Filed under marriage



This seems to be the book that makes most people prick up their ears when I mention the title. Which is great, because it is an amazing story, full of humour and surprises. It also provides a lot of challenges to the notion that women were powerless.  When trawling through old newspapers some years ago … Continue reading


How to Create a Perfect Wife

How to Create a Perfect Wife

This is an intriguing book by Wendy Moore, a journalist and author who I’d never heard of. The story fills in a lot of gaps in my historical knowledge, especially featuring the poet Thomas Day who I knew from his famous abolitionist poem The Dying Negro and his book on child centred education. He was … Continue reading

Concubinage in Wales

Concubinage in Wales

I’ve just discovered this fascinating incident in the wonderful ‘Kilvert’s Diary’ written by a cleric in late 19th century Wales: Friday 8 April 1870 In the green lane between York and Cefn y Fedwas I came upon Smith of Wemwg hedging. He told me that a child had arrived at Pen-y-worlodd and wanted to know … Continue reading

Scottish Bigamy

This is from the Newcastle Chronicle of  August  1766. When researching wife selling it seems many people believed that if a man went away for 7 years his wife was free to remarry. This may be where the notion comes from but I’ve never come across it in England. there is no mention of what … Continue reading

Polygamy In Britain

Here’s an article from yesterday’s i paper that I never thought I would read: a British man has set up a website to promote polygamy in these islands, even though this is illegal. Azad Chaiwala, the founder of and is on a quest to normalise having more than just one wife. The 33-year-old … Continue reading

Clandestine Marriages

A bit of historical romance to celebrate International Women’s Day, from the wonderful Highways & Byways series: One of the famous images of 18th century England, often repeated in cheap novels was the young heiress inveigled by an unscrupulous seducer to flee with him to be married at Gretna Green, pursued by relatives attempting to … Continue reading

The Duke of Norfolk as a Cattle

Another little piece on how language changes through time: The Duke of Norfolk openly brought his mistress, Mrs Lane to the Assizes festivities at Norwich where he had a palace. He threw a great ball but none attended. The Dean of Norwich claimed the Duke carrieth himself here as cattle used to, without shame or … Continue reading

Medieval Women and Children

Life in the Middle Ages always seems pretty grim, and Henrietta Leyser’s book Medieaval Women – A social History of Women in England 450-1500 provides much to make me grateful that I did not live then (or at least not that I know of). She talks of the patron saint of childbirth being St Margaret … Continue reading

Avoiding a Wife’s Debts

In my research for wife selling I came upon several mentions that if a woman had debts, she could be freed of them by marrying in a shift. This was widely mocked, but his comes from the 1932 5 May Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail  “IN HER SHIFT ONLY” Another correspondent writes: With respect to the … Continue reading

Cash ‘For Luck’

When researching my book on wife selling, I often found mention of the price including money returned ‘for luck’. It seemed like a nice thing to do, but it seems that, like so much about the process, it did have a sound basis in history and commerce. This is from Paul Jennings’ ‘The Living Village” … Continue reading