November 02, 2004

Broadsides. In the centuries before there were newspapers and 24-hour news channels, the general public had to rely on street literature to find out what was going on. The most popular form of this for nearly 300 years was 'broadsides' - the tabloids of their day. Sometimes pinned up on walls in houses and ale-houses, these single sheets carried public notices, news, speeches and songs.

"Sale of a Wife" This report begins: 'A full and particular Account of the Sale of a Woman, named Mary Mackintosh, which took place on Wednesday Evening, the 16th of July, 1828, in the Grass Market of Edinburgh, accused by her Husband of being a notorious Drunkard; with the Particulars of the bloody Battle which took place afterwards.'

  • Great stuff pete thanks. I've been (half-heartedly) writing a novel set in the 17th century for a while now and am always on the look-out for primary sources to help with the period detail. That's the National Library of Scotland site I guess?
  • Aye, that it is: Rare Books Collections National Library of Scotland George IV Bridge Edinburgh EH1 1EW Tel: 0131-466 2806 Fax: 0131-466 2807
  • Fantastic. The Sale of a Wife is hilarious, and contains such jewels as: " drunk as 50 cats in a wallet" and "Tom returned the blow, and hit her between the eyes, and made them like two October cabbages." Now THAT'S journalism!
  • Come saddle your bit neddy and ride your way down, About a mile and a half to the next burgh town, There's ane, an auld blacksmith, wi' Janet his wife, And a queerer old cock ye ne'er seen in your life! Bold ballads! Hundreds of 'em!
  • It's funny, cos I thought a broadside was fired from a warship, whereas a broadsheet was pasted on the walls. Maybe that's just me the poor Englander.
  • One of the best, pete!
  • (Do we have a new petebest/pete_best clone? And this wasn't a double post? Hmmm.)
  • This is a double post, I believe. I remember seeing it before. Still fun though, as one of my ancestors is mentioned within a list of Jacobites killed at the Battle of Culloden.
  • Well, even if it is a double, I haven't seen it before. Thanks, pete!
  • )! E.P. Thomson wrote a famous article suggesting an explanation for the ritual of "wife-sales" - I don't know the Scottish history, but they appeared quite suddenly in England in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries among the poorer sort, only to disapeer again. He studied many cases, and believed that they weren't wife-sales, but a form of plebian divorce, with the consent of the woman. She was often sold to a man already known to be her lover, or to a relative. But the sale ritual was also a way for the husband (often cuckolded) to recover some of his dignity through her ritual humiliation. It's all fascinating.
  • 19th century wife sales. Entirely typical of Hardy to take a pragmatic procedure like this as the pretext to occasioning monumental suffering and degradation on his, er, hero. What a cheerful little blossom he was.
  • ) This is great! Thanks for posting it.