Restrictions on Wife Sales

Here’s another piece of the article on wife sales in The Review of Behavioural Economics 2014 in which it raises an interesting point relating to wives being willing to be sold. I thought it was purely to do with the nature of the commercial contract, but the authors suggest another aspect which ties in with the law of coverture in marriage which I have mentioned in the past as a means of oppressing women, but which also protects them from the worst behaviour of potential spouses, as here, the risk of being enslaved. Husbands could ‘discipline’ wives and had unlimited demands on their bodies, but disposing of them for profit was illegal, which again raises questions as to why this aspect was not mentioned in terms of wife sales legality: 

Wives’ veto power over their sales is crucial to such an arrangement’s ability to benefit wives and thus its ability to function as a mechanism of indirect Coasean divorce bargaining. although Industrial Revolution-era English law deprived most wives of he right to own property and grated their husbands considerable property rights over the as spouses, it did not… permit husbands to enslave their wives, nor did it permit them see their wives as saves to others – i.e.. to compel their wives to live with or service others. If a husband sold his wife to another man without her consent and somehow, that man managed to take possession of her against her will, such a women could have, and presumably would have run away at her first opportunity and sought the protection of the local justice of the peace – if a member of her family, or even a concerned citizen, ad not broth the matte to the authorities’ attention first.

In addition to being deprived the benefit of his purchase, it seems likely that the buyer of such a wife, as well as her seller, would have confronted the prospect of legal repercussions for his actions. For example, the buyer might be sued for kidnapping and the seller might be sued by his wife, through an agent for the restoration of conjugal rights. What legal consequences a coerced-woe buyer or seller right have in fact confronted is difficult to say, however, since a… the historical record does not contain any unambiguous uses of coerced-wife sales succeeding and need contains only a handful of clear cases of attempted coerced-wife selling. Thus it seems the the possibility of legal repercussions together with he fat that a coerce-wife buyer would likely to have lost possession of his purchase soon after making it making her a rathe poor bargain all but precluded such sales from occurring.

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