Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Wife Selling in England & 17C-18C early America

Sale of a Wife in Smithfield Market
Now is your time gemmen; here's my Fat Heifer and ten pounds worth of bad Halfpence, all for half a Guinea, why her Hide's worth more to a Tanner; I'll warrant She's Beef to the Heels, and tho' her Horns ben't Wisible, yet he that buys her will soon feel their Sharpness.--there han't been such a Beast in the Market for Years--Zounds says the Fool in Blue Apron, I think I'll take her of thee, She and the Halfpence, must be worth the Money, I have had two Wives, and wou'd have Sold 'em for half that Sum.
Published 25th July 1797 by Laurie & Whittle, 53 Fleet Street, London

Wife selling in England was a method of ending an unhappy marriage (probably by mutual agreement) which seemed to gain popularity in the late 17C, when divorce was a practical impossibility for all but the very rich. After performing the ritual of leading his wife with a rope halter around her neck, arm, or waist, a husband would publicly auction her to the highest bidder. 

There is an account from 1302 of a husband who "granted his wife by deed to another man." With the general rise in the ability to read & the increasing availability of newspapers, written reports of the practice become more frequent in the 2nd half of the 18C. 

The 1832 Gentleman's Magazine reported several occasions of wife selling in the 17C.  In November 1692 "John, ye son of Nathan Whitehouse, of Tipton, sold his wife to Mr. Bracegirdle," although the manner of the sale is unrecorded. In 1696, Thomas Heath Maultster was fined for "cohabiteing in an unlawful manner with the wife of George ffuller of Chinner ... haueing bought her of her husband at 2d.q. the pound"

Until the Marriage Act of 1753, a formal ceremony of marriage before a clergyman was not a legal requirement in England, & marriages were unregistered except those performed in parish churches & noted in church registers. All that was required was for both parties to agree to the union, so long as each had reached the legal age of consent, which was 12 for girls & 14 for boys. 

Women were completely subordinated to their husbands after marriage, the husband & wife becoming one legal entity, a legal status known as coverture. As jurist William Blackstone wrote in 1753: "the very being, or legal existence of the woman, is suspended during the marriage, or at least is consolidated & incorporated into that of her husband: under whose wing, protection & cover, she performs everything." Married women could not own property in their own right, & were indeed themselves the property of their husbands. But Blackstone went on to observe that "even the disabilities the wife lies under are, for the most part, intended for her protection & benefit. So great a favourite is the female sex of the laws of England." (Poor, unintelligent women needed "protection.")

Along with other English customs, settlers arriving in the British American colonies during the late 17C & early 18C century carried with them the practice of wife selling, & the belief in its legitimacy as a way of ending a marriage. 

In 1645 "The P'ticular Court" of Hartford, Connecticut, reported the case of Baggett Egleston, who was fined 20 shillings for "bequething his wyfe to a young man." The Boston Evening-Post reported on 15 March 1736 an argument between two men "& a certain woman, each one claiming her as his Wife, but so it was that one of them had actually disposed of his Right in her to the other for Fifteen Shillings." The purchaser had, apparently, refused to pay in full, & had attempted to return "his" wife. He was given the outstanding sum by two generous bystanders, & paid the husband—who promptly "gave the Woman a modest Salute wishing her well, & his Brother Sterling much Joy of his Bargain." 

After the Revolution, American independence brought women several paths to freedom from husbands who were abusive, neglectful, or adulterous. In the British American colonial society, divorce was nearly impossible under English precedent, but all of the new "states" recognized the need to legally end unhappy marriages. The choice of appropriate remedies varied considerably. Some states, particularly in the South, only allowed separate residence with alimony (called divorce from bed & board). Other states granted absolute divorce with the right of the innocent party to remarry. In matters of divorce, local social, & religious values affected the laws in different parts of the country. The conservatism of divorce laws in the southern states was probably related to slavery. Southern lawmakers seemed reluctant to grant women absolute divorces, because of the frequent occurrence of slave-owning husbands’ having sexual relationships with their slaves. Liberal New England laws, in contrast, stemmed from a longstanding Puritan belief, that it was better for unhappy couples to separate & remarry than to be joined forever in a state of discord & temptation to sin.

An account in 1781 of a William Collings of South Carolina records a "Bill of Sale" of a "Wife and Property" for "Two Dollars and half Dozen Bowls of Grogg," the buyer "to have my said Wife for ever and a Day." According to Richard B. Morris, "although the administration of the law was in a somewhat unsettled state during this ["British"] military occupation [of Charleston], neither at common law nor under the marriage laws then in force in South Carolina would the sale of a wife have been valid." The document likely was a way, wrote Morris, for "dissolving the marriage bond" since the state forbade divorce "and the marriage laws of the Church of England were widely disregarded among the poorer whites and in the back country," but it could also have been intended to reduce the husband's liability for debts for support of the wife and her children and for her pre-marriage debts.

In mother England, at least 5 methods of breaking up a marriage existed before & after the American Revolution. One was to sue in the ecclesiastical courts for separation from bed & board (a mensa et thoro), on the grounds of adultery or life-threatening cruelty, but it did not allow a remarriage. From the 1550s, until the Matrimonial Causes Act became law in 1857, divorce in England was only possible, if at all, by the complex & costly procedure of a private Act of Parliament. Although the divorce courts set up in the wake of the 1857 Matrimonial Causes Act made the procedure considerably cheaper, divorce remained prohibitively expensive for the poorer members of society. An alternative was to obtain a "private separation," an agreement negotiated between both spouses, embodied in a deed of separation drawn up by a conveyancer. Desertion or elopement was also possible, whereby the wife was forced out of the family home, or the husband simply set up a new home with his mistress. Finally, the less popular notion of wife selling was an alternative method of ending a marriage. The Laws Respecting Women, As They Regard Their Natural Rights (1777) observed that, for the poor, wife selling was viewed as a "method of dissolving marriage," when "a husband & wife find themselves heartily tired of each other, & agree to part, if the man has a mind to authenticate the intended separation by making it a matter of public notoriety."

Although the wife selling custom had no basis in law & sometimes resulted in prosecution, particularly from the mid-19C onwards, the attitude of English authorities was equivocal. At least one early 19C magistrate is on record as stating that he did not believe he had the right to prevent wife sales, & there were cases of local Poor Law Commissioners forcing husbands to sell their wives, rather than having to maintain the family in workhouses.

Wife selling persisted in England in some form until the early 20C; according to the jurist & historian James Bryce, writing in 1901, wife sales were still occasionally taking place during his time. In one of the last reported instances of a wife sale in England, a woman giving evidence in a Leeds police court in 1913 claimed that she had been sold to one of her husband's workmates for £1.

Another form of wife selling in England was by deed of conveyance. The practice became more widespread after the 1850s, as popular opinion generally turned against the market sale of a wife. The issue of the commonly perceived legitimacy of wife selling was also brought to the government. In 1881, Home Secretary William Harcourt was asked to comment on an incident in Sheffield, in which a man sold his wife for a quart of beer. Harcourt replied: "no impression exists anywhere in England that the selling of wives is legitimate" & "that no such practice as wife selling exists."  But just 8 years later in 1889, a member of the Salvation Army was recorded selling his wife for a shilling in Hucknall Torkard, Nottinghamshire, & subsequently leading her by the halter to her buyer's house. 

Selling a Wife (1812–14), by English artist Thomas Rowlandson

A Few Public Notices

November, 1692. "John, ye son of Nathan WHITEHOUSE, of Tipton, sold his wife to Mr. Bracegirdle."

1720 from Lloyd's Magazine, "We were lately witnesses of a case of wife-selling in an old town in South Staffordshire. It appeared that the husband had set his affections on another woman, and his wife hearing of it, had very justly showed their displeasure in a variety of ways; whereupon the husband, who was a collier, took her to the marketplace, and sold her to the highest bidder for five shillings. There was much excitement in the crowd which assembled to witness the act, and the affair ended with a good deal of drinking at the expense of the husband and the purchaser."

"Annual Register," August 3lst, 1733 "Three men and three women went to the Bell Inn, Edgbaston Street, Birmingham, and made the following entry in the Toll Book which is kept there: Samuel WHITEHOUSE, of the parish of Willenhall, in the County of Stafford, sold his wife, Mary WHITEHOUSE, in open market, to Thomas GRIFFITHS, of Birmingham. Value, one guinea. To take her with all her faults. (Signed) Samuel WHITEHOUSE / Mary WHITEHOUSE. Voucher: T. BUCKLEY."

Court record Bill of Sale of Oct. 24, 1766 "It is this day agreed on between John Parsons, of the parish of Midsummer Norton, in the county of Somerset, clothworker, & John Tooker, of the same place, gentleman, that the said John Parsons, for & in consideration of the sum of six pounds & six shillings in hand paid to the said John Parsons, doth sell, assign, & set over unto the said John Tooker, Ann Parsons, wife of the said John Parsons; with all right, property, claim, services, & demands whatsoever, that he, the said John Parsons, shall have in or to the said Ann Parsons, for & during the term of the natural life of her, the said Ann Parsons. In witness whereof I, the said John Parsons, have set my hand the day & year first above written. JOHN PARSONS.'Witness: WILLIAM CHIVERS."

World, June 21, 1788, "Not many days since a man publicly sold his wife for 12 shillings. In the payment he had insisted in having new shillings as he had never had had anything but what was bad in exchange for her and therefore must take more care."

Morning Post and Daily Advertiser, September 4, 1789 "On Thursday last at Yarlington fair, in this county, Ann Atwell wife of William Atwell was sold for five shillings to Thomas Wadman. The woman was delivered, as is customary with a large cord. He had promised her good keeping and six pence was paid in earnest."

World, September 22, 1789 "A man of the name John Petts lately sold his wife and three children for two shillings and six pence. He shewed her by leading her up and down the road in a halter in which she was delivered up to her new purchaser. She was thought to be no bargain."

Aris's Birmingham Gazette March lst, 1790 "As instances of the sales of wives have of late frequently occurred among the lower classes of people who consider such sale lawful, we think it right to inform them that, by a determination of the courts of law' in a former reign, they were declared illegal and void, and considered (a light in which religion must view them) as mere pretence to sanction the crime of adultery."

World, November 12, 1790 "A man at Nimfield stocks in Sussex last week sold his wife to another man of the same place for half a pint of gin; the purchaser being in liquor at the time the bargain was concluded, the seller in order that he should not complain of any unfair advantage having been taken of him took his dear spouse to bed and board until the next morning when the buyer attended and claimed his lady who was delivered by the husband in due form, having a halter round her neck, and two witnesses being present.  The woman appeared overjoyed at the change, nor did the man seem less happy at their lots."

Oracle and Public Advertiser, March 31, 1796 "On Saturday evening last John Lees, steel burner, sold his wife for the sum of 6 shillings to Samuel Hall, fellmonger, both of Sheffield. Lees gave Hall one guinea immediately to have her taken off to Manchester the day following by coach. She was delivered up with a halter round her neck and the clerk of the market received 4 pence for the toll."

Oracle and Public Advertiser, July 18, 1797 "Smithfield Market. Another anti-matrimonial bargain has taken place in this mart of living stock. But whatever may be the cause, the fact is that the price of ladies has risen here; a man sold his wife yesterday for three guineas and a half."

The Times July 1797 "On Friday a butcher exposed his wife to Sale in Smithfield Market, near the Ram Inn, with a halter about her neck, & one about her waist, which tied her to a railing, when a hog-driver was the happy purchaser, who gave the husband three guineas & a crown for his departed rib. Pity it is, there is no stop put to such depraved conduct in the lower order of people." 

Oracle and Public Advertiser, September 23, 1797 "The price of wives is no longer regulated by what the article brings to Smithfield. It has advanced considerably more than it was some months ago; for last week a wife sold for twenty five pounds at Towcester."

Bell’s Weekly Messenger, January 25, 1801 "Lawrence Stephen of West Luton in the East Riding of York sold his wife Jane to William Servant of Hovingham for five shillings, who returned two shilling and six pence to the purchaser in open market at New Malton on Saturday night and delivered in a halter on Monday at the Market Cross there."

A Staffordshire County newspaper, March lst, 1801 evidently referring to an incident in Stafford, said, "On Tuesday last HODSON a chimney sweeper, better known by the appropriate nickname of Cupid, brought his wife into the Market Place of this town and disposed of her by auction. She was put up at the sum of one penny, but as there were several bidders, and of course a good deal of rivalship, she sold for five shillings and sixpence. The usual delicate ceremony of tying a rope round the woman's neck was dispensed with; but we could mention a way in which a rope might very properly reward the persons concerned in this disgraceful violation of decency and morality."

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."

Doncaster Gazette March 25, 1803, "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." 

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 !"

Wolverhampton newspaper (The town of Wolverhapton is in the county of Stafford or Stafforshire.) 1832: "A disgraceful scene was exhibited in Stafford market on Saturday week. A labouring man of idle and dissolute habits, Rodney HALL, residing at Dustan Heath, near Penkridge, led his wife into the town with a halter round her body, for the purpose of disposing of her in the public market to the best bidder. Having taken her into the Market Place and paid toll, he led her twice round the market, when he was met by a man named BARLOW, of the same class of life, who purchased her for eighteen-pence and a quart of ale, and she was formally delivered over to the purchaser. The parties then went to the Blue Posts Inn to ratify the transfer, followed by a considerable number of persons who had been attracted by the disgusting proceedings."

Wolverhampton newspaper (The town of Wolverhapton is in the county of Stafford or Stafforshire.) November 1837: "A strange and unwonted exhibition took place in Walsall market on Tuesday last. A man named George HITCHINSON brought his wife, Elizabeth HITCHINSON from Burntwood, for sale, a distance of eight or nine miles. They came into the market between ten and eleven o'clock in the morning, the woman being led by a halter, which was fastened, round her neck and the middle of her body. In a few minutes after their arrival she was sold to a man of the name of Thomas SNAPE a nailer, also from Burntwood. There were not many people in the market at the time. The purchase price was two shillings and sixpence, and all the parties seemed satisfied with the bargain. The husband was glad to get rid of his frail rib, who, it seems, had been living with SNAPE three years, at any time erroneously imagining that because he had brought her through a turnpike gate in a halter, and publicly sold her in the market before witnesses, that he is thereby freed from all responsibility and liability with regard to her future maintenance and support."


Ashton, John (1899), Social England Under the Regency, Chatto and Windus

Ashton, John (1888), Modern Street Ballads, Chatto & Windus

Bryce, James (1901), Studies in history and jurisprudence, Volume II, Oxford University Press

Burn, John (2009) [1869], Burn's Justice of the Peace and Parish Officer: (V. 5a, 1869), Cornell University Library

Caine, Barbara; Sluga, Glenda (2002), Gendering European history: 1780–1920, Continuum

Chambers, Robert (1864), The Book of Days: A Miscellany of Popular Antiquities 1, W. & R. Chambers

Clark, Anna (1997), The Struggle for the Breeches: Gender and the Making of the British Working Class, University of California Press

Collins, Sophie (2007), A Sussex Miscellany, Snake River Press

Finlay, Henry Alan (2005), To have but not to hold (illustrated ed.), Federation Press

Gibson, Colin (1993), Dissolving Wedlock, Routledge

Gibson, James (1996), Thomas Hardy: A Literary Life, Palgrave Macmillan

Godbeer, Richard (2002), Sexual Revolution in Early America: Gender Relations in the American Experience, The Johns Hopkins University Press

Griffiths, John (1995), "Book review: E. P. Thompson: Customs in common", Journal of Legal Pluralism 

Hill, Bridget (1994), Women, Work & Sexual Politics in Eighteenth-century England

Jacob, W. M. (2002), Lay People and Religion in the Early Eighteenth Century, Cambridge University Press

Mansell, Wade; Meteyard, Belinda (2004), A Critical Introduction to Law (Third ed.), Routledge Cavendish

Pateman, Carole (1988), The Sexual Contract, Stanford University Press

Pobjoy, Harold Norman (1970), The History Of Emley – A West Riding Village, Ridings Publishing Company

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Thompson, E. P. (1991), "The Selling of Wives, Customs in Common, Merlin Press, pp. 404–466

Woodbury, George (1951), The Great Days of Piracy, W. W. Norton & Company 

16C Grand Tour - Cambridge

Georg Braun (1541-1622) & Frans Hogenberg (1535–1590) German topo-geographers Cambridge dated 1575.

I love the decorative & practical landscape elements visible in these maps.

17C Woman by Wenceslaus Hollar (1607-1677)

We have few depictions of women in the 17C British American colonies, but the prints by Wenceslaus Hollar (1607-1677) allow us to see the hairstyles & fashions being worn on the other side of the Atlantic during the early years of the English colonization of America. 

Wenceslaus Hollar (European-born English artist, 1607-1677) Portrait of a Woman 1642 

Morning Madonna

Antoniazzo Romano (c 1452-c 1512) Virgin and Child with Donor Detail

In this blog, I try to begin each day with a painting of the Madonna & Child. It centers me; connects me to the past; & encourages me to post some of the religious paintings which were the core of early Western art.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

20C Hungarian music, women, legs, dogs, & goats by Robert Bereny 1887-1953

Robert Bereny (Hungarian artist, 1887-1953) Woman Playing Cello 1928

Robert Bereny (Hungarian artist, 1887-1953) Woman with Cello 1937

Robert Bereny (Hungarian artist, 1887-1953) Self Portrait 1906

In 1904, Bereny was a student of Tivadar Zemplényi, before he went to study in Paris, where he was particularly influenced by Cézanne's art. Politcally he took part in the art life of the Hungarian Soviet Republic, and he was the leader of the department for painting in the Art Directorate. After 1919, he emmigrated to Berlin, which he left to return home in 1926. He worked in Zebegény from 1934. He was awarded the Szinnyei prize in 1936.  Obviously, I am particularly fond of his self-portraits & his bold use of color.

Robert Bereny (Hungarian artist, 1887-1953) Red Dress 1908

Robert Bereny (Hungarian artist, 1887-1953) Woman in a Green Room 1927

Robert Bereny (Hungarian artist, 1887-1953) Woman in Arm Chair 1923

Robert Bereny (Hungarian artist, 1887-1953) Girl Reading 1946-48

Robert Bereny (Hungarian artist, 1887-1953) Self Portrait 1947

17C Woman by Wenceslaus Hollar (1607-1677)

We have few depictions of women in the 17C British American colonies, but the prints by Wenceslaus Hollar (1607-1677) allow us to see the hairstyles & fashions being worn on the other side of the Atlantic during the early years of the English colonization of America. 

Wenceslaus Hollar (European-born English artist, 1607-1677) Portrait of a Woman 1642 

Morning Madonna

Fanny Geefs (Belgian artist, 1807–1883) Maria with Child

In this blog, I try to begin each day with a painting of the Madonna & Child. It centers me; connects me to the past; & encourages me to post some of the religious paintings which were the core of early Western art.

Monday, March 2, 2015

20C English Music by Stanley Spencer 1891-1959

Stanley Spencer, (English painter, 1891-1959) Music Lesson at Bedales 1921  Bedales School is an independent school situated in the village of Steep, in Hampshire. The school was founded in 1893, by John Haden Badley in reaction to the limitations of conventional Victorian schools. In the first half of 20th century the progressive movement around Bedales attracted a community of artists, craftsmen & writers to live in Steep. In the early 1920s Stanley Spencer made a number of drawings & paintings of activities at the school, while staying with Muirhead Bone.

Spencer's father was a musician & taught him to play the piano,  Two sisters who lived at the end of his lane in Cookham, said that he would drop in & say "Can I have a tinkle?" He would sit down at their piano & play Bach & Chopin.

Stanley Spencer, (English painter, 1891-1959) At the Piano 1957

17C Woman by Wenceslaus Hollar (1607-1677)

We have few depictions of women in the 17C British American colonies, but the prints by Wenceslaus Hollar (1607-1677) allow us to see the hairstyles & fashions being worn on the other side of the Atlantic during the early years of the English colonization of America. 

Wenceslaus Hollar (European-born English artist, 1607-1677) Portrait of a Woman 1642 

Morning Madonna

Jaume Serra (Catalonean artist, d c 1405) Virgen de Tobed 1359

In this blog, I try to begin each day with a painting of the Madonna & Child. It centers me; connects me to the past; & encourages me to post some of the religious paintings which were the core of early Western art.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Origin of Saying "March Comes in Like a Lion..."

1600s Woodcut Windie Winter

Today is March 3rd, and it is snowing again here in the Chesapeake. Time to revisit the origin of the saying "March comes in like a lion and out like a lamb." Some claim that the saying applies to the relative positions of constellations at the beginning and end of the month of March. Leo, the Lion,(Eastern horizon) and Aries, the Ram or Lamb (Western horizon).

But it looks as if English playwright John Fletcher may have pointed the way toward the saying in 1624 when he wrote, "I would chuse March, for I would come in like a Lion...But you'd go out like a Lamb when you went to hanging." John Fletcher (English playwright, 1579-1625) penned this in his play A Wife for a Month, a tragicomedy (Licensed 27 May 1624; 1647) in Scene II. Act I.

A little later in the 17th century, English naturalist & writer John Ray confirmed the connection when he noted, "March hack ham [hackande = annoying] comes in like a lion, goes out like a lamb." This appears in 1670, in a book written by John Ray (English naturalist, 1627-1705), the Catalogue of English Proverbs. p 41.

In the British American colonies, the phrase "March came in like a lion" shows up in Ames Almanack in 1740, and in William Byrd's Another Secret Diary published in the same year. America's 2nd president John Adams notes in his diary in 1788, "The month (March) comes in like and lion, and according to the farmer's proverb it must go out like a lamb."

English Woodcut

March 1781

1781 The Twelve Months print; Carington Bowles (Published by) Robert Dighton (After) Richard Earlom (Print made by) London

March 1767

1767 March. Printed for Robert Sayer, London.

March 1749

1749 March print John June (Print made by) D Voisin (Published by) London

March 1745

1745 Thomas Burford (British artist, 1710-1770) March

March 1730

1730 Jacob van Huysum (1686-1740) Twelve Months of Flowers 3 March

March 1678

1678-1700  Twelve Months March print Henri II Bonnart (Published by)  Paris

March 1610

1609-10 MARCH Twelve months March print Jacques Callot (Print made by) Adriaen Collaert (After) Joos de Momper 

March 1500s

Anonymous woodcut after 1568 Étienne Delaune (French artist, 1518-1595) Labours of the Months 

March 1580

1580 Italian School The Labours of the Months 3 March