Monday, December 12, 2016

The Rev. Mr. Robinson: "Cruel to be Kind"

The Royal Army Chaplains Flag
The Rev. Henry Robinson, Irish born, Dublin educated, had been a well-traveled army chaplain for ten years, including service in the Crimea. In 1859, widowed with two children, he thought of settling down with a church of his own. But his influence and connections were limited until he met Miss Elizabeth Paxton, a lady of "considerable personal attractions, well-educated and accomplished." She was also the niece of Sir Joseph Paxton, the celebrated gardener and architect of the Crystal Palace and dear friend of Dukes and Princes. Henry and Elizabeth exchanged numerous letters of an "endearing strain." There was talk of marriage. 

Elizabeth agreed to speak with uncle Joseph about finding some preferment for Henry. Alas, the baronet wrote back with £10 for her trousseau, but he could no offer no hope for ecclesiastical influence. Elizabeth's next letter from Henry was ardour-free: “Dear Miss Paxton, it would be desirable for our correspondence to terminate.” 

For Elizabeth, at 26, this was a severe blow and she promptly sued the chaplain for £3000 for breach of promise to marry. Robinson admitted the promise had been made but he ended it with "prudent resolve." More years of barracks service were ahead for him, thus he broke it off "without casting the least aspersion on her fair fame & character." A London jury quickly found for Miss Paxton in the amount of £300. 

In the (male) press, some thought the whole affair was foolish. If the clergyman had been cruel, "it was certainly cruel to be kind," sparing this gentlewoman from years of "poverty and trouble." To conclude, Rev. Robinson found a wife later in the decade and spent many years, far from the front, at churches in the south of England. No record can be found of Miss Elizabeth Paxton ever marrying.

The most famous case of a clergyman sued for "breach of promise" involved the Rev. Mr. Fryer of Andover. The romantic and humorous story is told in full in Volume 1 of Clerical Errors - A Victorian Series. Now available at and

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