Although, historically, sexual intercourse within marriage was regarded as a right of spouses, engaging in the act without the spouse's consent is now widely recognized by law and society as a wrong and as a crime.
It is recognized as rape by many societies around the world, repudiated by international conventions, and increasingly criminalized.
This was illustrated most vividly by Sir Matthew Hale, (1609-1676), in his legal treatise Historia Placitorum Coronæ or History of the Pleas of the Crown (posthumously, 1736) where he wrote that "The husband cannot be guilty of a rape committed by himself upon his lawful wife, for by their mutual consent and contract the wife hath given up herself in this kind unto her husband, which she cannot retract." Sir Matthew Hale's statement in History of the Pleas of the Crown did not cite any legal precedent though it likely relied on earlier standards.
In a case of Lord Audley's (1488-1544), for instance, his citation of the jurist Bracton (c. 1268) supports this rule, said to have derived from laws of King Æthelstan (r.
Marriage created conjugal rights between spouses, and marriage could not be annulled except by a private Act of Parliament—it therefore follows that a spouse could not revoke conjugal rights from the marriage, and therefore there could be no rape between spouses.