‘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 realise why men who ‘ve got wives and don’t aim ‘em, should not get rid of ‘em since these gipsy fellows do their old horses…Why shouldn’t they place ‘em up and offer ‘em by auction to males who will be looking for such articles? Hey? Why, begad, I’d sell mine this full moment if anyone would purchase her!’

So claims the young farm labourer Michael Henchard, in just one of probably 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 contains a disagreement together with spouse, Susan. He chooses to sell Susan and their infant child, who will be purchased with a sailor for five guineas. Whenever christiancupid Michael sobers up, the enormity of exactly just exactly what he’s done hits house; he realises he cannot get their spouse and child straight right back, and swears down alcohol for the following 21 years because of this.

The scene is shocking, no question, exactly just exactly what with Michael’s casual brutality, Susan’s misery, while 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 simply take the baby|Thebaby shall be taken by her if she really wants to, and get her means. I’ll just simply just take my tools, and get my means. ‘Tis simple as Scripture history.’

This brilliant scene raised a wide range of concerns for me personally, that we attempt to investigate. Did spouse product product sales such as this really happen? In that case, where so when had been they place that is taking and exactly why?

The main problem had been that ahead of the 1857 Matrimonial forces Act, which arranged civil divorce proceedings courts, divorce or separation was just when it comes to rich few. a personal bill had become passed away through Parliament before a few could divorce, that was expensive and needed the right political connections. For ordinary individuals, consequently, the key 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 is available in. It absolutely was that is possible certainly not appropriate – for a person to market their spouse, thus renouncing all duty on her. This technique of separation ended up being low priced, versatile, would not include the courts, and permitted both events to remarry, in training if you don’t in legislation.

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

There clearly was accurate documentation from as soon as 1302 of a guy giving their spouse by deed to some other guy, but spouse product sales appear mostly up to now through the belated century that is 17th. Wife sales might take destination publicly at auction, possibly having a buyer that is pre-arranged. Spouses may also 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 destination (in order to create witnesses and allow the community know of this modification) or concur in personal, possibly culminating in a written contract.

When it comes to public product sales and deals, a spouse would typically be resulted in a general public spot such as for example a market or an inn, having a halter around her supply or throat, exactly like a bit of livestock. The spouse would show their spouse, might enumerate her qualities, and, when you look at the full situation of a auction, would necessitate bids through the put together onlookers.

Depiction of a spouse purchase (1820)

Spouses may be offered 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 ?100, plus ?25 for every single of her kiddies. The price that is average probably someplace in the number of the few shillings. It was barely a life-altering amount for the ex-husband; most likely more crucial compared to the amount it self ended up being the feeling that exchanging cash (or its equivalent that is alcoholic a wife purchase lawfully binding – which needless to say, it would not.

Once some body had bought the spouse, he along with his newly obtained spouse would generally walk down together. In certain circumstances it’s recorded that every parties resigned to your pub for the convivial beverage before moving forward. The ex-husband might then place away an statement using a paper to your impact which he wouldn’t honour any debts which their previous spouse might contract.

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

Spouses probably objected less to for sale than we might assume, since the purchase had been usually agreed by shared permission. In reality, often things were organised so the customer ended up being the wife’s lover that is existing. In December 1849, the days reported simply such an event in Yorkshire, explaining exactly how a guy had arranged along with his wife that she must certanly be sold to her enthusiast – 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 enthusiast 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 is more than you’d fetch’.

Even though a spouse ended up being reluctant, nevertheless, she generally speaking had the power of veto over any specially unsuitable purchasers. Therefore in Manchester in 1824, ‘after a few biddings she the spouse had been knocked straight straight down for 5s; yet not liking the buyer, she ended up being set up once once again for 3s and a quart of ale’. It could appear that the crowds that are watching generally speaking perhaps maybe not ready to see a woman downered off totally against her might. At one spouse purchase in Dublin in 1756, a team of ladies rescued the wife, then provided her husband a mock test and put him into the stocks until very early next early morning.

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

Of course, some husbands that are unscrupulous took benefit of this method. Spontaneous spouse product product sales had been specially problematic in this respect because ladies could possibly be obsessed about a whim to complete strangers, as in The Mayor of Casterbridge or an event in March 1766, in which a carpenter from Southwark offered their spouse ‘in a fit of conjugal indifference at the alehouse’.

The top of and center classes – with all 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 product sales. There was clearly no right in English legislation to offer one’s wife. In reality, the 1861 version of Burn’s Justice associated with the Peace and Parish Officer states that ‘publicly offering or investing in a spouse is obviously an indictable offence’. However, it is clear that some clergy and magistrates had been ready to turn a blind eye to spouse sales, if perhaps since the customized ended up being therefore ingrained in every day life. Numerous poorer, uneducated people sincerely thought into the validity that is legal of product sales. Ergo the actual situation of a Stockport man taken on for bigamy in 1899, whom thought his very first spouse had no claim on him as he had sold 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 customized ended up beingn’t fundamentally as harmful to women even as we may to start with assume. It enabled a lady to flee a bad wedding without being forced to show adultery or cruelty when you look at the courts; and in case a woman’s brand brand brand new spouse had been a good man, her life had been safer than in the event that ex-husband had merely cast her away without a cent, while he had been lawfully eligible to do.

Yet spouse product sales expanded less frequent when you look at the nineteenth century, as wider public viewpoint slowly switched against them. Probably it was in a few component as a result of the 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 at least one of their workmates for ?1.

Further reading

nineteenth century newsprint clippings regarding spouse product sales is found with 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 Project Gutenberg)

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