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

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

Therefore states the young farm labourer Michael Henchard, in just one of the most arresting passages in Thomas Hardy’s 1886 novel The Mayor of Casterbridge. Close to the start of the written guide, Michael gets drunk on rum-laced furmity (frumenty), and it has an argument together with his spouse, Susan. He decides to sell Susan and their child child, that are purchased by a sailor for five guineas. Whenever Michael sobers up, the enormity of just just what he’s done hits house; he realises he cannot get their spouse and child straight straight 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 misogyny that is pervasive. Yet whenever it emerges that Susan normally quite keen to part methods with Michael, I am struck by there being something oddly modern in just what is actually a no-fault divorce that is quick. Michael explains 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 just 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 sales similar to this really take place? In that case, where as soon as had been they happening, and just why?

The main problem had been that prior to the 1857 Matrimonial forces Act, which create civil divorce proceedings courts, divorce proceedings ended up being just for the rich few. a personal bill had become passed away through Parliament before a few could divorce, that was expensive and needed the right governmental connections. For ordinary individuals, consequently, the key choices following the break down of a married relationship were restricted to annulment, desertion, or separation (of which there have been numerous kinds).

That is where the spouse purchase will come in. It absolutely was that is possible certainly not appropriate – for a guy to market their spouse, therefore renouncing all obligation on her. This technique of separation had been inexpensive, versatile, would not include the courts, and permitted both events to remarry, in training or even in legislation.

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

There is certainly a record from as soon as 1302 of a person giving their spouse by deed to some other guy, but spouse product product sales appear mostly up to now through the belated seventeenth century. Wife product sales might take destination publicly at auction, perhaps by having a pre-arranged customer. Spouses 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 general public spot (in order to create witnesses and allow the community understand of this modification) or concur in personal, possibly culminating in a written agreement.

When it comes to general public product sales and deals, a wife would typically be resulted in a general public destination such as for example an industry or an inn, by having a halter around her supply or throat, the same as a bit of livestock. The spouse would display their spouse, might enumerate her characteristics, and, within the instance of an auction, would necessitate bids through the put together onlookers.

Depiction of a spouse purchase (1820)

Spouses could be offered for as low as a pint of alcohol (as at Selby in 1862), but may possibly also fetch significantly more, as with a lady who had been offered in 1865 for Ј100, plus Ј25 for every single of her kids. The price that is average probably somewhere in the number of some shillings. This is barely a life-altering amount for the ex-husband; most likely more essential compared to the amount it self ended up being the feeling that exchanging cash (or its alcoholic equivalent) made a wife purchase legally binding – which needless to say, it failed to.

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

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

Spouses probably objected less to for sale than we might assume, because the purchase had been frequently agreed by shared permission. In reality, often things were organised so the customer had been the wife’s lover that is existing. In December 1849, the changing times reported simply such an event in Yorkshire, explaining just how a person had arranged along with his spouse that she ought to be offered to her fan – presumably much to her satisfaction. At an auction that is public the city market:

‘After only a little spirited competition she had been offered to her fan for 5 shillings and 9 pence. The wife snapped her fingers at her ex-husband and said ‘There, good-for-nought, that’s more than you would fetch’ before leaving with her new husband.

Regardless if a spouse had been reluctant, nonetheless, 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 was knocked straight down for 5s; not liking the purchaser, she had been set up once again for 3s and a quart of ale’. It can appear that the viewing crowds had been generally speaking maybe maybe maybe not ready to notice a woman downered off totally against her might. At one spouse sale in Dublin in 1756, a team of ladies rescued the wife, then gave her husband a mock test and put him within the stocks until very early morning that is next.

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

Needless to say, some husbands that are unscrupulous took benefit of this procedure. Spontaneous spouse sales had been specially problematic in this respect because ladies could possibly be obsessed about a whim to strangers that are complete such as 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’.

The top of and center classes – aided by the exception that is possible of second Duke of Chandos, whom evidently purchased their 2nd spouse from an ostler – didn’t take part in or help spouse product sales. There is no right in English legislation to offer one’s spouse. In reality, the 1861 version of Burn’s Justice associated with the Peace and Parish Officer states that ‘publicly offering or purchasing a wife 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 sales, only if since the customized had been therefore ingrained in everyday activity. Numerous poorer, uneducated people sincerely thought into the validity that is legal of product product product sales. Thus the outcome of a Stockport man taken on for bigamy in 1899, whom thought their very first spouse had no claim on him while 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 bought from an ostler

Plus in reality, the customized ended up beingn’t fundamentally as harmful to women once we may at very first assume. It enabled a female to flee a marriage that is bad being forced to show adultery or cruelty within the courts; and when a woman’s new spouse had been a decent guy, her life ended up being better than in the event that ex-husband had merely cast her away without a cent, as he ended up being legally eligible to do.

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

Further reading

nineteenth century newsprint clippings wife that is regarding are available about this website

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

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