A Mensa Et Thoro

Parliament often begins to legislate with remarkable vigor but about the same time it gives up the attempt to govern. It begins to lay down general rules, entrusting its working to Officials/Secretaries of State/Boards of Commissioners/Law Courts, who are endowed with new statutory powers.

Once or twice upon a time, Ecclesiastical Courts could pronounce a divorce, a mensa et thoro, that is to say, that the Husband and Wife need not live together, but in order to dissolve their union and set them free to marry again, recourse to Parliament was necessary. In 1857, however a new Court of Divorce and Matrimonial Causes was created, and was empowered to dissolve marriages whenever certain facts were proved. This is an example of a Parliament confining itself to the work of legislation, of framing general rules, and entrusting particular cases to Courts of Law. 

The Roos Case (1670) was the first divorce case in English legal history. It took almost a decade since initiating proceedings until Lord Roos was granted a divorce from his wife Lady Anne Pierrepoint. The first step was obtaining a divorce a mensa et thoro from the Ecclesiastical Court. This allowed Lord Roos to legally live separate from his wife. The next step was to declare that his wife’s son Ignotus was illegitimate and the offspring of Anne’s adulterous partner. A Private Act of Parliament was required. Lord Roos introduced a Bill to this effect on 19 April, 1662. Four years later in 1666, the House of Lords unanimously passed ‘An Act for the Illegitimization of the Children of the Lady Anne Roos.’ After successfully barring Anne’s children from inheriting the earldom and more importantly establishing that Anne had committed adultery, Lord Roos was able to seek a divorce a vinculo matrimonii through a Private Act of Parliament in the House of Lords in 1670. Success would give Lord Roos the right to remarry.