The too-much-married man : male bigamy prosecutions in Scotland, 1837-1901

  • Carol Elizabeth McKinven

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


This thesis provides the first research into male bigamy in Scotland, examining criminal prosecutions between 1837 and 1901. Drawing on the records of the criminal courts, newspapers and a variety of other sources, it identifies how Scotland's separate legal and criminal justice system impacted on the definition, prosecution and punishment of the offence. The study addresses three key research aims: how did this separate legal context, in particular the definition of the crime and the marital law framework, affect the technical aspects of bigamy in Scotland; how did social and economic factors provide an impetus for the growth in prosecutions; and how did the criminal justice system respond to cases of bigamy? The continued legal validity of irregular marriage might be expected to facilitate bigamy, yet this research finds that it was not the major cause of prosecuted cases. It also suggests greater nuance to the argument that the era's highly restricted divorce processes fostered bigamy. Examining the physical and social geography of the crime, the study establishes that this was almost exclusively a working-class offence, disproportionately concentrated in the expanding cities. The research also posits a typology of male offenders, finding that bigamists ranged from the 'unintentional' who misunderstood the law, to the 'fickle' unable to settle in one relationship and place, to those with a wider criminal history. For the courts, the essence of the crime lay in the betrayal of the marriage vows made to the lawful wife, the deception of the second and the implications for the essential role that matrimony was seen to play in maintaining the stability of society. Punishment ranged from transportation to imprisonment, yet as the century progressed those same courts demonstrated a greater willingness to take the circumstances of individual cases into account.
Date of Award1 Dec 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorMalcolm Robert Petrie (Supervisor) & Robert Houston (Supervisor)


  • Bigamy
  • Scotland
  • Working-class marriage
  • Criminal prosecution
  • Marriage law
  • Sentencing
  • Scottish legal context

Access Status

  • Full text embargoed until
  • 6th August 2026

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