I have come across two cases of Breach of Promise of Marriage reported in contemporary Regency journals. The first--Fitzgerald v. Hawkesworth--appeared in the Derby Mercury (a publication that commenced in 1732 and continued for more than 200 years) on the 31st of May, 1804:
The plaintiff, who was represented to be a young lady of great personal attractions, singular amiability of disposition and possessing an accomplished and well-cultivated mind, is the daughter of a respectable tradesman residing at Hatfield, in this county; and the defendant is a gentleman of independent fortune, lately retired from the business of a printer, which he carried on in Finch-lane, Cornhill.
From 1809 to 1817, these two carried on a 'voluminous correspondence'. In one letter the defendant said "I will marry you as soon as circumstances will permit".
This intimacy continued down till May 1817, when the defendant wrote to the plaintiff, announcing that the best mode of terminating the anxious suspense which she had always expressed, was to break off the connexion, and think no more of matrimony;...declaring his own intention of breaking off the match.
The defendant was asked to 'consider again of his rash determination', but he did not respond to this suggestion and so action was taken by the lady. The court case, complete with jury, followed.
The Jury retired for about an hour, and on their return, found a verdict for the plaintiff. Damages, Four Thousand Pounds.
A substantial sum in penalty--but the defendant had inherited 10,000 pounds during the course of the legal case, and so was well able to pay for his freedom from the Promise of Marriage.
A woman's reputation was her pride, her joy, and her protection, in those fiercely patriarchal days. A broken engagement could damage that reputation beyond repair. It was necessary therefore that the legal system protect her from the consequences of a gentleman's dishonour, and obviously the system worked.
It's a romantic notion--Breach of Promise of Marriage--and many novelists have put it to good use. But it came down to brass--money--and saved many a woman from a penniless and harrowing future.
'Til next time,