chapter  5
19 Pages

Crime against marriage? Wife-beating, the law and divorce in nineteenth-century Hamburg

Divorce laws
WithLynn Abrams

In the summer of 1826, Catharina Nix divorced her husband Johann in the St. Pauli district of Hamburg just two years after the couple had obtained an official separation on the grounds of Johann’s intolerable behaviour. Shortly after the separation Johann promised to mend his ways, “to treat his wife in an orderly way, live with her in love and peace and to refrain from his dissolute way of life”, but his “pious assurances . . . were nothing but words” and Johann quickly returned to his old ways, which included demanding that his wife “dress elegantly, give his parents one Mark every week, pay the rent, look after his clothes and underwear, also to send him a good meal every midday and evening”.1 In return Johann was “brutish, his vice was terrible, and the plaintiff was in danger from the defendant’s brutal treatment.” Moreover, in addition to stating that her husband’s main vice was his “frequent drunkenness, his dissolute lifestyle and adultery”, Catharina described struggles over control of the household finances that culminated in his brutality towards her. On two separate occasions he had poured hot water from a kettle over her head because she refused to give him the money he demanded.2