Monthly Archives: January 2013

Worth a look: suffragettes

There is a very good article on a little-known suffragette prisoner and her diary, in the most recent Women’s History Review.

In ‘Bless the gods for my pencils and paper: Katie Gliddon’s prison diary’, WHR 22 (2013) 148-67, Anne Schwan discusses the diary writings made by Katie Gliddon in a copy of Shelley’s poetry, during her time in Holloway.

Gliddon herself seems an interesting figure – a convicted militant, but embarrassed by her failure to join the hunger strike which became such a feature of the suffragette prison narrative; with mixed views about class and her fellow inmates. She would make an excellent equivocal lead character in a drama.

The article is very thoughtful in its analysis of the writings and what they reveal about ideas of gender, class, beauty, amongst other things. It is well worth a look.

Snow at the Old Bailey

The ground is still white, naturally leading the legal historian to ask how snow features in the Old Bailey archive of historical criminal cases.

Well – the answer is that it rates fairly frequent mentions. Of course, there are lots of people called Snow, things happening in Snow Hill and teeth and souls being cleaned  whiter than snow, but the actual wintery precipitation features quite heavily too.

A friend to prosecutor and detective
There are many cases of suspects being tracked through the snow. For example, in 1685, John Clark, an ambitious but not very competent thief, was caught when he was tracked through the snow with his haul of pewter basins, razors, porringers, linen and other items, in Hammersmith, and the footsteps of a man leaving a building backwards helped James Brebrook, officer of the Marshalsea, in 1753, to find stolen goods, leading to the trials and convictions of James Robertson, for receiving a large quantity of stolen lead (t16850116-21; t17530502-10). The presence of snow on the ground, in combination with moonlight, was quite frequently given as a reason to explain why a witness’s identification of a suspect seen at night was, in fact, reliable (see, e.g. t17410116-47).

A friend to fugitives and offenders
In some cases, though, snow hindered rather than helped those tracking down suspects. The slippery, snowy, conditions were given as a reason why a thief escaped in the case of Mary North (1740), the pawnbroker making this comment perhaps somewhat embarrassed to have been outrun by a woman. The muffling effect of snow was given as a reason why a watchman did not hear thieves using a crowbar, in the theft case of John Norrington and Willim Craig (1789). (See t17400416-15; t17890114-54). Snow could serve as a temporary hiding place for stolen goods (see, e.g. t17540116-15), or as part of a claim that goods alleged to have been stolen, were, in fact found. In several cases, those accused of theft said that they had, in fact, found the goods in question in the snow (see e.g. t16950524-39).

A disruptive element
Finally, the use of snow for the creation of snowballs is sometimes mentioned, often with disapproval. For example, we see an account of boys pelting a horse with stones and snowballs in 1799 (t17990220-36), mention of the offence of breaking a window with a snowball (t18500819-1366)) and the criticism by the Ordinary of Newgate of
crowds at the hanging of twelve men in 1754 who pelted one another with snowballs (rather than taking the occasion as an opportunity for their moral instruction, as the clergyman thought they should:(OA17540204).

Snow: A Legal History is obviously a book waiting to be written.

A case of snow

A trawl for appropriately chilly cases brought in one interesting nineteenth century dispute. Ommaney v Stilwell (1856) was a Chancery case concerning a will and the question of which of two men – Edward Couch and Captain James Couch, his father, had lived longest.

Edward was mate of the Erebus, sailing off from England in 1845 with the ill-fated expedition of Sir John Franklin to the Arctic. He made a will in 1845 leaving everything to his father. Edward was not heard of after June 1845, and, by 1856, it was assumed that he had died, with all of his fellow-explorers. Captain James Couch died in January 1850 – but should it be presumed that Edward had died before that point?

The case considered evidence of the man who went looking for Franklin’s expedition in 1853-4, Dr Rae, who gives a fascinating – and very snowy – account of his efforts.
He had traded with ‘Esquimaux’, acquiring several objects formerly belonging to men on the Franklin expedition, and being told that, in April-May 1850, the ‘Esquimaux’ had met a party of starving foreigners who said their ship had been crushed by the ice, but that in 1853, they had found the bodies of several of these men. Evidence of goose-shooting fixed the time of the demise of the party at May-June 1850. There was no mention of the apparent cannibalism Rae found from the state of the bodies.
The original expedition included around 130 men, but the party encountered alive then dead in 1850 was only around 40.

Sir John Romilly, the Master of the Rolls, exclaimed at the difficulty of the case. He made a decision, in the end, on the basis of likelihood of a strong young man surviving his father (as in the commorientes rule which still prevails under the Law of Property Act 1925). I am not sure that I would bet on someone on a doomed Arctic expedition having survived a home-based person, however old.

I am just reviewing W.P. Muller, The Criminalization of Abortion in Mthe West: its origins in medieval law (2012). A fascinating and deeply learned book which, in the often uninspiring REF-skewed world of British academia, is a much needed reminder that there is a point in academic research.

An unlikely suicide?

The Eyre of Gloucester of 1287 was given a report by the hundred of Berkeley of the death of Thomas le Utlaghe.[JUST 1/278, m. 60]  He was said to have killed himself. So much, so familiar – eyre rolls and coroners’ rolls of the period have many reports of suicide. The method was, however, unusual. Thomas had, so the jurors said, not drowned, hanged or stabbed himself, the usual medieval methods. He had, rather, killed himself with an arrow. Now, I am no expert on medieval weaponry, but if this means that he shot himself, that does strike me as just a bit, well, difficult. Unless Thomas had rigged up some clever remotely triggered arrangement, it seems likely that somebody else might have been involved. The surname ‘le Utlaghe’ suggests that Thomas might have been something of a reprobate. Perhaps the good denizens of Berkeley were less than enthusiastic about having him for a neighbour.  Perhaps the idea is that he stabbed himself with the arrow, not using a bow. It would seem difficult to exert suifficient force, though.

Marauding lepers in thirteenth century Yorkshire?

Interesting little snippet from the 1293 eyre of Yorkshire rolls – a homicide case from the liberty of Knaresborough. Margery Barry was, the report says (JUST 1/1098 m.22) , hosting two men with leprosy. At night, they got up, killed her and fled. The killing is not the interesting part – what struck me as particularly interesting was the fact that the two men were not confined in some out of town leprosarium, but were, apparently, moving about fairly normally (if homicidally). Worth bearing in mind when we think about the treatment of those with leprosy in medieval England.

Sad little tales from the eyre rolls #1

The crown pleas sections of medieval eyre rolls provide countless stories of homicide and theft. They also contain brief reports of sudden or suspicious deaths. The same scenarios occur over and over again – fall from a horse, tree-chopping accident, crushing by a cart, child scalded in a cauldron, pigs being vicious… But there is the occasional unusual one which gives a bit more of an insight into medieval life – and death. One which caught my eye today, when I was looking for something completely different, was

 [Accident] Matilda daughter of Alice wife of Roger le Tyssur. Alice her sister and Emma, daughter of Hugh Fader, were bathing (themselves) in the river Wharfe and all of them drowned. [Alice le Tyssur was the ‘first finder’ of the dead girls].   JUST 1/1098 m.48 Yorkshire eyre 1293 [my translation]

This tells us something about the dangers of bathing in the medieval world, as well, perhaps, as something about medieval female companionship.

2013: legal historical anniversaries

So what are the big anniversaries we should be noting in 2013?

Well, just for starters, we have a few big political events with legal historical ramifications.

1013    invasion of England by Sweyn. Ethelred flees.

1213    End of the papal interdict as King John submits to the pope.

1413    Death of Henry IV, beginning of reign of Henry V

1513    (Sept 9th) Flodden Field, which Mr Salmond probably won’t be doing as much with as the forthcoming Bannockburn anniversary.

1913    Big suffragette events have their centenary this year – there’s the death of Emily Wilding Davison at the Derby (4th June) and a series of arson attacks by militant suffragettes (including important events in Bristol which I will be commemorating in the second half of the year).
There are also important events in Irish-British history to consider (including Dublin Lockout, Bloody Sunday).

More to follow!