Wife Auction!

In England between the early 1600’s and the lat 1900’s there existed a custom of wife selling.  This was generally done by way of public auction.  Although the custom had no legal basis it was widely believed among the rural poor that selling your wife dissolved the marriage.  Divorce was prohibitively expensive and was only an option for the truly wealth as it required an Act of Parliament until 1857.

The custom derived from the fact that wives were viewed as the legal property of their husbands and thus theirs to dispose of by the same means as any of their other possessions.  The sale was seen to free the husband from any further financial obligations towards his wife, and the payment of the purchase price protected the buyer from any future legal action from the husband for his dealings with the husband’s “property”.

Often the wife was in complete agreement with her proposed sale and indeed sometimes it was the wife that insisted upon her sale, preferring to take her chances with another man rather than remain in an unhappy marriage.

The wife was usually ledto the market by a halter made of rope and was put up on the same block that generally held livestock.  Usually, although not always, the wife had to agree to the sale and held the power of veto over her ultimate purchaser.  If she refused the highest bidder then the sale could be declared void, and the bidding process would start all over again.

Sometimes no money changed hands at all and there was one recorded instance where a man sold his wife for a quart of beer.  Towards the latter half of the 19th Century the public auction of wives became less popular and there was an increasing trend toward the sale of wives through the use of a Deed of Conveyance, much as we use to deal with the sale of properties today.

Thankfully, today for those who are experiencing marital difficulties, divorce is far more readily available and need not be prohibitively expensive.  There are a range of low costs and inexpensive alternatives and dissolving a marriage need not involve a costly and lengthy court case.

If you are looking for Family Law advice, call Ruth Single, Specialist Family Lawyer on 1800 891 691 for a friendly confidential chat about your options.


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