‘I’d sell my partner if anyone would purchase her’: spouse product sales in England

‘I’d sell my partner if anyone would purchase her’: spouse product sales in England

‘For my component I don’t realise why males who ‘ve got wives and don’t aim ‘em, should not dispose of ‘em since these gipsy fellows do their old horses…Why should not they place ‘em up and offer ‘em by auction to guys that are looking for such articles? Hey? Why, begad, I’d sell mine this full moment if anyone would purchase her!’

Therefore says the farm that is young Michael Henchard, in just one of the most arresting passages in Thomas Hardy’s 1886 novel The Mayor of Casterbridge. Nearby the start of the guide, Michael gets drunk on rum-laced furmity (frumenty), and it has a disagreement together with spouse, Susan. He chooses to sell Susan and their child child, who will be purchased with a sailor for five guineas. Whenever Michael sobers up, the enormity of exactly what he’s done hits house; he realises he cannot get their spouse and child right right right back, and swears down liquor for the following 21 years because of this.

The scene is shocking, no question, exactly exactly what with Michael’s casual brutality, Susan’s misery, additionally the misogyny that is pervasive. Yet whenever it emerges that Susan is also quite keen to part means with Michael, i will be struck by there being something oddly progressive with what is actually a no-fault divorce that is quick. Michael describes to the onlookers that:

‘It’s an agreement to part. She shall use the baby|Thebaby shall be taken by her latin brides if she desires to, and get her methods. I’ll just simply simply take my tools, and go my means. ‘Tis straightforward as Scripture history.’

This brilliant scene raised a number of concerns for me personally, that we attempt to investigate. Did spouse product product sales such as this happen actually? In that case, where as soon as had been they occurring, and exactly why?

The primary problem had been that prior to the 1857 Matrimonial Causes Act, which put up civil breakup courts, divorce proceedings had been just for the rich few. a bill that is private become passed away through Parliament before a few could divorce, that has been expensive and needed the right governmental connections. For ordinary individuals, consequently, the key choices following the break down of a wedding were restricted to annulment, desertion, or separation (of which there have been numerous kinds).

This is how the spouse sale is available in. It had been that is possible not appropriate – for a guy to offer their wife, therefore renouncing all duty on her behalf. This process of separation had been low priced, versatile, failed to include the courts, and permitted both events to remarry, in training if you don’t in legislation.

‘Selling a Wife to your Highest Bidder’ (1816)

There was a record from as soon as 1302 of a guy giving their spouse by deed to some other guy, but spouse product product product sales appear mostly up to now through the belated century that is 17th. Wife sales could just take destination publicly at auction, possibly with a buyer that is pre-arranged. Spouses may also be offered without auction, in which particular case the ex-husband and brand new spouse would either proclaim the agreed sale in a general general public spot (in order to create witnesses and allow the community understand associated with the change) or concur in personal, maybe culminating in a written contract.

When it comes to general public sales and deals, a spouse would typically be resulted in a general public destination such as for instance a market or an inn, having a halter around her supply or throat, exactly like an item of livestock. The spouse would show their spouse, might enumerate her characteristics, and, into the case of an auction, would call for bids through the put together onlookers.

Depiction of a wife sale (1820)

Spouses could be offered for as low as a pint of alcohol (as at Selby in 1862), but may also fetch somewhat more, as with a lady who was simply offered in 1865 for Ј100, plus Ј25 for every single of her kids. The normal cost had been probably someplace in the number of a few shillings. It was scarcely a life-altering amount for the ex-husband; probably more essential compared to the amount it self ended up being the feeling that exchanging cash (or its equivalent that is alcoholic a wife purchase lawfully binding – which needless to say, it failed to.

When some one had purchased the spouse, he along with his newly obtained wife would generally together walk off. In a few circumstances it’s recorded that all parties resigned to your pub for the drink that is convivial shifting. The ex-husband might then place away an statement with a newsprint into the impact which he wouldn’t honour any debts which their previous spouse might contract.

‘Sale of the Wife in Smithfield Market’ (1797)

Spouses probably objected less to on the market than we might assume, whilst the purchase ended up being often agreed by shared permission. In reality, often things were organised so your customer ended up being the wife’s current enthusiast. In December 1849, the occasions reported simply such an event in Yorkshire, explaining exactly how a person had arranged along with his spouse that she must certanly be sold to her fan – presumably much to her satisfaction. At an auction that is public the city market:

‘After only a little competition that is spirited ended up being offered to her enthusiast for 5 shillings and 9 pence. Before making along with her brand new spouse, the spouse snapped her hands at her ex-husband and stated ‘There, good-for-nought, that’s more than you’d fetch’.

Even though a spouse ended up being reluctant, nonetheless, she generally speaking had the effectiveness of veto over any buyers that are particularly unsuitable. Therefore in Manchester in 1824, ‘after several biddings she the spouse had been knocked straight down for 5s; not liking the buyer, she had been set up again for 3s and a quart of ale’. It might seem that the crowds that are watching generally speaking perhaps perhaps not ready to notice a woman sold off totally against her might. At one spouse purchase in Dublin in 1756, a small grouping of ladies rescued the wife, then offered her husband a mock trial and put him when you look at the stocks until very very early next early morning.

‘Selling a wife’ – Thomas Rowlandson (1812-14)

Needless to say, some unscrupulous husbands most likely took benefit of this procedure. Spontaneous spouse product product sales had been specially problematic in this respect because ladies might be obsessed about a whim to complete strangers, like in The Mayor of Casterbridge or an event in March 1766, in which a carpenter from Southwark sold their spouse ‘in a fit of conjugal indifference in the alehouse’.

Top of the and center classes – with all the exception that is possible of second Duke of Chandos, whom evidently purchased their 2nd spouse from an ostler – didn’t be involved in or help spouse product product product sales. There is no right in English legislation to offer wife that is one’s. In fact, the 1861 version of Burn’s Justice of this Peace and Parish Officer states that ‘publicly offering or purchasing a spouse is obviously an offence’ that is indictable. Nevertheless, it is clear that some clergy and magistrates had been ready to turn an eye that is blind spouse product product sales, only if as the customized ended up being therefore ingrained in everyday activity. Numerous poorer, uneducated people sincerely thought into the validity that is legal of product sales. Ergo the truth of a Stockport man taken on for bigamy in 1899, whom thought their very very first spouse had no claim he had sold her 30 years previously ‘for 1s on him as. 6d. to a chimney sweep at brand brand New Mills’.

Ann, Duchess of Chandos, who had been supposedly purchased from an ostler

As well as in reality, the custom wasn’t fundamentally as harmful to women once we might to start with assume. It enabled a lady to escape a poor wedding without being forced to show adultery or cruelty into the courts; of course a woman’s brand brand new spouse ended up being a good guy, her life had been better than in the event that ex-husband had merely cast her away without anything, while he ended up being legitimately eligible to do.

Yet spouse product sales expanded less frequent within the 19th century, as wider general public viewpoint slowly switched against them. Most likely it was in certain right component as a result of greater option of divorce or separation. The record that is last of spouse purchase was at 1913, whenever a female in Leeds alleged that her spouse had offered her to at least one of their workmates for Ј1.

Further reading

nineteenth century magazine clippings wife that is regarding can be bought about this website

The Gentleman’s Magazine, April 1832 (see p. 347 for the Duke of Chandos’ wedding)

The Mayor of Casterbridge, by Thomas Hardy (at Project Gutenberg)

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