An adulterous Victorian wife successfully explained away incriminating evidence of her infidelity by claiming she was suffering sexual “hallucinations” .
Henry Robinson, an engineer, attempted to divorce his wife, Isabella, after finding a detailed account of her pursuit and subsequent affair with a younger man set out in her diary.
But he failed after a jury sided with Mrs Robinson who claimed the account was a work of fiction in one of the most sensational divorce cases of its day.
Records of the trial, in 1859, are the centrepiece of 70,000 divorce cases held by The National Archives which have been made available online for the first time on the genealogy website ancestry.co.uk.
Others include the divorce of Kitty O’Shea and her husband Captain William O’Shea, which changed the course of British history by triggering the downfall of her lover Charles Stewart Parnell, the leader of the Irish Home Rule movement, in the ensuing scandal.
The records of the Robinson case detail Mr Robinson’s “horror and astonishment” at chancing upon his wife’s diary and finding details of how she had “induced” Dr Edward Lane into an adulterous affair.
But the jury accepted Mrs Robinson’s claim that her writings were the result of a “species of insanity”. She told the court she was “labouring under hallucinations” brought on by an unspecified “disease of the womb”.
The Robinson divorce was the subject of the book “Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace” by Kate Summerscale published last year.
Many of the records involve what may have been cases of “staged” adultery because of strict divorce laws which meant that couples who had simply grown apart had no other means of legal dissolution.
In some cases the supposed adulterer would be photographed in bed fully dressed – including top hat.
Miriam Silverman, an historian at Ancestry.co.uk, said: “As couples needed a reason to divorce, fake adultery ‘evidence’ wasn’t uncommon.
“The gentleman would often hire a hotel room, where a paid-for ‘mistress’ would partially undress and they would both sit on the edge of the bed.
“The wife would then burst in at a pre-arranged time with a detective and photographer, to catch her husband in the act.
“Such evidence was eventually seen for what it was and dismissed in court as collusive, but for many years this was a tool available for those desperate to divorce.”