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Whose Body Is It?: Coverture and Consent in Eighteenth-Century English Marriage

Event type
British History in the Long 18th Century
Event dates
, 5:15PM - 7:15PM
Online- via Zoom
Lisa Cody (Claremont McKenna College)
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If the principle of coverture gave husbands complete rights over their wives’ persons, did this include their right to sexual relations whenever they wished? This paper examines how spouses, cultural commentators, and legal practitioners addressed the problem of unwanted sex--even rape--in marriage, from the 1700s to the 1820s. Today, historians have tended to focus on Sir Matthew Hale’s notorious (and posthumous) remark in 1736 that the husband could not be guilty of rape because of spouses' ‘mutual consent and contract’. There were commentators and legal practitioners, however, who viewed the situation as not so simple. This paper uses a series of case studies, legal discussions and decisions from the ecclesiastical courts to illuminate how wives’ assertions of their rights to reject marital sex tell a larger story about shifting ideas of the self, interpersonal relations, and privacy.

This seminar is held in conjunction with the Queen Mary Centre for Eighteenth Century Studies.

All welcome- but booking is required.