Wife Selling

I just came across this great picture, on Pemberley.com. The accompanying note reads:
"A satirical engraving of the quaint English custom of "wife-selling", which wasn't quite what it sounds like, but was more a ritual among the non-genteel classes (who couldn't possibly obtain a full parliamentary divorce, allowing remarriage, according to the pre-1857 laws), to publicly proclaim a dissolution of marriage (though not one that was really recognized by the authorities of Church and State). 1820 English caricature (even though the sign says "Marché de Bêtes à Cornes")"

The note goes on to give this wonderful quote from 'an 1815 newspaper':
"On Friday last [September 15th 1815] the common bell-man gave notice in Staines Market that the wife of ---- Issey was then at the King's Head Inn to be sold, with the consent of her husband, to any person inclined to buy her. There was a very numerous attendance to witness this singular sale, notwithstanding which only three shillings and fourpence were offered for the lot, no one choosing to contend with the bidder, for the fair object, whose merits could only be appreciated by those who knew them. This the purchaser could boast, from a long and intimate acquaintance. This degrading custom seems to be generally received by the lower classes, as of equal obligation with the most serious legal forms."

More information on this excellent custom can be found on Wikipedia, here.

Personally, the only thing that I can see wrong with the return of the custom would be the effect it would have on divorce lawyers' fees...


  1. I was offered 5 camels for my ex wife on a Holiday in Tunisia when we were married, before children. In retrospect I think I should have done the deal.

  2. Echoes here of Thomas Hardy and "The Mayor of Casterbridge", which was where I heard of this custom [A Level English Lit].
    Maybe this is what you do if legal aid is no longer available.


Post a comment

Thank you for taking the time to comment on this post. Constructive comments are always welcome, even if they do not coincide with my views! Please note, however, that comments will be removed or not published if I consider that:
* They are not relevant to the subject of this post; or
* They are (or are possibly) defamatory; or
* They breach court reporting rules; or
* They contain derogatory, abusive or threatening language; or
* They contain 'spam' advertisements (including links to any commercial websites).
Please also note that I am unable to give advice.