A non-burning issue

A little gem from the archives …

A 1306 case from the Gloucestershire gaol delivery roll (National Archives JUST 3/105 m.9.) tells an intriguing tale: a dramatic scene seems to have taken place in court during a homicide trial at the session. Alice, daughter of John de Mercombe and wife of Richard de Sydenham, was accused of killing Richard. All homicides were felonies – and thus might end in capital punishment and forfeiture – in this period, but the killing of a husband by a wife was regarded as far worse than a run-of-the-mill slaying: classed as a form of treason (petty treason), it was seen to be deserving of particularly painful and spectacular punishment – death by burning. So Alice seemed to be in a lot of trouble. She pleaded not guilty (well, you would, wouldn’t you – no likelihood of mercy if she admitted to killing her lord and master, overturning the natural order of things etc. etc.) and I was anticipating a deeply disturbing end to the episode. But Alice had a defence: rather a good one – she said her husband was alive and was in the court. And it was confirmed that he was. On the one hand, hurrah – apparent miscarriage of justice (and hideous end) avoided. On the other hand, hmm – was she indicted by mistake or through malice (whether involving Richard or not)? Somebody clearly had questions to answer.

Mistresses in modern law reports and legal writing

After the last post’s moan about emasculation imagery in legal writing and law reports,  today I turn to another annoyance which happens to appear in my recent land law reading: the strange survival of the term ‘mistress’.  It comes up in the important case of Stack v Dowden, and, as another quick electronic search shows, in many other places as well.

And what is wrong with using ‘mistress’, it may be asked. Well, while it can’t really be escaped in certain historical contexts (think Louis XIV), and, when a person calls herself that (Mistress R’eal appeal – dominatrix not bound by video on demand ruling (Case Comment) Ent. L.R. 2016, 27(3), 118-121), then what else can you do?, but, otherwise, it is best avoided when talking about the modern world, because of (a) its ambiguity and (b) its embodiment of extremely unequal assumptions about gender relations.

So – a quick survey (Clearly this is something which is worthy of much more sustained research – where is my Research Council grant?) Mistresses can be seen in academic article titles – either real women  (e.g. ‘Grierson spent GBP 630,000 on mistress’, S.J. 2012, 156(23), 5) or more metaphorical (and not in a nice way – ‘fickle mistress’ anyone – ‘A flexible friend or capricious mistress?’ E.G. 1994, 9416, 138-139). Have to say I am quite taken by the title ‘Power is my mistress’ (great indie album title, no?) – but not enough to read a journal called ‘Tax’ (Tax. 2007, 159(4092), 102).

Looking at cases, (once head-mistresses and post-mistresses are filtered out) there are many examples of the term being used by others and transferred into the reports – e.g. in defamation cases against newspapers etc. Can’t really hold that against the reports. But there are also still too many other examples of unnecessary and inappropriate mistressings – in all sorts of cases, from crime to ecclesiastical matters.

Succession cases are another stronghold of the usage (see e.g. Rowena Ferneley v Stephen John Napier, Catherine Emma Brooks, Derrick Arthur Napier [2010] EWHC 3345 (Ch) at [3]; Elisabeth Gorjat, Philippe Gorjat, Sophie Charriere v Lucrecia Gorjat [2010] EWHC 1537(Ch) at [25]

Although the old beneficial interests cases are stuffed full of mistresses, it’s a shock to see it still being used in Stack v Dowden  [2007] UKHL 17 , [73] quoting the first instance judge’s description of a couple as ‘man and mistress’. As well as being sexist (not partners, cohabitants,  the symmetrical man and woman, nor pairing mistress with some equally judgmental male word [which doesn’t exist]) it is quite obviously inappropriate to use this single designation for a couple with a complex and fluctuating relationship, in which the female partner was at least her partner’s equal.

There might be half an argument for keeping ‘mistress’ if it helped to define the relationship better than other, less offensive words, but when it is used, ‘mistress’ now seems rather indefinite. It no longer means a ‘kept’ woman. It may or may not involve adultery by the ‘mistress’ or the ‘man’ (Lilburn v HM Advocate [2015] HCJAC 50 [124]). It may or may not involve the pair living together, or having a family (pair living together – with man’s wife as well – R. v Barry McCarney [2015] NICA 27 at [25]). She may be a much younger woman with whom a man has ‘taken up’ (Re Lindley (Setting of Minimum Term), Re Queen’s Bench Division [2007] EWHC 1436 (QB), Westlaw Case Analysis). A ‘man’ may have more than one ‘mistress’ (Hawk Recovery Limited v Natasha Anastasia Eustace, Brunswick Wealth LLP [2016] EWHC 115 (CH) at [36])

The ‘mistress’ appears in some ecclesiastical cases to have an almost official standing, though the exact definition is not explained (see discussion of the rights of mistresses against widows in In re St Augustine’s Churchyard, Droitwich Spa; In re Spickenreuther’s Petition [2016] ECC Wor 2; Ormandy, Re (Court of Ecclesiastical Causes Reserved  25 August 2009, Westlaw Case Analysis, unreported). In succession cases, the ‘mistress’ may be set up as the rival of a former wife (John Arthur William James, Stephen Neil Mountford v Kathleen Louise  Williams and others [2015] EWHC 1166 (Ch) at [7]). Again, I am not sure the full meaning is beyond dispute.

Another level of ambiguity comes from the fact that ‘Mistress’ has come to have overtones of (transgressive?) sexual dominance (Stephen Dawson v Laura Bell [2016] EWCA Civ 96, concerning ‘a fetish website with a Mistress Directory’. The idea of mistress as  dominant partner in sex is seen in  Y v Slovenia  (2016) 62 E.H.R.R. 3 at [34]),

All in all, it seems best jettisoned. Failing that, perhaps a movement to insist that every usage of ‘mistress’ is paired with an appropriate demeaning/judgemental term from the list: ‘philanderer’, ‘fancy man’, ‘little turtle dove’ etc. etc.

Emasculation-watch

In doing my pre-tutorial reading for a cycle of land law tutorials on proprietary estoppel, I came upon a well-known case comment entitled ‘Emasculating Estoppel’ ([1998] Conv 210). I am always left wondering why academics and lawyers are so keen on the imagery of emasculation, and why they are not more frequently ‘called out’ on the implications of using a word which assumes that that which is good and useful has male genitalia, and that its goodness and usefulness are located in the aforesaid genitalia.

It really is pretty common, and is often used in rather odd ways. A quick database search threw up examples relating to the emasculation of:

  • various statutes and statutory sections (including a section of the Equality Act – particularly inappropriate?:  The Queen on the Application of Mrs JH, Mr JH v Secretary of State for Justice [2015] EWHC 4093 (Admin) at [22]; See also, e.g. Gold Nuts Limited and others v. Commissioners for Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs [2016] UKFTT 0082 (TC) at [218])
  • ‘all the provisions of the statute’: Hudson v Parker (1844) 1 Robertson Ecclesiastical 14; 163 E.R. 948 at 40.
  • other regulations (‘Emasculating TUPE: transfers of undertakings and the concept of the “economic entity” L.T. 2002, 3, 23-28
  • a tax (The Queen on the application of: Veolia ES Landfill Limited et al.[2016] EWHC 1880 (Admin) [182]
  • the beneficial principle of proprietary estoppel: Thompson’s article, and also Thorner v Major [2009] UKHL 18 at [98](Lord Neuberger combines an emasculation image with ‘fettering’ here – all a bit S & M sounding).
  • the doctrine of restraint of trade (‘EC competition policy: emasculating the common law doctrine of the restraint of trade?’R.P.L. 2007, 15(3), 419-431
  • the doctrine of legitimate expectation (R v IRC ex p MFK [1990] 1 WLR 1545 at 1569–70
  • the option (‘Emasculating the optionVAT Int. 1997, 15(1), 1380-1383).
  • a regulation’s purpose (M v W [2014] EWHC 925 (Fam): [34]
  • a sanction (JKX Oil & Gas Plc v Eclairs Group Ltd [2014] EWCA Civ 640 [124] and [126]
  • a right (Neil Pattullo v The Commissioners for Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs [2014] UKFTT 841 (TC) [85].
  • ‘the meaning of the deed’ (meaning to distort? Westlaw Case Analysis, Adedeji v Pathania, Chancery Division 22 April 2015).
  • the concept of ordinary residence (Regina (Cornwall Council) v Secretary of State for Health and another [2015] UKSC 46 at [145]
  • incentives (Lloyds Bank Leasing (No 1) Limited v The Commissioners for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs [2015] UKFTT 0401 (TC) at [14])
  • the High Court’s role: Ghosh v GMC [2001] 1 WLR 1915 at [34]
  • obligations in a mortgage deal (Mark Robert Alexander (as representative of the “Property118 Action Group”) v West Bromwich Mortgage Company Ltd  [2016] EWCA Civ 496 at 81).
  • warranties (P &P Property Limited v Owen White & Catlin LLP, Crownvent Limited t/a Winkworth [2016] EWHC 2276 (Ch) at [101])

So – we see pieces of legislation and various less tangible things and ideas portrayed as damaged male bodies – decidedly odd at best.

Perhaps the oddest and most jarring use of this imagery is in Regina v “RL” [2015] EWCA Crim 1215 in which a barrister is said to have indicated (at [12]) that ‘the combined effect of the judge’s rulings was so to emasculate his cross-examination of boys A and B that he was in effect reduced to putting a bald proposition and having to accept the answer given by the boy concerned without further elaboration.’ Hard to know what to say to that – just – really? Best choice of words?

There may be some hope that people are beginning to see that this might be best avoided – applause for the appearance of a set of “” around the word in  Miss S C Hall v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police 2015 WL 5202319, before Mrs Justice Elisabeth Laing DBE, at [32] in her judgment. So, other judges, academic commentators, barristers, what about trying out ‘undermine’, ‘weaken’, ‘render useless’ or some such non-violent and not unnecessarily gendered phrase? Go on – it won’t ’emasculate’ your scholarship.

Latest Journal of Legal History – some more for the reading list

issue 3 for 2016 features articles on: the reception of Magna Carta in early modern Germany, charitable trusts and the 1857 divorce law reforms.

German legal history is something with which I have always meant to become better acquainted: it has just always seemed so daunting in its variety. That being so it is good to have an entry point like Magna Carta to use.  Carsten Fischer’s ‘The Reception of Magna Carta in Early Modern Germany, c. 1650–1800’, pp. 249-268 describes the reception of MC in German scholarship and letters more generally. His clear point is that this amounted to the reception of a trope or reputation, with interest centred upon the 17th C revival/ translation of MC, and the assumption that MC = liberty, rather than a careful excavation of the actual content and medieval context of MC. I was particularly interested in some of the less-impressed comments from 18th C German commentators – conveying the idea that the English were deluded in their idea of their own freedom (some interesting resonances in these darkening times), and in the idea of using discussion of MC as a proxy for possibly dangerous comment on German issues.

The requirements of charitable trusts is something which featured on my radar a few years ago when I was joint-supervisor of a Ph.D. in this area. It was, therefore, interesting to see the careful and convincing research and argument in this area in M. Mills, ‘The Development of the Public Benefit Requirement for Charitable Trusts in the Nineteenth Century’. This traces the familiar oddness of doctrinal development in England, with strands of obiter, general comment and elements of mortmain law reasoning combining with social developments to create a rule for qualification for charitable trust status. Admirably done.

And finally, one which I will be using with my Legal History students, H. Kha and W. Swain, ‘The Enactment of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1857: The Campbell Commission and the Parliamentary Debates’. This provides an accessible and illuminating account of the Campbell Commission and debates leading up to the MCA 1857. Interesting psychological effect (in this moment of clashing past and present, as we wonder what is the best response to convictions of former crimes now not seen as wrong https://www.theguardian.com/law/2016/oct/21/chris-bryant-commons-plea-gay-pardon-law )- although I am always conscious of not regarding medieval people with contempt, even when I disagree with them, I do find it difficult not to get exasperated with the hypocrisy of Victorian lawyers and parliamentarians. Will have to work on my anti-19th C prejudice.

 

 

 

 

Brand on medieval judges and juries

Paul Brand (2016) ‘Judges and Juries in Civil Litigation in Later Medieval England: The Millon Thesis Reconsidered’, Journal of Legal History, 37:1, 1-40.

Professor Brand takes a less pessimistic view than did Millon of whether medieval juries actually followed what appeared to be the ‘official’ legal rules (as seen in legal texts) as opposed to making decisions based on their own discretion. Looking at plea roll cases c. 1300, he finds a clear connection between what the rules appear to have said should happen, and what did happen. Judges and courts helped keep decisions consistent with the rules, and the pleading process, in framing issues sent to the jury, also ensured some control.

Impeccably argued and bristling with hard-won documentary evidence, this needs the reader’s full attention, but is worth the effort. It will be an important point of reference for anyone looking at medieval law, and a check on the common temptation to look for exceptions to rules, to emphasise dissent and resistance, in legal history. This article is a powerful reminder that medieval judges and juries often pulled together, and law texts might be reflected in practice.

Cheeks, jowls and pampas grass: history of neighbours

Recent read: E Cockayne, Cheek by Jowl: a history of neighbours (Bodley Head, 2012)

Only 4 years after its publication, got around to reading this. I had heard of it via an old episode of R4’s Thinking Allowed, and thought it might be worth a look to get some quotes for my lectures in Land Law. Didn’t have much at all to say about easements, unfortunately, (I think that was a gap) but very enjoyable nonetheless.  Lots of examples of nuisance, and crime between neighbours. Also learned – rather worryingly – that pampas grass is ‘the swingers’ signature plant’ (it was prominent in the front garden of my childhood home!) and that there is a porn studio near Bradley Stoke (Bristol/S. Glos). Who knew?

Also baffled by the mystery which is academic publishing. This cost me less than £5 for the Kindle version, while other things I would like to buy cost something over £60. Bonkers.

Swooning and sexual offences: recent article

Thoughts on Victoria Bates (2016): ‘Under Cross-Examination She Fainted’: Sexual Crime and Swooning in the Victorian Courtroom’, Journal of Victorian Culture (2016)

As an openly medievalist legal historian, I am not a regular reader of this journal, but am glad that I was put on the trail of this very interesting study of the fascinating but frustrating world of the Victorian trial. There is so much information, in comparison with the trials of earlier eras (and – hurrah – no Latin), and yet it often feels as if the most important things remain annoyingly opaque.

The author makes a good point about the various meanings and readings of fainting/loss of consciousness in women, in connection with sexual offences and sexual offences trials. The volume of court records studies is such as to impress the most train-spottingly completist legal historian (guilty), and the material brought in here is a valuable addition to the burgeoning literature on sexual offences, and attitudes to them, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The whole thing got me thinking about whether the use of the swoon in descriptions of sexual offences was something of a compromising device – getting a jury on the side of the prosecutrix in a trial for an offence less than rape (most of the cases covered here are ‘lesser offences’), whilst perhaps making the facts as presented less of a ‘fit’ for rape (even if the act was in fact completed) because there would be a problem in relation to lack of demonstrated absence of consent.

Anyway – a good piece of work and worth a look.

The Damsel of Brittany rides again

 

Eleanor of Brittany (1182×1184-1241) is somebody who kept popping up in my research on female imprisonment, and I tried to draw together some thoughts about her in an article back in 2007: ‘Eleanor of Brittany and Her Treatment by King John and Henry III’, Nottingham Medieval Studies 51 (2007): 73–110. Given this, I was very interested to see a very good new article focusing on this unfortunate and under-explored Angevin princess – Stephanie Russo (2016) ‘The Damsel of Brittany: Mary Robinson’s Angelina, Tyranny and the 1790s’, English Studies, 97:4 (2016), 397-411. This looks at the creative use made by the late 18th century novelist Robinson of the story of Eleanor of Brittany. Eleanor – or a fictionalised version of her – features as part of the mental world of the more modern characters in the epistolary novel Angelina, and as a point of comparison for some of the characters’ own situation.

Robinson’s Eleanor gets a bit of a romance – wouldn’t it be good if that was actually true, if there had actually been some such highlight in her life? But sadly very unlikely! It is rather intriguing that Robinson was a Bristolian by birth – did the story of the princess imprisoned in Bristol castle linger even in her day?

Anyway – good to see some attention being paid to Eleanor. I am secretly hoping that the current craze for digging up lost royals (Richard III, Henry I etc.) might mean an increased chance that somebody might have a go at locating her in Amesbury, and maybe find some clues to why she was apparently so keen to be buried there rather than Bristol (or why Henry III chose to say that she was).

Who owned Wales?

There’s a great opportunity to help make a fantastic digital resource relating to land in Wales in the mid-19th century. Using tithe maps, the Cynefin Project is creating a picture of land ownership, occupation and use, as well as the increasingly unpopular tithing system, across the country. The documents are not too difficult to read, and there is a wealth of fascinating material here – about who did what, and who owned what. Once it is all done, this will be a really valuable resource, for those interested in particular individuals, places, industries. I have already noticed some interesting material on how much land was held on trust, and concentrations of ownership in particular individuals (and, in one I’ve just done, Eton College). Feeling more than a little Rebecca-Rioty about it all!

Find the project at: http://cynefin.archiveswales.org.uk/en/ and do a few pages!

[22/06/2016] Working my way through some parts of Monmouthshire. Fascinating material on use of Welsh and English in this border area. Mostly English personal names, but still a lot of Welsh names for fields. There’s a Ph.D. in there for somebody.

 

 

Registering objections (a rare foray into the modern world)

The government is asking for responses to its proposals for privatisation of the Land Registry: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/land-registry-moving-operations-to-the-private-sector  Responses by 26th May.

This might not be an obviously exciting topic – the body which investigates and records land titles probably isn’t at the forefront of most people’s minds. Even land law students tend to yawn at the mention of land registration. But it is important – nobody who buys or sells a house can avoid involvement with the Land Registry. It is compulsory to make entries on the Register whenever land is sold, or dealt with in a variety of other significant ways.

The Land Registry does several important jobs which need to be done securely and competently. Accountability and transparency are also crucial. It is hard to believe that a move into the private sector would maintain standards in any of these areas, let alone improve them. There was considerable opposition to this move last time it was tried (under the Coalition) and the objections still apply.

The Land Registry is a (rare) publicly-owned body which does not lose money. Selling it off raises suspicions that the government is planning a quick sale for cosmetic purposes: ‘selling the family silver’ at a knock-down price, (see also the recent Royal Mail privatisation).

It also has to be said that it doesn’t look good to be doing this at a time of disquiet about hidden assets and offshore trusts and companies: whatever the talk about safeguards and maintaining access, would there really be any chance of getting the sort of information from a privatised Land Registry which allowed Private Eye to survey the proportion of English and Welsh property owned by offshore companies (http://www.private-eye.co.uk/registry )?

 

 

Older Entries »