Tag Archives: Gwen Seabourne

Poetic Injustice

OK, I admit it: this is not Legal History. Probably not even legal, come to that… But I feel moved by the spirit of New Year to post this fine example of intellectual endeavour. Don’t think the LQR is going to want it.

Bird bath

Thrushes rush in, wrens seem keen

and sparrows splash around together,

But will they really get me clean

and do they like Imperial Leather?

GS

1/1/2017

 

Having another poetic moment – feeling the pain of my final year students … this is for them

 

Life unexamined:

easily sneered at by those

not sitting finals.

18/5/2017

 

This, apparently, was found stuck to the door of a church in Germany …

Martin L.: the Augustinian Brother who could Do No Other

 

A Diet of Worms caused constipation

till his guts experienced  Reformation.

He objected to indulgences but still grew stout;

shacked up with a nun, chucked celibacy out;

wrote hot hit hymns, and cool translations

and tied himself in knots over consubstantiation.

His views on Jews can’t be overcome:

he had 95 theses: but tolerance wasn’t one.

 

19/5/2017

And this is a genre of poetry which will surely catch on: the modern observation linked to a medieval law-text …

Bracton’s Sister’s Distant Descendant in the Gym Changing Room

That law of persons bit in the old book,

sorting by status (and taking the odd swerve

through hermaphrodites and the nature of belts)

somehow missed out a key division:

the one between people who,

when they see you post-swim,

half dried and standing on one leg,

correcting the inside-outness of your knickers,

can wait a moment to get to their locker,

which you are, inadvertently blocking,

and those who

Excuse Me!

just

bloody

can’t.

 

9/7/2017

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.

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.

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).

New work on removing the marital rape exception

Worth a look, new and interesting article: Adrian Williamson (2016): The Law and Politics of Marital Rape in England, 1945–1994, Women’s History Review, online early release. Discussing the slow move to change in the law. If this is taken along with the article about the use of wives’ adultery in homicide cases, by Kesselring, (see my recent blog post) it reinforces the message that one of the biggest things which has to be overcome, when trying to improve the lives of women, has been – and is – the misinterpretation of history, to give some spurious form of legitimacy to rules which disadvantage women (‘look – this has long historical roots: that has to mean something, doesn’t it?). Kesselring pointed out the relatively short and somewhat shaky background to the idea that husbands who killed wives caught in adultery should receive lenient treatment. Here, Williamson deals with the marital rape exception, including the way in which Matthew Hale’s remarks on the subject were transformed into holy writ.

From the point of view of my own research, this is something to link into the work on suffrage campaigns (thinking about tactics for changing law, and about tactics used to resist improvements for women) and, more widely, it is something to bear in mind when looking at the extent to which legal history can be misused in the interests of dominant groups of various sorts. Some of the material here is well known to legal scholars – e.g. the material on low reporting and conviction rate in rape – but there are some interesting reminders of 19th and 20th century case law in this area, and of the pronouncements of different politicians, judges and academics (Lawton, Fairbairn and Glanville Williams in particular – a very topical Trump reference in the conclusion), and the point about there being a struggle right to the end to get rid of the exception, rather than there being any inevitability about it, is an important one.

There is often a strange amnesia, or instant mythologising, which occurs after a progressive change. Opposition is de-emphasised, everyone was somehow always in favour of the change, and it was always only a matter of time before things were put right. As the discussion here shows, change needs dedicated action from people who are prepared to be opposed, belittled and ridiculed.

26/2/2016

Prisons and aliens: new articles of legal-historical interest, January 2016

Prisons and aliens: new articles of Legal Historical interest, January 2016

Two to note on ‘early release’ from Historical Researchhttp://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/10.1111/(ISSN)1468-2281/earlyview

J.M. Moore, ‘Reformative rhetoric and the exercise of corporal power: Alexander Maconochie’s regime at Birmingham prison 1849-51’, explores the wide gap between what was said and what was actually done by this former Australian penal settlement gaoler in the new prison at Birmingham, and provides an important correction to  the former positive view of his practices. Maconochie’s ‘mark system’ ideas of task-based sentences leading to mental submission are quite well known. The lack of political approval of a trial of the mark system in the domestic context is interesting, however, and the evidence on actual practice in Birmingham given here is, however, illuminating (in a dark way). Unable to link tasks/behaviour and length of sentence, Maconochie linked these things to food and conditions in a very harsh way, and was rather keen on flogging boys and imposing lengthy physical restraints on women. A lack of respect for the need to record such punishments, and the use of his family members in various unofficial roles in the prison combine to give the impression of an arrogant man who did not respond well to frustration, and was determined to try and push through his theories, despite opposition. (I would like to hear more about his wife’s attempts to use mesmerism and homeopathy in the reform of prisoners though).

B. Lambert and W.M. Ormrod, ‘A matter of trust: the regulation of England’s French residents during wartime, 1294-1377’ looks at the treatment of suspect aliens during periods of uncomfortable relations with France, under the first three Edwards. The article notes the flexible response of government at various levels to the ‘problem’ of aliens. ‘Nationality’ was not regarded as a simple or conclusive matter at this point, before the late-14th C introduction of the formal process of ‘denization’ became established. Important differences between the treatment of ‘alien priories’, nobles and those of lower social rank are noted here, with the suggestion of a move from heavy to more flexible regulation in the case of the last group which may be at odds with expectations from earlier research on alien priories and nobles. The central argument is well made and there is much hard-won and useful detail on practice. From a local point of view, it is interesting to see the lack of desire to aggravate foreigners evident in the report of a mayor of Bristol, asked in 1337 to assess and identify the property in the city which was held by Frenchmen, for purposes of confiscation, who chose to say that there just wasn’t any (which was surely untrue) (p.12). Thinking more widely, this article provides very useful ideas and material to include in historical (and current political) work on the nature of nationality and allegiance, and on immigration, beyond the medieval period.

GS 16/1/2016

Articles of interest for legal historians in the latest edition of Historical Research

There are three articles of particular interest for legal historians (as well, of course, as other historians) in the latest edition of Historical Research. (2015, online preview). http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/10.1111/(ISSN)1468-2281/earlyview

First of all, we have Helen Killick, ‘Treason, felony and Lollardy: a common petition in the hand of Richard Osbarn, common clerk of the chamber of the Guildhall’ This makes interesting points about the role of scribes in the petitioning process, so supplementing the interesting work done by several scholars (particularly Gwilym Dodd) in the area of petitioning in recent years. For legal historians,and in the year of Magna Carta’s 800th anniversary, a particular interest will be in the light thrown upon the problem of long imprisonment without trial. There are also some good points in relation to the mechanics of imprisonment and its organisation, and on perceptions and treatment of accused felons, traitors and heretics.

Then there is Francis Calvert Boorman, ‘The “stormy latitude of the law”: Chancery Lane and street improvement in late Georgian London’. This is a period and topic with which I am less familiar, but which will certainly be useful for setting the scene – complete with runaway oxen, bad cart-driving and the crazy paving of London local jurisdictions – for my students as they consider the world of the legal profession in this era.

Finally, and of particular interest to those of us who have contributed to the forthcoming collection, M. Bennett and K. Weikert (eds), Hostage-Taking and Hostage Situations: The Medieval Precursor to a Modern Phenomenon (Routledge, 2016/2017) is Jacqueline Bemmer, ‘The early Irish hostage surety and inter-territorial alliances’. This is a very scholarly treatment of a complex, and very old, body of law on relations between different polities, and methods of securing peace between them. (It also brings up the very intriguing figure of the ‘lord of slaughter’, an official enforcer of vengeance).

GS 18/12/2015

The Art of Law: important article on images in rolls of the late medieval Court of Common Pleas

An area in which many legal historians have become increasingly interested in recent years is the visual composition of legal records. I gave a paper on this at the British Legal History Conference in 2013 (http://www.gla.ac.uk/media/media_282282_en.pdf ), highlighting the need to integrate the images from the Common Pleas rolls into the King’s Bench-dominated view acquired from Erna Auerbach’s work, and have also made some comments on visual material in this blog (http://vifgage.blogs.ilrt.org/2013/04/07/p-is-for-profile-henry-viii-in-the-rolls-of-the-common-pleas/ ). The appearance of a thought-provoking study of the visual material in the CP rolls in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries is a welcome addition to this area, and certainly one for reading lists in medieval legal history.

Elizabeth A Danbury and Kathleen L Scott, ‘The Plea Rolls of the Court of Common Pleas: an unused source for the art and history of later medieval England. 1422-1509’. The Antiquaries Journal, 95  (2015), 157-210 looks at the rise of decoration and illustration in the CP rolls in this period, and explored the iconography of the images and the meanings of words and mottoes associated with them. There is much of interest in the identification of particular kings and other characters, and the discussion of the way in which particular images fit in with contemporary political events. I am also intrigued by the mysterious popularity of dragons in these records. Helpfully, there are several good-quality photographs of key images.

Medieval historians are naturally drawn to the political ramifications of the images. I think that legal historians can and should also consider the implications of the illustration and decoration which relates to the image or self-image of particular courts. Auerbach’s work saw the inclusion of loyal, royal pictures in the KB rolls as something which flowed from the particular connection of the monarch with that court. Noting that the CP also included such images makes that conclusion less secure. There is also the issue of the inclusion of decoration and mottoes associated with the names of judges, which deserves some consideration in connection with the image they were trying to project. Finally, there is the intriguing issue of the expected ‘consumers’ of these images: who would have seen them? Did our ‘clerk-illustrators’ imagine that they were drawing only for their immediate colleagues and contemporaries, or for posterity?

Gwen Seabourne

11/12/2015