“A System of Maltreatment”: Marital Cruelty in Victorian Glasgow

Dee, Ashley (2021). “A System of Maltreatment”: Marital Cruelty in Victorian Glasgow. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0001263d


In Victorian Glasgow, marital cruelty was understood by both the civil legal system and broader society to include emotional, psychological, verbal, economic, and physical abuses. In contrast to existing historiography, this thesis rests on the quantitative analysis of records of divorce and separation from the Scottish Court of Session, and newspaper reports of inferior criminal court cases of marital assault. Three databases were designed to manage the plethora of information contained in these records. As the Scottish history of marital breakdown differs significantly from that in England and Wales, by focusing on the Greater Glasgow region, this thesis both benefits from access to a new body of sources to explore marital cruelty and balances the geographical spread of British histories of marital cruelty. Couples from across the class spectrum have been studied together in this research. As such, this thesis has been able to interrogate the variable of class thoroughly. Furthermore, the combination of using Scottish sources and a digital humanities methodology has enabled unprecedented consideration to be paid to non-physical unreasonable behaviours in marriage. Finally, this thesis incorporates the lengthy temporal scope of the Victorian period, a time of significant change in terms of the rights of women in Britain. To explore these themes, this thesis begins by exploring the long-term solutions offered by Scotland’s Court of Session – divorce and separation. It subsequently moves chronologically through the trajectory of a cruel marriage. First, there is a thorough investigation of the cruel behaviours reported in civil and criminal legal settings and what a cruel marriage looked like in its totality is considered. From there, it addresses the coping mechanisms sought and deployed by victims of marital cruelty to help them manage the cruelty they faced and prolong the marriage.

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