The Strange English Custom Of "Wife Selling," Which Was In Practice For Two Centuries!


Between the late 18th and the 19th century in England, there was a strange custom called “wife-selling.” During these centuries, around 300 wives were sold, according to newspaper records. Here’s what it was all about…

For a long time during the 17th century and beyond, English men were selling their wives!

This was a common practice during a period when the divorce process was quite difficult, except for those who were really wealthy.

It was one of the ways to end unsatisfactory marriages.

After parading his wife with a halter around her neck, arm, or waist, a husband would publicly auction her to the highest bidder!

Weird enough? The Mayor of Casterbridge novel by British author Thomas Hardy starts with a story of wife selling.

The main character sells his wife in accordance with the common procedure. But the memory of it never stops chasing him and ruins his whole life.

Actually, this tradition had no legal basis and could result in prosecution.

Nevertheless, some records from the 19th century reveal the ambivalent views of the authorities on this issue.

One early 19th-century magistrate was on record as stating that he did not believe he had the right to prevent wife sales.

And 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 20th century.

The jurist and historian James Bryce reports an instance of wife selling in England, he claims that a woman in Leeds was sold to one of her husband's workmates for £1 in 1913!

Sources: 1 2

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