Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Wife for sale in Lincolnshire

Wednesday, May 4, 2011
Loretta reports:

I’ve posted before about wife selling, but this one I hadn't seen before, came directly from a ladies’ magazine rather than a compendium, and was particularly interesting regarding the conditions of the sale.  I'm still scratching my head, wondering if it was a wife sale or a wife rental.
LINCOLNSHIRE. One of those scenes which are a disgrace to the police, lately took place at Spilsby. One Thomus Sowden, of Wainfleet, publicly exposed his wife for sale in Spilsby market, and sold her for five guineas, a larger sum than we have heard a wife to bring at a public sale for some time past. One of the engagements in this disgraceful bargain, was, that the husband should have the liberty of visiting her at what time he thought proper, without let or molestation. After the conclusion of the sale the parties retired to a public-house, where for five days and nights they feasted upon the fruits of the bargain; but at length tired out by the powerful influence of Morpheus, like pigs, they all retired to the same stye, certainly the fittest place for this unnatural trio.  We are astonished the magistrates do not interfere upon these occasions, and prevent such public insults to the morals of the people. Surely they are punishable for an offence contra bonos mores, if by no other statute.

La Belle assemblée, Volume 1, 1810 (May)
Illustration:  Thomas Rowlandson, Selling a Wife, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.


HistoricalRomanceJunkie Rita said...

Major Menage?

Wow! I didn't know these sort of happenings went down back then- at least so publicly. And it was reported in a ladies' magazine? Exposed to all of england's virginal maidens?

Thanks for yet another interesting post!

Pai said...

When was this practice made illegal (or was it ever)?

Anonymous said...

There was no statutory law against the practice of allowing your wife to go out and commit adultery. The JP might stick someone in the stocks for it, but the offense was one left to the church to punish. The local vicar was the one who was supposed to give the circumstances to the bishop. However, the church, had few ways to punish people who didn't care about religion.
There were a few accounts of wife selling in the newspapers from time to time. Everyone knew that it amounted to the husband giving his wife permission to commit adultery with another. Neither could legally marry anyone else, though some probably committed bigamy and a few others lived in concubinage ( as the court reports often stated)
Though this sounds like a horrible imposition on the wife and reeks of slavery, in reality the wife was "sold" to her lover. The lover handed the husband a few coins and had the right to keep the wife as his own, though no church or state official would consider her so. If he moved away to another place, people might think they were legally married.
The children would either be considered the husband's or illegitimate.In the case reported here, any children would be considered the husband's.
Most transactions called wife sales did not include a clause allowing the husband to have intercourse with his wife. In most cases, the peopel concerned acted as though it were a legal divorce-- which it wasn't.
Thomas Hardy has a wife sale in oneof his books and a Regency Romance author , also does. IN the latter case, the sale was against the woman's wishes as she didn't have a lover to purchase her.

LorettaChase said...

I listed several sales in last year's wife-selling blog (about this time of year, too--must be something in the air)and was therefore struck by the amount paid in this case—and for non-exclusive rights. Five guineas was a lot of money. A guineas was 21 shillings or one pound 1 shilling. A nursery maid in the 1820s made about 7 guineas _a year_.

Sophie said...

Reading this, I was surprised that wife-selling was so widely publicised in a female-oriented forum at this time! On second thought, it does make sense that women would have been aware of such goings-on, and it must have been an important issue to more women than I had previously thought. Great post, thank you :)

nightsmusic said...

Well, if used in place of one, though it wasn't legal, it was still more cost effective and quicker than an actual divorce, wasn't it? I know the price of divorce for the peerage was high, time consuming and not lightly gained, but I don't know much about the lower classes.

LorettaChase said...

Theo, the poor simply couldn't afford divorce. Bigamy, running away, wife-selling, and that sort of thing were their ways of dealing with marital breakdown. In certain ways, they had more freedom than the upper classes did. Poor people were invisible. Aristocrats weren't.

LorettaChase said...

My apologies for all the typos--which I've now corrected, I hope. I must have been delirious when I posted this--or stunned by the 5 guineas price.

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