In what now seems like the very far-off pre-lockdown part of 2020, an article of mine was published, the culmination of a project I had been working on for two years or more, and had presented, at different stages in its development, to audiences at the International Medieval Congress in 2017 and the British Legal History Conference in 2019. Judging a Hereford hanging: Agnes Glover v. Walter Devereux, William Herbert and others (1457)[i] considered the events of a few days in the spring of 1456, when the English city of Hereford was taken over by a mixed Welsh and English force, led by notable men of south east Wales and Herefordshire. William Herbert and Walter Devereux, along with their kin and connections, the Vaughans. A member of the Vaughan family – Watkin Vaughan – had been killed in Hereford, slain with an arrow through the heart, as one record has it, and the Herbert-Devereux-Vaughan allies came to Hereford to seek justice or revenge for this outrage. They obliged local citizens to try and convict six Hereford men for the killing, then proceeded to hang them. Legal action followed, as Agnes Glover, the widow of one of the hanged Hereford men attempted to prosecute the main offenders. The case went on for some legal terms, but, in the end, there was a spate of pardoning, and nobody was punished in accordance with the full rigour of the law. (more…)
Although based in England, the Law School is home to experts on a variety of different jurisdictions – for example, Dr Chathuni Jayathilaka, who teaches contract, commercial comparative and Roman law is a specialist on Scots private law and Scots Legal History. She has recently published a monograph entitled Sale and the Implied Warranty of Soundness and here, she explains it to Gwen Seabourne of the Centre for Law and History Research.
GS: So, Chathuni, tell us about your new book (with translation for common lawyers!). It’s about a topic in Scots private law, isn’t it?
CJ: Yes. Sale and the Implied Warranty of Soundness deals with an under-researched area of Scots law: the common law contract of sale. This contract, which still regulates transactions featuring real property (i.e. land) and intangible property, has been subjected to little analysis in the past two centuries. The last book on this topic, Mungo Brown’s A Treatise on the Law of Sale, was published almost 200 years ago, in 1821.
As a result, there are a number of gaps in knowledge in this area. One of the major issues is that the default rules which apply under the Scots common law contract of sale have never been coherently systematised. Another is that it is not clear whether the same default rules applied to all contracts of sale, regardless of whether the property involved was real, personal or intangible. Historically, a number of the default rules developed exclusively through case law featuring one type of property, and there is disagreement about whether such rules apply to transactions featuring other types of property. (more…)
By Prof Gwen Seabourne, Professor of Legal History (University of Bristol Law School)
Even for those who enjoy spending their time with historical legal records, plea roll entries relating to medieval land law cases may not be high on a list of interesting areas to investigate. The vocabulary is often off-putting and the records somewhat formulaic and repetitive. Nevertheless, patient digging in these apparently monotonous sources can turn up information on some big, important issues of medieval thought and belief. My recent research on an area of medieval land law, published in the Journal of Legal History,[i] sheds some light on one of the biggest questions of all (in the medieval period or subsequently): what is life?
Juries and lawyers sometimes had to wrestle with questions of the presence and proof of life in cases involving tenancy by the curtesy. This was the widower’s life interest in land, following the death of his wife. Crucially, in order to qualify for this right, the widower had to have produced live offspring with his wife. Because of this requirement, medieval courts and lawyers had to make decisions in some very difficult cases in which there was doubt and disagreement as to whether a baby, now definitely not alive, had ever been alive. How did medieval people distinguish life from its absence, the fleetingly alive from those who were (in modern English) stillborn? (more…)
By Prof Gwen Seabourne, Professor of Legal History (University of Bristol Law School)
In a manslaughter case held in Swansea in 1968,[i] an unusual order was made. Thesiger J. decided that it should be heard by an all-female jury. He made the order under a discretion granted to him by the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, the first, and apparently the only time that such an order was made in Wales or England.
The possibility of ordering a single sex jury has long since been removed, but R. v. Sutton was and is important as an event, and as a working-out of the implications of the early, limited, moves towards women’s participation in public life which came with the Representation of the People Act 1918 and Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919. The fiftieth anniversary of the case (and the approaching centenary of the 1919 Act) seems an appropriate moment to sketch some of its claims on our attention. (more…)
Contractual interpretation continues to be a controversial topic. In a recent speech, Lord Sumption attacked Lord Hoffmann’s judgment in Investors Compensation Scheme  1 WLR 896, still the leading case in the area. For Lord Hoffmann, the key question was what a reasonable person would understand the parties to have intended by their contract, even if this was something different to the ordinary meaning of the words they had used. Lord Sumption, however, argued that the courts must give primacy to the meaning of the words.
It is sometimes suggested that Lord Hoffmann’s approach is an aberration in the common law of contract, which has consistently prioritised the meaning of the words over the parties’ apparent intentions. In fact, however, it bears a striking resemblance to the approach taken by the courts in sixteenth century England, where a very similar debate about interpretation was playing out. In a recently-published book chapter*, I explore this history and what it means for contract lawyers today. (more…)
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. (more…)
Legal geography is an exciting and emerging cross-discipline, exploring how people and places co-constitute the world. It proceeds from the premise that the legal co-creates the spatial and the social while the social and the spatial co-create the legal. There is reflexivity. Once we accept this premise, however, the hard work begins. How do we work out what ‘work’ legal provisions and practices are doing to create spaces (national, regional, local or private) and how do spatial and social settings inform the application of legal rules and principles?
In a piece that was commissioned by Geography Compass, both to provide an overview of where legal geography is today as well as to consider where it is heading, Luke Bennett and I developed the idea of becoming a ‘spatial detective’. We suggested that there is much to learn by both legal scholars and geographers becoming ‘spatial detectives’ – of learning, Sherlock Holmes-like, to search out the presence and absence of spatialities in legal practice, and of law’s traces and effects embedded within places. To make this argument, we revisited the debates around the case of R –v Dudley & Stephens ((1884) 14 QBD 273, still a classic in Law Schools).
On 6th September 1884, three sailors arrived in Falmouth and reported to the local Customs House, resenting sworn statements there about their recent activities. One month later, these candid statements became evidence in their trial for murder held at the Devon & Cornwall Winter Assizes, in Exeter. This case, R –v Dudley & Stephens, proved to be one of the most contentious legal decisions in English legal history. For the courts ruled that the killing and eating of a cabin boy by these sailors, was a crime under English Law. This was so, even though the sailors would have died had they not done so, as they drifted helplessly aboard a lifeboat in the South Atlantic, 1600 miles off the Cape of Good Hope. (more…)
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.