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

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

So 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 written guide, Michael gets drunk on rum-laced furmity (frumenty), and contains a disagreement together with spouse, Susan. He chooses to auction off Susan and their child child, who’re purchased by way of 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 daughter and wife straight right straight back, and swears down liquor for the following 21 years because of this.

The scene is shocking, no question, just 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 with what is actually a no-fault divorce that is quick. Michael describes to your onlookers that:

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

This brilliant scene raised a wide range of questions in my situation, that we attempt to investigate. Did spouse product product product sales such as this really take place? In that case, where as soon as were they place that is taking and just why?

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

This is how the spouse purchase is available in. It had been feasible – though certainly not appropriate – for a guy to market their spouse, thus renouncing all obligation on her behalf. This technique of separation ended up being 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 is certainly an archive from as soon as 1302 of a person giving their spouse by deed to some other guy, but spouse product sales appear mostly up to now through the belated seventeenth century. Wife sales could take destination publicly at auction, perhaps by having a buyer that is pre-arranged. Wives may additionally be offered without auction, in which particular case the ex-husband and husband that is new either proclaim the agreed sale in a general public spot (in order to create witnesses and allow the community understand associated with modification) or concur in personal, possibly culminating in a written contract.

When it comes to general public product sales and deals, a spouse would typically be resulted in a general public destination such as for instance an industry or an inn, by having a halter around her supply or neck, similar to a little bit of livestock. The spouse would show their spouse, might enumerate her characteristics, and, into the full situation of an auction, would demand bids through the put together onlookers.

Depiction of a spouse purchase (1820)

Spouses may be sold for less than a pint of alcohol (as at Selby in 1862), but may possibly also fetch somewhat more, as with a female 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 some shillings. This is barely a life-altering amount for the ex-husband; most likely more crucial than the amount it self had been the feeling that exchanging money (or its equivalent that is alcoholic a wife purchase lawfully binding – which needless to say, it would not.

As soon as some one had purchased the spouse, he and their newly obtained spouse would generally together walk off. In a few circumstances it really is recorded that every parties resigned into the pub for the convivial beverage before moving forward. The ex-husband might then place an announcement out with a newsprint into the impact which he wouldn’t honour any debts which his previous spouse might contract.

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

Spouses probably objected less to on the market than we might assume, while the purchase ended up being usually agreed by mutual permission. In reality, often things were organised so your customer ended up being the wife’s current enthusiast. In December 1849, the changing times reported just such an event in Yorkshire, explaining just how a guy had arranged together with his wife that she ought to be offered to her enthusiast – presumably much to her satisfaction. At a general public auction in the city market:

‘After only a little competition that is spirited had been offered to her lover for 5 shillings and 9 pence. Before making together 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’.

Regardless if a spouse ended up being reluctant, nevertheless, she generally speaking had the effectiveness of veto over any buyers that are particularly unsuitable. Therefore in Manchester in 1824, ‘after a few biddings she the spouse had been knocked straight down for 5s; not liking the purchaser, she ended up being set up once once once again for 3s and a quart of ale’. It might appear that the crowds that are watching generally speaking maybe maybe perhaps not ready to see a woman offered down entirely against her might. At one spouse sale in Dublin in 1756, a team of females rescued the wife, then provided her husband a mock test and put him into the stocks until very very very early morning that is next.

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

Needless to say, some unscrupulous husbands most likely took advantageous asset of this process. Spontaneous wife product product product sales had been specially problematic in this respect because females could possibly be obsessed about a whim to strangers that are complete like in The Mayor of Casterbridge or an event in March 1766, the place where a carpenter from Southwark offered 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 sales. There clearly was no right in English legislation to offer one’s spouse. In reality, the 1861 version of Burn’s Justice for the Peace and Parish Officer states that ‘publicly offering or purchasing a spouse is obviously an offence’ that is indictable. However, it is clear that some clergy and magistrates had been willing to turn a blind attention to spouse product product sales, if perhaps as the customized ended up being therefore ingrained in everyday activity. Numerous poorer, uneducated people sincerely thought within the validity that is legal of product sales. Thus the http://www.mailorderbrides.dating/latin-brides truth of a Stockport man taken on for bigamy in 1899, whom thought their very very first wife 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 bought from an ostler

As well as in reality, the customized ended up beingn’t always as harmful to women even as we might at very first assume. It enabled a female to flee a marriage that is bad being forced to show adultery or cruelty when you look at the courts; if a woman’s new spouse had been a decent guy, her life was better than in the event that ex-husband had just cast her away without a cent, as he had been legitimately eligible to do.

Yet spouse product sales expanded less frequent into the century that is 19th as wider public viewpoint slowly switched against them. Most likely this is in some right part as a result of greater option of divorce proceedings. The final record of the spouse purchase was at 1913, whenever a lady in Leeds alleged that her spouse had offered her to 1 of their workmates for Ј1.

Further reading

nineteenth century magazine clippings wife that is regarding can be located 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 undertaking Gutenberg)