The persistent presence of the eighteenth century female debtor

This fascinating post about the presence of women in C18th debtors prisons, shows that not only were they present in more significant numbers than previously thought but that not all were widowed or single. It suggests that the legal doctrine of coverture did not stop all wives being imprisoned. From my perspective, it would be interesting to see if some of these wives had been trading as alone (as a feme sole) and were therefore liable for their debts, but we would like to hear from anyone with other suggestions, so do get in touch if you have any thoughts on wider questions of women’s legal position or as debtors. Nicola Phillips

Early Modern Prisons

We’re pleased to present the following guest post by Alex Wakelam, a doctoral student in the Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure studying eighteenth-century female insolvency and the functioning of debt imprisonment.

On the 11th December 1742, the young Samuel Foote arrived at London’s imposing Fleet debtors’ prison.[1] At the age of twenty-two the eccentric and extravagant failed lawyer had already been thrown out of Oxford under a cloud of debt, married into money, spent all his wife’s money in London’s premier coffee houses and tailors, and exhausted even the most patient of his creditors. He was thus committed to prison until he came up with the money he owed, amounting to over £650, the equivalent of about £60,000 today. Foote eventually wrote his way to solvency, cashing in on a highly public family scandal, subsequently taking the London comic scene by storm and…

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