Why did husbands sell their wives in England?

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(ORDO NEWS) — Since 1690, there have been five ways to get rid of a wife in England – a church court, a petition to parliament, an act of a notary, an escape with a mistress, or the sale of a wife in the market. Although the Church could dissolve the marriage, it forbade marriage again. The escape deprived the husband of his property. In addition, courts and notaries – all this was expensive and time-consuming. So it turned out that the market was the most suitable place for divorce – cheap and cheerful. It is not without reason that Ivan the Terrible, 100 years before those events, called the British “men” who were only “looking for their trade profits.” It turns out that our king was right!

“In a fit of marital indifference …”

The ritual custom of selling a wife in England is mentioned in 1692, when “John, son of Nathan Whitehouse, sold his wife to Mr. Bracegirdle at Tipton.” After 4 years, the authorities woke up, and a certain Thomas Heath Moulster was even fined for “unlawful cohabitation with the wife of George Fuller of Chinner … buying a frightful £ 2”. But it was too late – the sale and purchase of wives went for a walk all over the country. It blossomed in lush color in the 18th century.

Prior to the passage of the Marriage Act of 1753, wedding in England with an entry in the church book was not a legal requirement. The main factors among commoners were the consent of the parties and the age established by law for marriage: from 12 years for girls, from 14 for boys.

At the same time, the wife could not own property and was herself considered the property of her husband. And therefore, take, for example, someone’s money, the debt fell on his shoulders. It turned out that not a single man could just drive away a disgusted spouse – he would still end up in debt, poor fellow, and he would pay! Submit to the church court “to separate the bed and table”? What is it – to publicly declare treason or beatings, and even to pay for this shame yourself? Well, I do not! The public auction in the market square was clearly the lesser of all evils.

The deal was purely symbolic – the woman’s buyer and her price were known in advance. Only now the witnesses had to be somehow lured, so that later, if something happened, they would confirm: they say, they saw with their own eyes and heard with their ears that Mary or Kat – Jim or Pete is no longer a wife. The British have come up with auctions. A collar at the waist, arm or neck of a woman, as well as a rope or a leash woven from ribbons, for which her husband was leading, were only the beginning of the performance. Then they gambling bargained for each shilling or pint of beer, reinforcing the action with a strong word …

So auctions in Britain, Ireland and Scotland did not suffer from lack of people. True, some husbands got along fine without them. In March 1766, a Southwark carpenter sold his wife “in a fit of marital indifference in a pub.”
And when he got sober, he begged her to return, but his wife refused. So the newspapers wrote – and they were published in England since 1621.

Stones in stockings

The rural clergy and judges knew about everything, but turned a blind eye to it. Records of this type of transaction have been found in baptismal registers. For example, in Essex in 1782 the fact of the birth of a child in such an “auction” marriage was recorded: “Amy is the daughter of Moses Stebbin and his purchased wife, delivered to him on a leash”.

In 1819, a judge in Derby County made an attempt to stop the marriage bargaining, but was stoned! And even after that he muttered some confusion in his defense: “Although the real ultimate goal for my sending the police was to prevent this scandalous sale, the obvious motive is to preserve public order … As for the very act of sale, I really don’t think I have the right to prevent her, or even just pose any obstacles to her, because she relies on a custom preserved by the people … ”.

Those who could not support their families were even forced into a deal! This happened, for example, with Henry Cook in 1814. The authorities, based on the Poor Law, forced him to sell his wife to a wealthy man, instead of settling her and her child in a workhouse with her husband. Cook’s wife was brought to Croydon Market at the expense of the treasury and sold for one shilling. The arrival also paid for the “wedding dinner”!

The public reacted to the auctions with fervor, sometimes excessive. In 1828, in Edinburgh, women were furious at the pettiness of the curmudgeon-husband and attacked him. The viewers, who wanted to beat off the seller, also got it. Taking off their stockings, the women put stones in them and went like a wall!

As a result, the wives, it seems, decided to take matters into their own hands, and some began to steer their own sales. One resident of Plymouth bought herself out in 1822 – wishing to get rid of her husband, she gave him money through her agent, allegedly from an unknown “seller”. In 1830, in Wenlock (Shropshire), a husband had already sold his wife and children for 2 shillings 6 pence, when suddenly “he was embarrassed and tried to stop the deal, but Matty forced him to continue. She slapped her apron across the face of her husband and said, “Scoundrel. I must be sold. I want a change!

In search of “trade gains”

Newspapers quite a bit fueled the interest of ordinary people in the intimate side of the marriage sales business. Well, for example, about a deal in September 1815 at the Staines market, journalists wrote: “Three shillings and four pence were offered for a lot, no one dared to fight the applicant for a blond object, whose merits could only be appreciated by those who knew them. This buyer could boast of a long and intimate acquaintance.”

In the 19th century, bargaining for wives in the bazaars was no longer the lot of village simpletons. Only a fifth of such divorces-marriages occurred in the countryside, while the rest of the buyers-sellers worked as blacksmiths, chimney sweeps or laborers at city construction sites. There were also wealthy people among the fans of auctions. In Maidstone in January 1815, John Osborne decided to sell his wife in the local market. But the market did not work, and the sale took place “opposite the coal barge on Earl Street.” The wife and child of the noble gentleman “went under the hammer” for one pound to the new owner, William Sergeant.

In the second half of the 19th century, prices skyrocketed. During a marriage deal in 1865, a woman and children were sold for £ 100, plus £ 25 for each of her children (today that would be about £ 10,000).

The press began to romanticize the sale and purchase of wives, sometimes over the top. The most famous story was reported by the monthly The Gentleman’s Magazine (“Magazine for gentlemen”). This was supposedly the case. A certain duke of Chandos, while staying in a village inn, saw a groom beating his wife. The lord stood up for her and bought her for half a crown. It was a young, beautiful woman; the duke educated her, and after the death of her groom, he married her.

On her deathbed, she gathered the whole house, told her story, and deduced from her a touching morality about reliance on providence, “because from the most miserable situation she was suddenly raised to one of the greatest peaks of prosperity.” Then she asked everyone for forgiveness and generously bestowed upon everyone, dying almost at the same moment. Although it is difficult to vouch for the reliability of this story. A more truthful story is about a woman who told the Leeds police court in 1913 that her husband had sold her for a pound sterling to his colleague. It turns out that the sale and purchase of wives “lived” right up to the XX century!


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