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  • Print publication year: 2013
  • Online publication date: March 2014

3 - ‘I Hate to be Thought Men's Property in That Way’: Married Women and the Law


When Martha Brown's murder trial was held in 1856 a parliamentary debate was under way over the Divorce and Matrimonial Causes Bill, in which the question of the definition of marital abuse figured prominently, though a question raised too late for her to be released from her abusive marriage. She had murdered her husband, whom she had discovered was having an affair, after a violent quarrel when he returned home drunk. Following the trial a request for a reprieve had been submitted to the Home Secretary on account of the prolonged abuse Martha allegedly suffered at the hands of her husband. Prior to her execution she made the following statement:

My husband, John Anthony Brown, deceased, came home on Sunday morning, the 6th of July, at 2 o'clock, in liquor, and was sick. He had no hat on. I asked him what he had done with his hat. He abused me, and said, ‘What is it to you d—n you?’ He then asked for some cold tea. I said that I had none, but would make some warm. He replied, ‘Drink that yourself, and be d—d.’ I then said, ‘What makes you so cross? Have you been at Mary Davis's?’ He then kicked out the bottom of the chair upon which I had been sitting. We continued quarrelling until 3 o'clock, when he struck me a severe blow on the side of my head, which confused me so much that I was obliged to sit down. Supper was on the table, and he said, ‘Eat it yourself and be d—d.’[…]

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Thomas Hardy's Legal Fictions
  • Online ISBN: 9780748673254
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