Tag Archives: medieval law

Potions and prosecution: a case from medieval Herefordshire

By Dr Gwen Seabourne, Reader in Legal History (University of Bristol Law School).*

© M.J. Seabourne. Tomb of John de Swinfeld, Hereford Cathedral

© M.J. Seabourne. Tomb of John de Swinfeld, Hereford Cathedral

In 1292, Herefordshire, close to the Welsh border, received a visit from the royal justices, touring England with a view to hearing legal disputes, investigating crimes and making a tidy profit for the king from the various fines imposed upon individuals and communities. Precociously bureaucratic, the machinery of royal government recorded much of what went on before the justices, bequeathing to future generations priceless insights into life and law at this early time.

One intriguing case from the rolls of this 1292 session gives important glimpses of several different aspects of medieval law and life. As I have noted in a recent article in Social History of Medicine, Isabella Plomet, a woman from Hereford, managed to obtain some measure of legal redress from Ralph de Worgan, a surgeon of sorts, who was found to have agreed to treat her for leg problems, but actually gave her a drug called dwoledreng and proceeded to rape her. Continue reading

Law, history and adulterous wives

By Dr Gwen Seabourne, Reader in Law (University of Bristol Law School).

© http://www.traditioninaction.org/

© http://www.traditioninaction.org/

For centuries, English  common law saw married women as inferior to their husbands, disadvantaged in terms of legal rights and to be protected from themselves and from the outside world. Most formal legal disadvantages have been removed, so it might well be asked why modern lawyers should bother to look at the old laws.

One insight from history which is important for those working to consolidate gains already made and to make further improvements in the legal position of women is that there has been no straightforward, as-the-crow-flies, journey from oppressive medieval rules to enlightened modern ones. This comes out particularly in my recent work on the laws about adulterous wives [see G Seabourne, ‘Copulative complexities: the exception of adultery in medieval dower actions‘, in M Dyson and D Ibbetson (eds) Law and Legal Process: : substantive law and procedure in English Legal History (Cambridge, 2013),  34-55; and ibid, ‘Coke, the statute, wives and lovers: routes to a harsher interpretation of the statute of Westminster II (1285) c. 34’ (2014) 34(1) Legal Studies 123-42]. Continue reading