Tuesday, May 25, 2010

How to sell your wife

Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Loretta reports:

Divorce in England in the 19th century required an Act of Parliament.  Only the rich could afford it, and many couples remained legally bound in misery (usually the misery was on the wife’s part).  But for the lower orders, there was another method.

According to author John Ashton, “On this class, the marriage tie lay lightly, and a rough, and summary, method was sometimes used to dissolve it.”

The method was wife-selling, and Ashton goes on to give examples, gleaned from various periodicals.

Morning Herald, March 11, 1802: "On the 11th of last month, a person sold, at the market cross, in Chapel en le Frith, a wife, a child, and as much furniture as would set up a beggar, for eleven shillings!"

Morning Herald, April 16, 1802: "A Butcher sold his wife by auction the last market day at Hereford. The lot brought £1 4s. and a bowl of punch."

Annual Register, February 14, 1806: "A man named John Gorsthorpe exposed his wife for sale in the market, at Hull, about one o'clock ; but, owing to the crowd which such an extraordinary occurrence had gathered together, he was obliged to defer the sale, and take her away. About four- o'clock, however, he again brought her out, and she was sold for 20 guineas, and delivered, in a halter, to a person named Houseman, who had lodged with them four or five years."

Morning Post, October 10, 1807: "One of those disgraceful scenes, which have, of late, become too common, took place on Friday se'nnight at Knaresborough. Owing to some jealousy, or other family difference, a man brought his wife, equipped in the usual style, and sold her at the market cross for 6d. and a quid of tobacco !"

In the Doncaster Gazette of March 25, 1803, a sale is thus described : " A fellow sold his wife, as a cow, in Sheffield market-place a few days ago. The lady was put into the hands of a butcher, who held her by a halter fastened round her waist. 'What do you ask for your cow?' said a bystander. 'A guinea,' replied the husband. 'Done!' cried the other, and immediately led away his bargain. We understand that the purchaser and his 'cow' live very happily together."

John Ashton, The Dawn of the XIXth Century in England: a social sketch of the times.

17 comments:

Pai said...

...I'm speechless.

Jean-François de Buren said...

As am I...

Vinery said...

When I read Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge, I thought Hardy was exagerating the wife-selling scene...it seems he wasn't!

Richard said...

Amazing quotes. History ain't all creampuffs and minuets.

BWS said...

Great fun! Don't know of this happening in the early Republic, but we should look into it.

karenreads said...

Candice Hern wrote a book with this premise a few years ago - The Bride Sale. She had some interesting historical notes in the back. According to her notes, these sales were often pre-arranged (so the "buyer" was set up in advance), but not always.

Lady Burgley said...

Interesting that two of these quotes involve butchers. I'm likely reading that with too much of a modern eye, but I wonder if that was noted to emphasis the meat-market quality of the transaction? None of the occupations of the other men, whether buyers or sellers, are mentioned. Curious.

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Didn't the Mayor of Casterbridge in Thomas Hardy's novel sell his wife?

Susan Holloway Scott said...

For all of you remembering back to Victorian Lit classes, here's the link to a google-books edition of Hardy's "The Mayor of Casterbridge". The wife-selling takes place in the very first chapter, and, as Hardy wrote it, Susan the wife at first cannot believe her husband Michael would do such a thing -- but then sees the sale as a fresh start, and goes willingly with her young daughter to her buyer. One wonders what real women in these circumstances felt....

http://books.google.com/books?id=quTyB2DhyA4C&printsec=frontcover&dq=mayor+casterbridge&hl=en&ei=F0_9S630NoOdlgfVm4nQDw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&ved=0CDQQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q&f=false

Thank you, Loretta -- I do love Hardy! :)

Susan Holloway Scott said...

Blogger ate that massive link. Here's the tiny url for "Mayor of Casterbridge."

http://tinyurl.com/2v78jjz

Sorry 'bout that!

Pauline said...

Wife selling was - as often as not - a scam. The "sold" wife would take everything of value from the purchasing husband within the first week or two and then run back to the original spouse with her ill-gotten gains. The entire process was then repeated in the next village.

Patrick O'Brian featured this dodge in one of his Aubrey/Maturin novels (the exact title escapes me). Preserved Killick, Jack Aubrey's steward, was the unfortunate dupe.

nightsmusic said...

I'm so mad at the DH tonight, do you suppose I could sell *him*?

*sigh* No, probably not.

Yup, I can see where this premise would be great fodder for a book.

So?

;)

Jane O said...

You ladies are going to drive me mad.

Thanks to this post, I discovered that several of Mr. Ashton's books can be read on line (and a great many others, alack and alas).

It's not enough that you regularly tempt me to wander through half a dozen sites looking at pictures and reading interesting snippets. Now there are whole books for me to read when I ought to be working.

For shame!

Bearded Lady said...

the "exposed" his wife for sale has got me thinking. I hope he didn't mean literally.

Susan Holloway Scott said...

You know I just noticed that the husband/seller in the illustration is standing before a bull, conveniently placed by the artist so that the husband has horns of his own -- those infamous cuckold's horns so beloved by cartoonists and other yuck-yuck satirists in the past. Does put a different spin on the scene....

Eliab said...

This is crazy.... can''t believe it lol =) Well I don't think I can sell my Duchess... ;)

Allie Bobe said...

What would happen if the couple had children? Would they sell the children as well, were the children ever the reasoning of the selling?

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