Wife selling has taken place all over the world at various times throughout history.

A woman had no rights and could not own property, which is still the case, unfortunately, in countries (particularly Muslim ones) where she is considered only a partial person, such as a slave, and feeble-minded on top of that.  Legally, this affects their rights of independence, inheritance and status to work or to drive.

Historically speaking in general, Wikipedia has a good summary of wife selling in various eras and in different countries. It’s well worth a read and quite an eye-opener.

Wives could be sold because they were viewed as disagreeable and neglectful of their duties in the home. Sometimes, they were adulteresses; it was common for a husband to sell his wife to her lover. However, they were also sold when the husband was in debt or needed money for strong drink.

In England, wife selling was popular among the lower classes between the 18th and early 21st centuries. Wife selling did not end here until 1913. The Wikipedia article cited is another excellent summary of a horrific practice. That said, some women, it states, wanted to be sold.

At the time, divorce was rare and very expensive. Only the wealthy could afford it. Selling one’s wife was a way of circumventing the legal system as well as Scripture.

Lawyers tried to deny it was actually taking place. The clergy turned a blind eye. Granted, sales were infrequent — perhaps two a decade over more than two centuries. However, news about wife sales, which often took place in a public square or at a pub, spread to the Continent where it was widely condemned as being an English practice. Yet, the American colonies also had a few wife sales in Connecticut and South Carolina.

Wives up for sale in England often wore a halter, which was then given to the purchaser afterward as a sign that the transaction was concluded.

As with slaves or livestock, the women’s physical attributes and capabilities were elucidated as they stood on display. The 28 April 1832 issue of The Spectator reported on a sale in Lancashire. Excerpts follow:

The man was a farmer in the neighbourhood ; the wife, a buxom, good-looking woman, of about twenty-two. They had been married in 1828 ; and having no children, and seldom agreeing with each other, they at length agreed to part. The Lancaster Herald puts the following speech into the month of the husband ; which, if genuine, is a curiosity in its way- “Gentlemen, I have to offer to your notice my wife, Mary Ann Thompson, otherwise Williamson, whom I mean to sell to the highest and fairest bidder. Gentlemen, it is her wish as well as mine to part for ever. She has been to me only a bosom serpent. I took her for my comfort, and the good of my house ; but she became my tormentor, a domestic curse, a night invasion, and a daily devil. Gentlemen. I speak truth from my heart, whim I say, may God deliver us from troublesome wives and frolicsome widows. Avoid them the same as you would a mad dog, a roaring lion, a loaded pistol, cholera zuorbui. Mount Etna. or any other pestilential phenomena in nature …  

She can make butter and scold the maid ; she can sing Moore’s melodies, and plait her frills and caps; she cannot make rum, gin, or whisky; but she is a good judge of the quality, from long experience in tasting them. I therefore [offer] her, with all her perfections and imperfections, for the sum of fifty shillings.”

After an hour or two, the lady was purchased by a pensioner, for the sum of twenty shillings and a Newfoundland dog.

It is interesting that marriages in England needed no legal registration or church ceremony until the Marriage Act of 1753 was introduced.

After marriage, even before this time, women were at the mercies of their husbands and the legal system. In fact, the legal wording behind this is reminiscent of the language present-day complementarians use. Also note the sugary condescension (emphasis mine):

Women were completely subordinated to their husbands after marriage, the husband and wife becoming one legal entity, a legal status known as coverture. As the eminent English judge Sir William Blackstone wrote in 1753: “the very being, or legal existence of the woman, is suspended during the marriage, or at least is consolidated and incorporated into that of her husband: under whose wing, protection and cover, she performs everything“. Married women could not own property in their own right, and were indeed themselves the property of their husbands.[10] But Blackstone went on to observe that “even the disabilities the wife lies under are, for the most part, intended for her protection and benefit. So great a favourite is the female sex of the laws of England“.[3]

It would not surprise me if, 20 or 30 years from now, wife selling were to start again somewhere in the West, albeit privately.

It does not surprise me that young Western women are increasingly apprehensive about Christianity. Whilst I have discussed history and a secular legal system here, a small, yet growing, number of young churchgoing men would have no problem with coverture. Very sad, indeed.

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