A Victorian MRA Interlude: Coverture

I’ve fallen a bit behind in fisking our Victorian MRA dude, but never fear! I shall persevere until the end. Eventually. After finishing mah bad Bible stories book, doing up some hawt geology posts and working on this amazing backlog of nature photography I have got. In the meantime, there’s this very concise (and potentially rage-inducing) post on coverature by Cerys Gruffyydd for your history-of-how-horribly-women-were-treated needs. Trigger warning for marital rape.

While lived experience could be more flexible, this was not something that women could count on. If it came to a dispute, it was the letter of the law that prevailed. Since, legally, she did not exist, a married woman could not enter into contracts in her own right, bring suit or be sued, or own a business. A married woman could not own anything. Not just property, all of which, even if it came with her at marriage, belonged completely and totally to her husband, nothing at all. She did not own the clothing she wore. Any children she gave birth to belonged to her husband and were his to do with as he liked. If she were divorced the children were still the property of the husband. It was not just the “fruits of her body” which belonged to her husband, but the body, itself. The legal line was drawn at the point of death. A man was entitled to beat his wife as he saw fit, providing he did not actually kill her. Consent by the wife to sexual intercourse was a given. By definition she could not be raped.

There’s much, much more. Join me in being ever so glad we weren’t born as women in that era, and are finally beginning to cast off the remaining shackles from when women were considered male property.

I mean, dear fuck – wife-selling was an actual thing.

Image shows a woman in an early 19th century dress and hat standing on a bench in a cattle yard. She has a rope around her neck. Her husband holds the rope and gestures to her as people and cattle look on.
A satirical engraving of the quaint English custom of “wife-selling”, which wasn’t quite what it sounds like, but was more a ritual among the lower classes — who couldn’t possibly obtain an official full parliamentary divorce, allowing remarriage, given the laws of England as they existed before 1857 — to publicly proclaim a dissolution of marriage (though not one that was really recognized by the authorities of Church and State). This is an 1820 English caricature (even though the sign says “Marché de Bêtes à Cornes”). Notice how the artist has arranged things so that the cattle’s horns are strategically placed in line-of-sight behind the husband’s head. Image and caption courtesy Wikimedia Commons.


Anyway. Soon, we shall return to refill our mugs with Mr. Austin Williams’s male tears*, as he weeps at the beginning of that independence. Delicious!


*I’ll even try to publish them in the proper order this time.

A Victorian MRA Interlude: Coverture

3 thoughts on “A Victorian MRA Interlude: Coverture

  1. rq

    Will male tears cure my current illness? I need a wife to fetch me some ASAP so I can test this hypothesis, and then we can figure out a scheme to farm men’s tears for the good of humanity, and at least the MRAs will have purpose in life.

  2. 2

    When I went to Texas to live in the early 1960s, I discovered that a married woman couldn’t buy a car, open a department store account, or sign any contract without her husband’s permission. He could do all those things without his wife’s permission or even knowledge. So much for getting married, I said (and still say). No need to go back to the Victorian times for these examples.

  3. 3

    Of course if we want to find the source we have to go to Rome, the laws of the empire were the same, perhaps even a bit stricter.The Husband/father ruled all, and this is where the giving away the bride idea came from, passing control from her father to her husband.

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