The Manx Church was very active in the detection and punishment of sexual irregularities and exercised powers of divorce of marriage, though these appear to have been used only on rare occasions.
In 1637 a Ballaugh farmer based his plea for divorce on his wife’s admissions. According to custom the matter was published in the parish church so that an opportunity might be given to opposers to present their objections.
Nothing being advanced against the application, the plaintiff obtained the divorce. The guilty party forfeited her interest in the estate and was inhibited from marrying in the natural life of her husband.
The Courts also intervened to straighten out other matrimonial difficulties, the Sumner being called in to perform the duties of the modern welfare visitor. In 1644 the Archdeacon and Vicars-General ordered that ‘N.M. of Santon, shall fit and furnish his wife from Tagart…with a suit from top to tow accordinge to his and her …eynce and callinge and this without fayle to be done before tuesday the 12th December and thereof…neighbours (whereof the Sumner is to be one) to see that she shall be well used in foode bed and other necessaries….’
On J.K. of Lonan, it was said in 1714 that his wife had a very uneasy life with him. He was therefore ordered to bring her home and use her civilly or else to allow her son for his care of her, at the discretion of the Court. Otherwise he was to be committed to St. German’s (prison) by the Sumner or a soldier.
(source: IOM Natural History & Antiquarian Society Proceedings Vol. V No.1 1942-1946; artwork is ‘Divorce’ by William Holbrook Beard)