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Dancing Through Taboos: Explore the Unconventional World of Wife Selling in the 1800s"

Photo of a man selling his wife in a 17th century market
Wife selling in 17th century England

Dancing Through Taboos: Explore the Unconventional World of Wife Selling in 18th century Britain, where the shadows of societal norms loomed large, a peculiar dance unfolded. A dance born out of the unrelenting cost and challenges associated with divorce. It was a dance of separation, a social waltz that took center stage in markets and taverns, with the participants none other than husband and wife, entangled in the intricate steps of a sale.

Amelia, a woman of striking beauty and a spirit unyielding, found herself entangled in the intricate web of an age old ritual. Her husband, a grizzled man named Edward, worn by the burdens of life, had grown tired of the vows they exchanged beneath the ancient oak tree that shaded their modest cottage.

One chilly autumn evening, as the amber hues of the sunset bathed the village in warmth, Edward gathered the courage to broach the subject with Amelia. He spoke of the financial strains that clung to them like shadows and the allure of a fresh start promised by a discreet auction in the village square.

Picture of Amelia as she is being sold at Market
Amelia being sold at market

Amelia, her eyes pools of resilience, reluctantly agreed, her heart heavy with the weight of societal expectations. The news of the impending sale rippled through the village like a whispered secret, raising eyebrows and hushed conversations in its wake.

As the appointed day arrived, the village square transformed into a makeshift marketplace, with curious onlookers casting furtive glances at the unfolding drama. Edward, wearing a worn waistcoat and demeanor that betrayed both regret and anticipation tied a halter around his wife's neck and led her to the market place.

The air buzzed with whispers as the auctioneer's voice rang out, declaring Amelia's virtues and quirks to the gathered onlookers, " Ladies and gentlemen, gather 'round as a woman's worth is beyond price. This woman, this Amelia possess the knowledge of sewing, knitting, mending, and cooking. A good wife considers her work her sacred duty, doing it when it needs doing, without pause for convenience."

View of an auctioneer addressing the crowd in a market
The auctioneer calls out Amelia's virtues and quirks

This was no jest; it was a stark reflection of a society where divorce was a luxury of the affluent. Wife selling emerged as an unconventional alternative, a dance with societal norms that blurred the lines between legality and acceptance. The auction itself, resembling the cattle markets of the time, became a stage for the unraveling drama of marital separation.

The auctioneer raised his hands calling for quiet, " Now, let us turn our attention to the four cardinal virtues young Amelia posesses: Piety, purity, submissiveness, and domesticity. This woman's happiness will be sanctified within hallowed walls, where she will immerse herself in domestic affairs, tend to the family, and lend a dutiful ear to her husband's every utterance."

Bids, offered in whispers and veiled glances, fluttered through the air. It was a surreal spectacle, as if time itself held its breath. Amelia, with a facade of stoicism, surveyed the sea of faces, wondering who among them would become the custodian of her fate.

A picture of Samuel the blacksmith

In the midst of the solemn affair, a young blacksmith named Samuel stepped forward, his gaze meeting Amelia's with a mixture of compassion and determination. The villagers watched, captivated, as Samuel's bid resonated through the square, sealing his destiny with Amelia.

The exchange was made, and as Amelia walked away from the village square, her hand in Samuel's, a strange sense of liberation mingled with the weight of tradition. The winds of change whispered through the cobblestone streets carrying with them the echoes of a time when even the most intimate bonds could be bartered in the pursuit of a new beginning.

In the public eye, the wife sale was a declaration, an agreement to part ways. The husband, leading his wife with a ribbon or rope, relinquished not only her presence but also any claim to her possessions. Legally unrecognized but socially acknowledged, the wife sale allowed a semblance of closure to a chapter that, in the eyes of many, needed resolution.

This peculiar practice was more than a mere dance of separation; it was a strategic move on the societal chessboard. Adultery, a looming threat in the game of love and separation, found itself entangled in this public spectacle. The husband, by orchestrating the wife sale, extracted a kind of bribe from the new lover, shielding him from the legal repercussions of "criminal conversation."

Surprisingly, amidst the seemingly humiliating theatrics, wife sales did not always lead to animosity. In the aftermath, couples, both old and new, would gather for a pint of beer, sharing laughter as if the whole affair had been a comedy of errors. In certain contexts, these peculiar transactions served as an unexpected resolution to the challenges of marital separation—a waltz through the societal constraints of a time when formal divorce was an arduous and costly endeavor.

A photo of Author Paul Rushworth-Brown being interviewed on The Neil Haley Show in the US
Historical fiction/mystery thriller author Paul Rushworth-Brown

Paul Rushworth-Brown is the author of three novels:

Skulduggery has a cult following and should not be missed.


BOOK CLUB: Skulduggery

March 27, 2023



Click to rate this book!

[Average: 5]

Skulduggery by Paul Rushworth-Brown is a historical crime story and also a story of love. It is set in the early 1600s in England during a time of unrest and violence.

Queen Bess, Elizabeth I, had died and King James now reigns. A Catholic plot against him, The Gun Powder Plot, has put the country in turmoil.

Catholics were hunted, tortured and imprisoned. The poor were poorer, food was scarce. It was a difficult and dangerous time.

On the moors of Yorkshire Thomas Rushworth is reminiscing the past, from the death of his father to the present time. There have been good times and bad, happy times and sad.

His life as a peasant is to tend in the fields for the Lord from sunrise to sunset, pruning, weeding, harvesting and ploughing.

One night Thomas and Margery, his mother, come across a drunkard who had been bashed and robbed. John Hargreaves had won money at the King’s Arms, been followed and his winnings stolen. They help John to their cottage and assist him.

This chance meeting with John Hargreaves changes the lives of both families.

Margery has noticed John’s daughter, Agnes, and has plans for her to marry Thomas.

The Hargreaves and the Rushworth families attempt to get to the bottom of the thieving and attacks, putting themselves in danger.

The historical aspect of the story keeps you interested as you learn how the rich and the poor lived at the time. All the fines, the dues, the death and wedding fees all paid to the Lord of the manor.

The relationships between the characters keep you engaged.

The dictionary definition of Skulduggery is “underhand, unscrupulous, dishonest behaviour or activities”. There is definitely plenty of this in the story.

This is a book for fans of historical fiction. It is well written using the language of the time to describe the events.

Red Winter Journey is the follow up book. This book is set in 1642 and follows the Rushworth family now caught up in the ravages of the English Civil War.

It is interesting to mention that Paul Rushworth-Brown embarked on a project to write a family history for his children. Through his research it has led him to a passion for writing historical novels.

Thank you to the Shawline Publishing Group and Beauty and Lace for the opportunity to read this interesting book.

A selection of our Beauty and Lace Club members are reading Skulduggery by Paul Rushworth-Brown. You can read their comments below, or add your own review.

See the reviews on the Beauty and Lace Website. Click above!

Cover of Red Winter Journey a novel by Paul Rushworth-Brown
Where history meets mystery, another thriller from Paul Rushworth-Brown

Come on this historic journey, which twists, turns and surprises until the very end. If you like history, adventure and intrigue with a dash of spirited love, then you will be engrossed by this tale of a peasant family unexpectedly getting caught up in the ravages of the English Civil War in 1642.

"A fictional, historical novel about a loving peasant family caught up in a 1642 shocking Civil War. Humour, romance, adventure and excitement are here to enjoy. A great story,not one of war but of a father's love for his son."

Cover of novel Dream of Courage: Facing Fear Head On
Latest novel from author Paul Rushworth-Brown Dream of Courage: Facing Fear Head On

Dream of Courage: Facing Fear Head On

An Editorial Review: Beggars, Cutpurses, Outlaws, oh my - an Editorial Review of "Dream of Courage"

Book Blurb:


Leaving the desolate moors behind, the brothers venture to Leeds with dreams of escaping poverty's clutches and carving their names into the annals of history.

In a world teeming with beggars, cutpurses and outlaws, the Rushworth brothers navigate treacherous paths, facing fear and uncertainty head on. Amidst the backdrop of a ruthless era, where murder and theft weave a web of ominous intrigue, the enigmatic tavern keeper, Smythe, holds their fates in his hands.

A pirate captain, Captain Girlington, steps into their lives, harbouring secrets and a choice between love and the call of the sea. The brutish Jacob Wilding enters the fray, driven by relentless determination to capture Robert Rushworth and claim a perilous reward.

Bound by a curse that threatens to consume them, the Rushworth brothers must confront their inner demons and forge a path back to success.

In a tale where historical fact merges seamlessly with heart-pounding fiction, Dream of Courage unravels a tapestry of suspense, intrigue and human resilience to be experienced...

"Another great work by a very talented author who loves his period works and characters from his great plots. He writes with verve and intent to deliver the imagination something unexpected and greatly appreciated... Brilliant..." Gavin, Readalot Magazine reviewer

Book Buy Link:

Like many citizens of eighteenth-century England, brothers John and Robert Rushworth just want to make their fortune. Jacob Wilding just wants a fortune as well but believes that his path to that fortune will come to fruition by capturing Robert and redeeming a reward that will completely change his life. A colorful cast of characters, adventure at sea, a bit of forbidden love, murder, and mystery make Dream of Courage: Facing Fear Head On by Paul Rushworth-Brown a book that readers won’t be able to put down. Will Jacob cash in on the bounty on Robert’s head or will John and Robert narrowly escape and find their fortunes after all? Expertly written and full of action, Rushworth-Brown has created a fantastic story in Dream of Courage: Facing Fead Head On.


Tommy loved his wife. She was younger, a country rose. Her freckled face and bright persona improved the mood of all who met her. The high cheek bones and fresh, pale skin was flushed with a rosiness from the heat of the fire. When she untied the ties of her wimple she would shake her dark hair loose allowing it to drop down past her shoulders. Her blue eyes glinted with glee.”


One thing that really sets this book apart from others about this time period is the sense of adventure that the story brings. From swashbuckling pirates to treacherous journeys, the Rushworth brothers experience a life that is most likely far more exhilarating than the average citizen of eighteenth-century England.


The evening hung heavy with a sense of impending loss as William stood outside their humble cottage, the crisp air biting at his cheeks. His gaze was fixed on the door, his heart pounding with a mixture of anxiety and hope. Isabel, his beloved wife, had been laboring for hours, and every minute that passed felt like an eternity.”


Rushworth-Brown’s writing is incredibly easy to read and follow. He writes in a way that draws the readers in and provides detailed descriptions and imagery in every paragraph. This allows readers to better picture the places, events, and people that are being referenced within the story in their minds. His use of detail is by far one of the best features of Dream of Courage: Facing Fear Head On. In addition to excellent writing, Rushworth-Brown also includes a lot of action in the story. This keeps the plot moving along nicely and creates excellent pacing. Readers who often find themselves struggling to stay engaged will most likely not find that to be an issue when reading Dream of Courage: Facing Fear Head On.


Robert paced the small chamber, his frustration gnawing at him like a persistent ache. The spoils of their illicit endeavors lay scattered on the worn wooden table—glittering trinkets, jingling coin, and the remnants of their daring escapades. But amidst the stolen treasures, an invisible divide had taken root, threatening to cleave the once unbreakable bond between the twins.”


The author clearly has a passion for history and it is very evident in his writing. He weaves the tales and describes the historical time and setting in a way that readers can visualize what life was like during this time period. One of the things that the author does is include footnotes with information about the items he references for the readers. That author clearly recognizes that many casual historical fiction readers might not possess an in-depth knowledge of particular historical terms or references so he provides that information for them via footnotes addressing everything from the description of food to job descriptions. This is unusual for a fiction book but it was a very nice touch. Readers will appreciate this thorough approach of the author.


With each strike, Will stood tall, his defiance a testament to his strength and resolve. The pain was sharp, but he refused to let it break him. As the whipping stick fell once more, Will's gaze remained steady, a spark of determination flickering within him. He would endure, he would fight, and he would stand strong for his family and the truth they held dear.”


The likely intended audience for this Dream of Courage: Facing Fear Head On are those who enjoy historical fiction and adventure books. It is fast-paced and will be a great choice for readers who often find themselves easily distracted. At close to five hundred pages, readers who are not accustomed to lengthier books might find it to be overwhelming but the pacing and action within the book will help many readers look past the length of the book. The book does appear to be part of a series which will delight readers who love Dream of Courage: Facing Fear Head On.


The fire burned low, its embers casting a faint glow upon their faces as they exchanged silent vows. The journey ahead would not be easy; they were up against powerful forces, entwined in a conspiracy that reached far beyond their understanding. But they were not alone. Their determination, their resilience, and the glimmering sapphire that now rested in their possession, would guide their path.”


A tale of adventure wrapped up with a touch of mystery, Dream of Courage: Facing Fear Head On earns a 4.5 out of five rating. Adventures and history combine to create a book that readers will thoroughly enjoy. It is a great choice for those just dipping their toes into historical fiction.


“Dream of Courage: Facing Fear Head On” by Paul Rushwoth-Brown receives 4.5 stars from The Historical Fiction Company


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