The daughter of Thomas Sheridan and the granddaughter
of English poet, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, eight-year-old Caroline Sheridan
found herself one of five children living in poverty when her father died.
By the time she was sixteen, George Norton, a barrister who did not practice
the law, asked her to marry him. Although she refused, she reconsidered
and married him at age nineteen, partly to help the financial status of
Caroline Norton was regularly beaten and
viciously terrorized by her husband, who resented her clever wit. By the
time she had separated from him in 1836, she had borne him three sons, one
of whom, William, would die in childhood from an untreated cut from a riding
accident; the untreated cut permitted blood poisoning to take the youngster's
For the next twenty years Caroline fought
vigorously against Norton's attempts to deprive her of her income and to
scandalize her name and reputation. She was already fairly well-known because
of her poems and novels. For much of this time Caroline's solace lay in
her mastery of the written word and her efforts to overturn English law
regarding women's rights in Victorian England. As a result of her efforts
to help divorced women retain custody of their children and their material
wealth, the Marriage and Divorce Act of 1857 became her lasting legacy.
Caroline Norton died at age 69, only three
months after marrying William Stirling Maxwell.
The poem above reflects the author's devotion,
love, and concern that a life entrusted to her should remain cared for,
despite the personal privations of poverty and hunger. In spite of her own
suffering and degradation, Caroline Norton demonstrated the values she held
most dear: liberty and honor.