Published online by Cambridge University Press: 18 December 2009
Let me start by introducing two married women: Rachael Norcott and Mary Veitch. They both lived near London; Rachael in Barking, Essex and Mary in Richmond, Surrey. They were of comparable social status. Rachael's husband, John, earned enough from the rents of the houses he owned to support a comfortable middle-class lifestyle. James Veitch, Mary's husband, was a member of the Royal College of Physicians, received an annual pension for being a surgeon to the Royal Navy, and had inherited a considerable sum of money upon the death of his father. Like Rachael, Mary was supported in her household tasks by the presence of a number of live-in servants. Both women were mothers as well as wives. Rachael had given birth to at least two sons, but only one of the children born to Mary and James had lived beyond its infancy. Mary was a widow when she met James and she brought one child from her previous marriage into her new home. The wealth, income and occupations of their husbands, their role as managers of households with servants, shared histories of motherhood, and lives cut short by infant and premature mortality, made these women typical of the middle classes of their generation.
But we only know about these women because they experienced a level and type of violence from their husbands that became so unbearable that they both went to the same law court to seek a marriage separation.