Humanosity says…..It’s often easy to forget that civilisation is a very thin veneer and when you peel the layers back the picture of the society that is revealed is often not very pretty. The practice of wife selling, whilst on the surface somewhat comical, reveals the darker side of English society.
So what is wife selling?
Wife selling in England was a way of ending an unsatisfactory marriage by mutual agreement that probably began in the late 17th century when divorce was a practical impossibility for all but the very wealthiest. After parading his wife with a halter around her neck, arm, or waist, a husband would publicly auction her to the highest bidder.
For the literary types out there the custom features in Thomas Hardy‘s novel The Mayor of Casterbridge. The central character sells his wife at the beginning of the story, and this act goes on to haunt him for the rest of his life and ultimately destroys him.
Wife selling persisted in England in some form until the early 20th century; according to the jurist and historian James Bryce, writing in 1901, wife sales were still occasionally taking place during his time. In one of the last reported instances of a wife sale in England, a woman giving evidence in a Leeds police court in 1913 claimed that she had been sold to one of her husband’s workmates for £1.
I discovered this brutal custom by accident when fact-checking on Wikipedia and was so stunned that I thought I had to put this on Humanosity.