Cruikshank, George. The Bottle, 1847 (Perrot, 79)
Married women were, more
often than not, the victims of physical spousal abuse. Husbands
felt the need to 'correct' their wives, and one husband even
claimed the right to beat his wife (Phillips 1980, p. 110). Some of the weapons used in these beatings were
canes, sticks, fire irons, spades, brooms, sabots, earthenware
and crockery dishes, food, and, in one case, the household cat
1980, p. 116).
Since men were the abusers more often than they were the victims,
the law the National Assembly wrote up in 1791 was harsher on
male abusers than on female abusers. The Loi de la Police Correctionnelle
stated that if a woman was found guilty of beating her husband
she had to pay 500 livres and spend six months in jail, but if
a man was found guilty of beating his wife he had to pay 1,000
livres and spend one year in jail.
Spousal abuse was never
presented as a reason for divorce; instead, the plaintiff would
petition for divorce under the grounds of desertion. In one case,
a wife was not granted a divorce from her husband on the grounds
of abuse, but her husband was so offended at being prosecuted
by his wife that he left her. After five years, she was granted
her divorce on the grounds of desertion (Phillips 1980, p. 111).
Many marriages ended due
to the death of a spouse, so remarriages, and one spouse bringing
children from the previous marriage, were frequent. The stepchildren
were those who especially served as targets for a man's anger.
No husband wanted his new wife's children getting in the way
and meddling in his affairs. At least when the children were
young "they could be beaten, bribed, terrorized, and used
as pawns" within disputes with his wife (Phillips 1980, p. 122). If the stepchildren were adult, though, they
could fight their stepfather physically verbally, and could stand
up for and even protect their mother from the abuse.
Children, despite their
age, were often punished along with their mother. If their father
was beating their mother they would be beaten; if their father
denied their mother food, kicked their mother out of the house,
or deserted the family the children found themselves hungry,
homeless, or fatherless.
Even an unborn child found itself a victim; pregnant women were more susceptible towards abuse and ill treatment as their husbands denied responsibility for the child and called them 'the fruites of adultery'-" 'l'enfant qu'ils ont n'est pas a lui.'" (Phillips 1980, p. 119) Pregnant women became easy targets for their husbands because they could not defend themselves or run away from him. Despite this constant abuse, there is only known case in which the unborn child died as a result of its father's anger.