicar continued to escort Miss Irwin to various fetes and civic affairs. He fended off at least one rival suitor for her hand. But in 1838, Miss Irwin was aghast to read in her Barnstaple paper that a marriage had been arranged between the Rev. Luxmore and Mary Jane Noble, a daughter of one of the late Lord Nelson's admirals. In her breach-of-promise suit, Miss Irwin was portrayed as the ever-faithful lover who found her self chucked over at the late age of 40 for a much younger woman of superior connections and fortune. Mr. Luxmore, casting no aspersions whatever on his erstwhile companion, insisted that their relationship was never more than a "warm attachment." A jury found otherwise, awarding Miss Irwin £400, a sum greater than the vicar's annual salary. But the verdict was widely accepted as fair compensation for “one of the greatest insults which it is in the power of a man to offer the other sex.” Long engagements were commonplace in Victorian fact and fiction but the Barnstaple case gave credence to the expression: “Happy’s the wooing that’s not long a-doing!”

For a celebrated late Victorian breach of promise case - also involving a clergyman - see the story of the Rev. A.G. Fryer in Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series, Vol. 1.

For a full account of the Luxmore case, see my book Blame it on the Devon Vicar (2008, Halsgrove)
Painting copyright Birmingham Art Gallery.

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