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

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

‘For my component we don’t understand why guys who ‘ve got wives and want that is don’t, should not dispose of ‘em since these gipsy fellows do their old horses…Why shouldn’t 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 states the farm that is young Michael Henchard, in another of the most arresting passages in Thomas Hardy’s 1886 novel The Mayor of Casterbridge. Nearby the start of guide, Michael gets drunk on rum-laced furmity (frumenty), and contains an argument together with wife, Susan. He chooses to sell Susan and their infant child, that are purchased by a sailor for five guineas. Whenever Michael sobers up, the enormity of just exactly what he’s done hits house; he realises he cannot get their spouse and child right straight back, and swears down liquor for the following 21 years because of this.

The scene is shocking, no question, just exactly exactly what with Michael’s casual brutality, Susan’s misery, therefore the pervasive misogyny. Yet whenever it emerges that Susan normally quite keen to part methods with Michael, i will be struck by there being something oddly modern in exactly what is basically a no-fault divorce that is quick. Michael explains to your onlookers that:

‘It’s an agreement to component. She shall just take the baby|Thebaby shall be taken by her if she really wants to, and get her ways. I’ll just take my tools, and get my means. ‘Tis straightforward as Scripture history.’

This brilliant scene raised an amount of concerns I set out to investigate for me, which. Did spouse product product sales such as this actually take place? If that’s the case, where as soon as had been they occurring, and exactly why?

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

This is when the spouse purchase will come in. It had been feasible – though certainly not legal – for a guy to market their spouse, thus renouncing all obligation on her. This process of separation had been inexpensive, flexible, would not involve the courts, and permitted both ongoing events to remarry, in training or even in legislation.

‘Selling a Wife towards the Highest Bidder’ (1816)

There was accurate documentation from as soon as 1302 of a person giving their wife by deed to some other guy, but spouse product product sales appear mostly up to now through the belated century that is 17th. Wife sales could just take destination publicly at auction, perhaps by having 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 public spot (in order to create witnesses and allow the community know for the change) or concur in personal, maybe culminating in a written contract.

A wife would typically be led to a public place such as a market or an inn, with a halter around her arm or neck, just like a piece of livestock in the case of public sales and auctions. The spouse would show his spouse, might enumerate her characteristics, and, within the full situation of an auction, would necessitate bids through the put together onlookers.

Depiction of the wife purchase (1820)

Spouses may 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 had been offered in 1865 for Ј100, plus Ј25 for every single of her kiddies. The price that is average probably someplace in the number of the few shillings. This is barely a life-altering amount for the ex-husband; most likely more essential compared to the sum it self ended up being the feeling that exchanging cash (or its alcoholic equivalent) made a wife purchase lawfully binding – which needless to say, it failed to.

As soon as some one had purchased the wife, he and his newly obtained spouse would generally walk down together. In a few circumstances it really is recorded that every parties resigned into the pub for the convivial beverage before shifting. The ex-husband might then put an announcement out with a magazine 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 offered than we might assume, whilst the purchase had been frequently agreed by shared consent. In reality, often things were organised so the customer ended up being the wife’s current enthusiast. In December 1849, the changing times reported simply such an event in Yorkshire, explaining exactly how a person had arranged together with his spouse that she should be offered to her fan – presumably much to her satisfaction. At an auction that is public the city marketplace:

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

Even though a spouse had been reluctant, nevertheless, she generally speaking had the effectiveness of veto over any buyers that are particularly unsuitable. Hence in Manchester in 1824, ‘after a few biddings she the spouse ended up being knocked straight straight straight down for 5s; yet not liking the buyer, she ended up being set up once again for 3s and a quart of ale’. It can appear that the viewing crowds had been generally speaking perhaps maybe not willing to notice a woman downered down entirely against her might. At one spouse purchase in Dublin in 1756, a small grouping of females rescued the wife, then provided her husband a mock test and put him within the shares until very very very early morning that is next.

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

Needless to say, some husbands that are unscrupulous took advantageous asset of this procedure. Spontaneous spouse sales were specially problematic in this respect because females could possibly be obsessed about a whim to strangers that are complete as with The Mayor of Casterbridge or an incident in March 1766, in which a carpenter from Southwark sold their spouse ‘in a fit of conjugal indifference during the alehouse’.

Top of the and center classes – because of 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 sales. There clearly was no right in English law to offer wife that is one’s. In reality, the 1861 version of Burn’s Justice of this Peace and Parish Officer states that ‘publicly attempting to sell or investing in a spouse is obviously an indictable offence’. However, it is clear that some clergy and magistrates had been ready to turn an eye that is blind spouse product product product sales, only if considering that the custom ended up being therefore ingrained japanese mail order wife in every day life. Numerous poorer, uneducated people sincerely thought when you look at the validity that is legal of product sales. Ergo the actual situation of a Stockport man taken on for bigamy in 1899, whom believed their very first wife had no claim on him as he had offered her 30 years previously ‘for 1s. 6d. to a chimney sweep at brand brand New Mills’.

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

Plus in reality, the custom ended up beingn’t always as harmful to women once we may at very first assume. It enabled a lady to flee a marriage that is bad being forced to show adultery or cruelty within the courts; of course a woman’s brand brand new spouse had been a good guy, her life had been safer than in the event that ex-husband had just cast her away without anything, while he had been lawfully eligible to do.

Yet spouse product sales grew less frequent into the century that is 19th as wider general general general public viewpoint slowly switched against them. Probably it was in certain component because of the greater option of breakup. 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 with this website

The Gentleman’s Magazine, April 1832 (see p. 347 when it comes to Duke of Chandos’ wedding)

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

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