Esprit de l’escalier

Esprit de l’escalier: additional material relevant to published research

Since it’s never possible to look at every possible source, additional material does turn up after a book or article has been submitted for publication. Finding such material always gives me a touch of what the French splendidly call ‘l’esprit de l’escalier’. This is where I will be noting such additional material.

Dower, adultery and Statute of Westminster II (1285) c.34
I have written two articles on this topic, one in M. Dyson and D. Ibbetson (eds) Law and Legal Procedure in English Legal History (Cambridge, 2013), dealing with medieval understanding of the dower/adultery exception, and the other (to appear in Legal Studies in 2014), taking the story up to the nineteenth century hardening of attitudes to widows tainted by adultery. A major theme of both is that the 1285 provision was not meant to remove the possibility of claiming dower from all widows found to have committed adultery, but only those who left with an adulterer, or to go (willingly) to an adulterer. In particular, those widows who left unwillingly but later lived with a lover were not the intended target of the provision. In the articles, I cited a number of cases and treatises to back up this view. Now, I have come across a medieval paraphrase/version of the statute which also backs up my interpretation.

British Library  MS Harley 79 f.23r has for c.34 [in Latin] ‘An adulterous wife leaving her husband will lose dower from this husband unless the husband had been reconciled with her, willingly and without church coercion’.  By putting the adultery before the leaving, this seems not to allow the interpretation which Coke advocated, and which came to be orthodox in the nineteenth century, i.e. that those who left and at some later point lived with another man should be vulnerable to forfeiture.

Dower and adultery, Statute of Westminster II c. 34 Update, February 2013.

A relevant case I would like to have included in one or both of my pieces on this, since it bolsters the argument which I was making, is William de Marston and Matilda his wife v. John le Clerk and Lucy his wife (1292 eyre of Hereford JUST 1/302 m.11d; JUST 1/303 m.24 and YB 20 & 21 Edw. I p. 183).
In the case, a woman and her new husband claim her dower from the lands of a previous husband. The other side say that the widow’s claim should not be allowed, since she left her husband (an interesting word, ‘deguerpi’ – abandoned – is used in the Year Book – a term not used in other similar cases which I have seen) and lived in adultery with another man (in fact, with William, to whom she is now married). This is the exception under c.34 of Westminster II (1285). Matilda claimed, however that (i) her first husband had beaten her, so that she had been obliged to leave; and (ii) (according to the plea roll) that he had sold the land to a woman in order to provide himself with necessaries, and she had been prevented by this woman from entering the land, so she had gone to live on other land of hers, rather than having left him voluntarily as alleged.

The Year Book writer was not interested in the second part of the replication, but concentrated on the claim of beating, and it is this which is particularly relevant to my article ‘Copulative Complexities …’. William and Matilda’s serjeant claimed that her husband had driven her out and that she had not dared to stay with him. The writer of the Year Book thought that John and Lucy’s serjeant ought to have replied to this by saying that Matilda had not been forced out. This would seem to demonstrate that (contrary to some later opinion) it was considered sufficient replication to the c.34 exception to deny that the leaving had been voluntary. This is the point which carried the day in the Lyndeseye case of 1307 (Simon de Lyndeseye and Isabel his wife v. Ralph son of William (1307) Seipp 1307.067rs; YB 35 Edw. I Trin. pl. 5; CP 40/164 m. 251) and it is interesting to see this earlier example of the same view.

Dower/adultery update May 2013

Note also the customarily accepted and used version of the c.34 rule in R. Izacke (ed),  Remarkable Antiquities of the City of Exeter, (2 ed, 1724) p.40, dated 1315, ‘Si mulier a viro suo decesserit ut adultera, & vixerit in adulterio, neque dotem habebit, neque ulla actione uti debet pro eadem’. This strengthens the argument that what was to be penalised was not going away and then at some future point living in adultery, but setting off to do so and doing so. Note also that it seems to be covering a potential loophole by saying not only does the widow not get a dower action in this case, but she cannot use any other action to obtain the land. I am not sure what other action is envisaged, but some intention to ensure that the rule is not bypassed would appear to be clear.

Dower/adultery update July 2013

Well worth factoring into the discussion of increasingly harsh treatment of arguably adulterous dower claimants is a recent chapter: J. Oldham, ”Creditors and the feme covert’, in M. Dyson and D. Ibbetson (eds) Law and Legal Process (Cambridge, 2013) pp. 217-246. This deals with some of the disagreements and movements in the law relating to actions to recover money owed on purchases by separated wives, noting in particular the disparate views of Mansfield and Kenyon. It would be instructive to consider what these views meant for ideas about coverture, and about acceptable nd unacceptable behaviour in marriage, and whether the changes in this area were parallel to those which I have identified with regard to dower.


Medieval Suicide

Some years ago, I conducted a research project on medieval suicide and the law, in collaboration with my sister Alice, a psychiatrist. A case which I don’t think we noted has turned up. It is at JUST 1/1161 m. 18d (Channel Islands eyre 1309). The jury presented that a certain Geoffrey le Cu had hanged himself ‘for poverty and sadness’, but found that he was guilty of felonia de se. This fits in with one of our overall conclusions – that juries were not blind to the causes of suicide, but that, despite their sympathy for individuals, they did not easily commit ‘pious perjury’ and refuse to say that a person had been a deliberate suicide.

Imprisoning Medieval Women

Worth adding to the bibliography for my 2011 book would be:

A.J. Kosto, Hostages in the Middle Ages (Oxford, 2012)

C Slater, ‘So hard was it to release princes whom fortuna had put in her chains’: queens and female rulers as hostage- and captive takers and holders’ Medieval Feminist Forum 45 (2009) 12-40.

Also worth noting in relation to women and imprisonment …

Chapter 8

A fifteenth-century petition suggests that a woman might be regarded as a jailer, alongside her husband. In TNA SC8/232/11572, Ralph Passinham, the king’s servant and harbinger  asks for a pardon in relation to escapes from Cambridge castle gaol, for which he was responsible. The escaping felons were said to have beaten and fought with John Smyth and his wife, Alice, both of whom were described as ‘gardeins’ of the gaol. The usual brevity does not allow us to see whether Alice was simply a target for violence, or whether she took an active part in trying to stop the escape. Either way, it is interesting to see that she was regarded as worthy of mention in this connection. The same incident is mentioned in CPR 1416-22 pp 43-4, though here the violence to John and Alice is upgraded to ‘wounding… almost to death’.

Both the idea that a woman could act as a jailer and the possibility that she might marry one of the men in her charge can be seen in a passage from a late fifteenth century reading in the collection recently published in Margaret McGlynn’s Selden Society Volume (The Rights and Liberties of the English Church: Readings from the Pre-Reformation Inns of Court SS vol 129 for 2012 (London, 2015), p. 31). It feels to me as if the reader, Kebell, is rather enjoying the idea of the husband being ‘under her obedience’.

Royal Regulation of Loans and Sales

It has been a while since this came out, and there is plenty of new work in the area. Two very good recent contributions are Jennifer Hole, ‘Economic Ethics in Late Medieval England’ (University of Western Australia Ph.D. 2015) and Rowan William Dorin, ‘Banishing Usury: The Expulsion of Foreign Moneylenders in Medieval Europe, 1200-1450’ (Harvard PhD 2015 ).

Some new accused Christian usurers are named in a recent article: I. Forrest and C. Whittick, ‘The thirteenth-century visitation records of the diocese of Hereford’, EHR CXXXI, 738-762, at pp 752-8 has 6 individuals accused of usury (5 men and 1 woman) and one man said to have loaned money, taking an additional sum for the ‘acommodation’, though the word usury is not used. I have put these in a file marked ‘Database of Usurers’, which I will get around to writing up properly one of these days …

Hostages 13/4/2017

One I missed in Imprisoning Medieval Women: note the existence of a letter purporting to be from a thirteenth century female hostage, saying that she is fine – from Joan of England to her brother, Henry III, during the time in which she was … accommodated … by her mother, Isabelle of Angouleme and said mother’s new husband, Hugh de Lusignan, who were trying to come to terms with the English government in relation to Isabelle’s property. This was mentioned in a very interesting talk by Jessica Nelson of the National Archives, Jessica Nelson (The National Archives), “…And God knows we did this rather for your benefit than for our own”: The marriages of Isabella of Angouleme and Joan of England, mother and sister of Henry III’, at the very good Family and Power in the Middle Ages conference at Canterbury Christ Church University on 7th April, 2017, and is also available in translation in A. Crawford (ed.), Letters of Medieval Women (Sutton, 2002), 51-2. The document is SC 1/3/187.

Abduction and elopement

At the same Family and Power conference, it was good to see some serious consideration being given to the meanings of judgments relating to abduction and elopement, and urging caution in finding many cases of apparent abduction to be disguised consensual elopements and instances of women’s individual, willed, action: Chanelle Delameillieure (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven), ‘Female consent, abduction and elopement in late medieval Brabant’: 8th April 2017. Look forward to seeing that in print some time soon.