On the eve of the release of her new biography about Caroline Norton, The Case of the Married Woman, Lady Antonia Fraser has today unveiled a blue plaque from English Heritage at the 19th century women’s rights campaigner’s London home of 30 years at 3 Chesterfield Street.
Born in London in 1808, Caroline married George Norton in 1827, going on to have three sons with him. The couple separated after years of domestic violence and Norton used the law to grant himself custody of their children. Caroline began lobbying for a change to the law – something that was passed in 1839. The Infant Custody Bill has been described as the first piece of feminist legislation. In 1852, Caroline was forced to begin lobbying for another law change, after her estranged husband stopped paying her allowance, while also channelling her earnings into his own bank accounts. Her arguments helped shape new laws protecting women’s property and income as divorced or separated women.
‘I’m delighted that English Heritage is commemorating Caroline Norton,’ Lady Antonia said. ‘In 1836, her husband George Norton unsuccessfully sued the Prime Minister Lord Melbourne for adultery with his wife. Despite the court verdict of innocence, since a married woman had no legal rights, he was then able to exclude Caroline Norton from their home, prevent access to her three young children and benefit himself from her earnings as a writer. What I admire about Caroline Norton was that instead of suffering in silence, as was expected of a woman at that time, she proceeded to campaign bravely for a change in the law and played an important part in 19th century legislation to bring justice to all women.’
The blue plaque is one of a handful of new ‘Plaques for Women’ being erected by English Heritage this year in a move to increase the diversity of subjects being honoured, after finding only 14 per cent were for women.
Others set to be remembered via a blue plaque include Diana, Princess of Wales, who would have been 60 this year, Helena Normanton, a pioneering lawyer who was the first woman in England to practise at the bar, the crystallographer Kathleen Lonsdale and anti-slavery campaigner Ellen Craft.
Lady Antonia spoke to Tatler‘s David Jenkins for the June issue about the release of her upcoming biography – following on from previous successes with Maria Antoinette and Mary, Queen of Scots – as well as her life with her late husband, playwright Harold Pinter.
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