Divorce; Not What It Was

Challenging must read piece from the eclectic website, Delancy Place and taken from "I Don't: A Contrarian History of Marriage," by Susan Square.

"For nearly a thousand years, an Englishman sick of his wife could slip a halter around her neck, lead her to market -- the cattle market -- and sell her to the highest bidder, often with her willing participation. This informal route to divorce for the lower classes lasted, amazingly, until at least 1887. ... [As reported by non-fiction authors Lawrence Stone in The Family Sex and Marriage and Samuel Menefee in Wives for Sale] a drunken husband sells his wife in the opening chapter of Thomas Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886), much to the astonishment of contemporary critics. Oblivious to the informal unlawful marriage and divorce customs of the less literate brethren ('wife-sale' dates back to c. 1073), they could not imagine such a thing happening on British soil in the nineteenth century, even though popular broadsides depicting the practice (one of which illustrates the cover of Menefee's book) were still being produced and widely circulated during that same century. ...

"[In the Old Testament, the law allowed for divorce because of infertility and] Israelite men could divorce their wives for reasons far more vague than infertility. (Wives couldn't divorce their husbands for any reason.) If, for instance, 'she fails to please him because he finds something obnoxious about her,' there's no need to hire a pricey lawyer. He simply 'writes her a bill of divorcement, hands it to her and sends her away from his house.' He'd better be sure this is what he wants, because he can't have her back again. ...


"The Bible, leaving nothing to chance, provides soldiers with a lesson on the fine art of taking enemy women to wife after the enemy has been vanquished. ... You don't just throw her to the ground and have your way with her then and there.  You don't throw her on the ground at all. And you don't have your way with her for an entire month. No, 'you shall bring her into your house, and she shall trim her hair, pare her nails, and discard her captive's garb. She shall spend a month's time in your house, lamenting her father and mother; after that you may come to her and possess her, and she shall be your wife.' The lesson includes instruction on how to get rid of her, too. No bill of divorcement is required, but restrictions do apply: 'Then, should you no longer want her, you must release her outright. You must not sell her for money; since you had your will of her, you must not enslave her.' "