Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Wife Selling in the 18th Century.

In 1553, clergyman Thomas Snowdell sold his wife to a butcher. After a decree by Queen Mary I, that any clergy who married during the period of Protestantism in the preceding reign, would be put out of their living, it was a straight choice for Thomas, once in which his wife lost out.
Indeed since a wife was her husband’s property and there were no laws against selling a spouse, it was not an uncommon occurrence (as described in Thomas Hardy’s ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge.’)
One shilling was an average price for a wife in the 18th century, as recorded on 31st August 1773 in the toll book of the Bell Inn, Birmingham where it is written;

‘Samuel Whitehouse….this day sold his wife, Mary Whitehouse, in the open market to Thomas Griffiths…value 1 shilling. Taken with all her faults.’

Smithfield Market as it appeared in the 18th century.
It was even noted with some alarm (or sarcasm?) in the Times on 22nd July 1797:

‘The increasing value of the fair sex is esteemed by several eminent writers to the certain criterion of increasing civilization…and refined improvement as the price of wives has risen at that market [Smithfield] from half a guinea to three guineas and a half [GBP 294 today!].
Smithfield Market in the modern day.

However it seems some husbands were a little too honest when trying to sell their wives, as was the case in 1832 of farmer Joseph Thomson and his wife of 3 years. He offered her for auction in Carlisle, listing her bad points as
Born serpent’ and ‘his tormentor.’
Amongst her better features he lists;
‘She can read novels, milk cows, makes butter and scold the maid…she is a good judge of the quality of rum, gin or whisky from long experience of tasting it.’
Thomson wanted 50 shillings (GBP 160 today) but accepted the knock down price of 20 shillings and a Newfoundland dog, which apparently all parties were happy with!
A Newfoundland dog - a good exchange for a wife?
So, if you were going to trade in your spouse - what would you consider a good deal? Leave a comment below and let us know (if you dare!)


  1. I daresay I won't be trading my boyfriend for anything, but my this is some interesting stuff. Can I ask which books (or websites) you quoted from/found this information? I'm interested in learning more!

  2. I can't imagine trading my hubby of 35 years. He's a keeper - hopefully, he feels the same way about me. LOL Great post, Grace!

  3. I love this post! Some days I think a dog would be a great trade for my hubby of 10 years. Just kidding, honest! I would hope he would at least ask for 2 dogs in exchange for me though, lol.

  4. So, this is a Thomas Hardy Classic. Wow. My university book club is readin Under the Greenwood Tree by Thomas is really hard! Loved the topic--and I learned something. Celia

  5. The Mayor of Casterbridge is free as an e-book on Amazon. I have it on my Kindle and did read it many years ago. Great book. Susanne


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