The Bigamy Act of 1604

In Chapter 26 it was revealed, at what was supposed to be Mr. Rochester and Jane’s wedding, that Mr. Rochester was in fact already married and his wife was still alive. Although Briggs objected to the marriage prior to the “I Do’s,” Mr. Rochester was still guilty of attempted bigamy. Prior to 1604 bigamy was not an actual crime, but a moral and religious offence for which the church would determine the repercussions. In 1604 the act of taking more than one wife was decided to be more than just a social issue and was officially declared a felony. Divorce and remarriage were also illegal at the time, so despite the law against Bigamy it was fairly commonplace for “people whose marriage had failed or whose spouse had deserted [to venture] to marry again” (Capp). From today’s lens it is easier to see that the position in which one is unhappy in a marriage but is legally forced to stay with their spouse or be single is an incredibly difficult one to be in, one almost worthy of empathy. In the 1800’s, however, the church had such a crucial role in the legal and social realms that the mere thought of divorce was blasphemous.  

This begs the moral question, should Mr. Rochester be able to seek happiness if his wife is not the companion he desired? Or is he destined to live a life that does not offer him the fulfillment he claims to be able to find in Jane? This is made even more complex by the earlier allusion to Bluebeard in relation to the circumstances in which they find Mrs. Rochester. Is Mr. Rochester Bluebeard? Did he drive his wife to madness and hide her on the third floor so others would not know of his actions? He has shown throughout the novel that he is manipulative and emotionally abusive, and it is known that Jane does not have a keen eye for stable relationships. He continually uses money and status to essential bribe Jane into loving him and staying in Thornfield. The fact that he hid the existence of his wife, of the marriage, from the woman he was claiming to love does not bode well for his character analysis. Mr. Rochester is excited by being desired, by the idea of having whatever is seemingly off limits—Jane. Once he marries Jane and the chase is over, will those feelings he says he has for her fizzle out? She could most certainly end up like another one of Bluebeards wives, locked away in Mr. Rochester’s attic only to be kept a secret from his next conquest and declared mad upon discovery. Or, considering how young Jane is, could she be Bluebeards youngest wife? The one that escapes and either kills Bluebeard or is rescued from him by a young man—another potential suitor perhaps. The significance of Mrs. Rochester burning Mr. Rochester in his bed carries even more weight now. He was committing acts of the devil, both in keeping her locked up and in his continual romantic conquests. Despite her madness, it could be thought that she was trying to communicate with Jane, to keep her from suffering the same fate. The discovery of Mr. Rochester’s bigamous acts has added a layer of complexity while also bridging the gap between so many earlier allusions and interactions, it is a pivotal moment in the novel.  


Capp, Bernard. “Bigamous Marriage in Early Modern England.” The Historical Journal, vol. 52, no. 3,  

2009, pp. 537–56. JSTOR, Accessed 16 Jun. 2022. 

Associated Place(s)

Event date:


Parent Chronology: