Until the early 20th century, a man's promise of engagement to marry a woman was considered a legally binding contract. If the man was to then change his mind, he would be said to be in "breach" of this promise and could be taken to court for damages.
The following case was reported in the Evening Express on 4 May 1895.
JILTED BY HER JOURNALIST LOVER
His Love-Letters Were Many and Sweet and He Burst Into Poetry Once
Mrs Fanny Elizabeth Edenborough, a widow, living at Cadogan Lodge, Cadogan-road, Surbiton, brought an action on Friday before the Sheriffs of Surrey against Mr Lionel Rupert Brocklebank, a journalist, living at Christ Church Vicarage, Chesham, for damages for breach of promise of marriage.
Mr Wildey Wright appeared for the plaintiff, a pre-possessing young widow of ladylike appearance.
The plaintiff, said Mr Wright, was not yet 27 years of age. She was married when she was seventeen or eighteen, and her husband, who occupied a very good position in the City, died early in 1892, leaving her with two young children, and with an income of £150 to £200 a year.
In July 1894, she went to a little village near Polruan, in Cornwall, to stay with some friends, and while there she met the defendant. Defendant was very attentive to her, and took her for boating and driving excursions.
On September 26 defendant came from Polruan to the house of his brother-in-law, now Vicar of Christchurch, Chesham. The following day he visited Mrs Edenborough at Surbiton, and then and there made a formal proposal of marriage.
A few days after the engagement he wrote to her, addressing her as “My own darling Ponte,” a name he had given her after a river in Cornwall, and telling her that he was writing a short tale in “Tit-Bits”. He concluded, “With all my love and kisses, my own dearest darling, loved little girl, from your ever loving Rupert.” (Laughter.) In another letter which he wrote soon afterwards he asked her to “kiss the kiddies for me, my darling,” and concluded in the same endearing language.
In the next letter, after writing to her in similar language, he said: “My brother-in-law has just gone out to marry a couple. How I wish it were you and I! I will get him to do the job for us soon. What do you think?” (Laughter.) In another letter he said his sister had “pumped” all the news of his engagement out of him, and signed himself as “Your own loving boy.”
Other letters began in the same way as the former ones, and ended, “My own dearest, truest, darling, loved, treasured, precious pet, from your ever-loving Rupert.” (Laughter.)
On October 28 the defendant wrote the following letter: “My very own dearest Ponte – Your darling letter arrived, which I was very pleased to receive, dear heart. I am glad you agree with my sister in thinking I will make a good husband. Dearest, I will try, and if I don’t succeed it won’t be my fault. Yesterday I had a good day’s writing. I wrote an article on – what do you think, dear – 'How to Propose'. (Laughter.) I hope 'Answers' will take it. I am sure it’s amusing enough, if not instructive. I have let out all the secrets of the trade, darling. (Laughter.) In another letter he said: I would rather spend one evening with you, my darling little sweetheart, than attend all the balls and amusements I could cram into a month.
On November 29 he broke out into poetry:
I cannot work, I cannot play,
There’s nothing left worthwhile to say,
The hours are long, the days are dear,
Oh, how I wish my love were near –
My love’s away.
The time will come, also the day,
When I shall go down Kingston way,
To see my darling once again,
And join the links of an unbroken chain –
With love away.
Towards the end of December the defendant’s letters got cooler. Before this, however, defendant had told plaintiff that he had previously been engaged to another lady, the daughter of a wealthy lady in Manchester. Owing to the parent’s objection, the match was broken off. The defendant also bought plaintiff two rings, which the other lady had returned to him, but she indignantly refused to accept such second-hand goods, and he apologized for offering them to her. When plaintiff wrote asking the reason of his coolness, he replied on New Year’s Day that he was afraid he had made a mistake in engaging himself to her, and his thoughts were constantly reverting to the other young lady at Manchester.
The jury awarded the plaintiff £250 damages.
The humiliation of having been conned by a man who was quite obviously only interested in her money must have made Fanny extremely wary of further proposals of matrimony as she remained the Widow Edenborough until her death in 1942.