Regency Era Wife Selling

I found this little bit of atrocity searching Google Books using the keyword “pastimes.”  I had hoped to find some genteel crafts that ladies did to while away their evenings, maybe some embroidery or paper craft. No such luck.

The following is excerpted from Popular Pastimes, Being A Selection Of Picturesque Representations Of The Customs & Amusements Of Great Britain published in 1816.


AMONG the customs unknown to the law in this country, though by the illiterate and vulgar supposed to be of legal validity and assurance, is that of SELLING a WIFE, like a brute animal, in a common market-place. At what period this practice had origin we have not discovered, but it has unquestionably been in existence for a long series of years; and many instances might be given of the extensive spread of this licentious custom in more modern times. From newspapers of different dates, now before us, the three following cases are selected, in order to shew that the metropolis does not alone participate in the disgrace which springs from the legislative tolerance of this irreligious and indecent custom ; but that other parts of England are equally involved in the shame of such a scandalous profligacy. It merits, indeed, the greater reprehension, from the foul stigma which it fixes on our national character; and though the magistracy may not, at present, be armed with sufficient powers to put a stop to a practice so highly censurable (though we doubt the assumption ; for whatever is contrary to good morals, is assuredly amenable to the law) ; the Parliament should immediately interfere, and prevent its longer continuance by the infliction of punishment.

Under the date of June the 12th, 1797, we read thus : ‘“ At the close of Smithfield-market on Monday, a man who keeps a public house in the neighbourhood of Lisson-green, brought his Wife, to whom he had been married about two months, for sale into the market; where having by means of a rope, made her fast to the railing opposite St. Bartholemew’s coffee-house, she was exposed to the view of hundreds of spectators for near a quarter of an hour, and at length sold, for half a guinea, to a dealer in flowers, at Paddington. He is to receive with the woman, from her original owner, twenty pounds in bad halfpence.” The second instance was on the 11th of March, 1808, when “ a private individual led his Wife to Sheffield market, by a cord tied round her waist, and publicly announced that he wanted to sell his cow. On this occasion, a butcher who officiated as auctioneer, and knocked down the lot for a guinea, declared that he had not brought a cow to a better market for many years.” The last of the three instances occurred on  the 27th of March, 1808, when “ a man publicly sold his Wife to a fisherman, in the market at Brighton, for twenty shillings and a blunderbuss.”

3 Replies to “Regency Era Wife Selling”

  1. I wonder if the marriage would be…canceled? Illegitimate? Annulled? Like what happens to the marriage license and all that stuff if they had one? Would it be declared as a divorce? Would the husband be able to remarry if he sold his wife? So the wife would basically be a slave to the New owner? So many questions.

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