Back To The Past: ‘Womens’ rights’ of yesteryear

Ellen Terry
Ellen Terry

This elegant and humorous piece appeared in the Bucks Herald. In the decades before the birth of the Buckingham Advertiser in 1856, that paper had a correspondent in Buckingham who may be considered an antetype for the 20th century Peter Simple of the Daily Telegraph. I’ve made no alterations excepting comments in square brackets. I shall leave the reader to make up his/her mind re matters of justice and women’s rights!

BUCKINGHAM PETTY SESSIONS, MAY 1843

Magistrates : Reverend William Thomas Eyre [Vicar of Adstock and perpetual Curate of Hillesden, son of, and nephew to, two Headmasters of the Royal Latin School] & William Andrewes [Vicar of Stowe and a member of the Uthwatt family of Great Linford.]

DIGHTHAM v. DIGHTHAM OR A WIFE AGAINST HER HUSBAND.

Catherine Dightham complained of sundry beatings inflicted upon her by her husband. It appeared by the evidence of Catherine, that she had negligently and without forethought, opened the door of a certain barn, and suffered certain fowls to escape therefrom, contrary to the wishes and in opposition to the will of her Petruchio, and who, on the discovery of his loss reproached Catherine and blamed her carelessness. Kate’s fire was ignited, she flew at her liege lord and pulled his raven curls.

Petruchio determined to tame this prototype of Shakespeare’s “Shrew”, altered the position of her person from perpendicular to horizontal, again she rallied, and again resumed her recumbent attitude – this was in the domicile [home]- but Petruchio finally ejected her vi et armis [by force and arms], and even rolled her in the mud! Kate now applied to the bench for a separation e menso et thoro [from bed and table, or from bed & board i.e. a legalised separation]. This their reverences were unwilling to undertake, being more practised in tying the Gordian Knot than in severing those to whom it had so recently been declared that, “Those whom God had joined together let no man put asunder.”

Petruchio wooed his wife to resume her connubial [wifely] duties, but Kate was deaf to the voice of the charmer, and with ineffable contempt, (screwed up her features to the full pitch of scorn and detestation) exclaimed, “No, wretch! I’ll never live with you again; I’ll live on bread and water! Call me a strumpet! My God!!”

Their worships dismissed the case. As Catherine had commenced operations they thought Petruchio had a just right to continue the same. Poor Kate was ordered to pay 7s.6d. in costs, and to finish the squabble wherever she pleased.