Monthly Archives: October 2020

Bastardy, Presumptions and a Plague of Beatrixes

(Sheldon arms, apparently: see VCH reference, below)

I am writing something about difficult questions at the start of life – determining whether (legally recognised) life is present in a foetus or newborn, and determining legitimacy – from periods before the development of some important medical techniques and instruments (to c. 1900 –  in 10,000 words …). One of the aspects I am investigating is the use of presumptions, to help come to an answer, when everyone accepted that there was a high level of uncertainty. An important presumption in the area of determinations of legitimacy was the common law’s long-lasting and rather strong presumption of legitimacy for a child born to married parents. I have just spent quite some time chasing down a Year Book/Plea roll match for an interesting case from the later years of Edward III, which has a bearing on this, and, since it won’t get more than a short mention, perhaps no more than a footnote, in the paper itself, I thought I’d write it up here.

The Year Book report is Seipp 1370.044 or YB Pasch. 44 Edw. III pl. 21 f. 12b. The Plea Roll record is CP 40/438 m. 370d (AALT IMG 5516). It is a Common Pleas case. As is often the way, the names in YB and PR don’t match up, but I think we can be pretty certain that these documents refer to the same case. There is also  information in other sources which gives some indications about the people involved in the case.[i] This is my reconstruction of the whole story, based on all of this.

There was a need to determine whether or not a girl was to be classed as ‘legitimate’ or ‘a bastard’ at common law, in order to deal with a land dispute. The land in question was in the West Midlands of England, in Warwickshire, centred on the manor of Sheldon, and included different parcels of land and associated rights. Once upon a time, it had been held by Henry de Sheldon and Beatrix his wife (HS and B1) and John Murdak had been granted an interest which would come into play if HS and B1 died without heirs of their bodies.

This had all happened in the 1330s. The central characters in the 1370 dispute were Thomas Murdak, knight (TM), son of John, who claimed that he should hold the land, and  a married couple, (Sir) John de Peyto and Beatrix his wife, who  were in fact holding some of the relevant land and rights. John and Beatrix (JP and B2) argued that they held a tenancy for life in the land, from one Beatrix (B3), eventual successor of HS (as daughter of John de Sheldon, JS, who was HS’s son and heir). When they wished to use B3’s superior right as the foundation of their own right, and against TM’s claim to it, TM made the argument that they could not do so, because B3 was a bastard. (And bastards were outside the scheme of succession at common law).

Why was there a doubt about B3’s legitimacy? Well, it seems that the circumstances of her birth were slightly unusual: she was said by JP and B2 to be the posthumous child of JS, born to his wife after a short marriage (at most fifteen days), though conceived before the marriage. TM told it rather differently: in his version, there had been some very dubious behaviour, which could mean that there was no real marriage, and so no presumption of legitimacy, and also, in fact, B3 was the child of another man entirely. His tale was of a very unwell JS, sick to death with plague, and not in his right mind, being physically carried to the church in Yardley, to marry (desponsare de facto) ‘some woman’ (not named – the odds seem to be in favour of her having been called Beatrix, like everyone else …) who was, at the time ‘grossly pregnant’.  As he told it, this was part of a fraudulent plan, essentially to do him out of his rights, which, remember, would come into play on the death of HS and B1 and their legitimately procreated heirs, and to protect the holding of JP and B2. JP and B2, however, expanded on their version, stating that B3 was in fact the biological child of JS: he and B3’s mother had been lovers (and had had two previous children) and he had promised to marry her, then impregnated her with B3 before going off to Calais for three months, and, on his return, he had fulfilled that promise. Though he had been ill, he had been sane and had married her at the behest of his conscience (presumably wishing to ‘make an honest woman of her’, and secure her future provision). They had lived together for a fortnight, then he had died. B3 had been born afterwards (interestingly, neither a date of birth, nor a gestation period, is included). Essentially, their tale denied both the ‘not JS’s biological child’ and the ‘not a valid marriage’ aspects of TM’s case.

Argument continued, with the aim of narrowing things down to one issue which could go to proof. According to the Year Book report, there followed some back and forth about exactly how pregnancy, espousals and legitimacy worked together, as far as the common law was concerned. TM’s side had a go at saying that the fact that it was accepted that B3’s mother was very pregnant before the espousals meant that Alice was a bastard. This seems to imply an argument that pregnancy had to start, as well as end, after espousals had been made.  This argument did not prevail, but it is interesting that it could be made, since it suggests the possibility of insisting on very exacting standards of continence and of ‘bastardising’ quite a number of children born within a marriage. The orthodox, less exacting, rule was stated by Fyncheden JCP: a child would be found to be legitimate, if the mother was pregnant by the man she then married, and she married him before the birth. Interestingly for my investigation, though, his reported words also suggest that a child conceived in the period between promise to marry and actual marriage (I have been doing too much Land Law because I automatically think of this as ‘conception between contract and conveyance’) does not automatically get the benefit of the strong presumption of legitimacy which would have applied to a child conceived after marriage.

In the end, rather than deciding B3 was definitely a bastard, (either because she was admittedly conceived before marriage, or because the marriage was invalid), or deciding that the conclusion would rest upon her presumed legitimacy as a result of having been born after the espousals, it was decided that the issue to be put to a jury was to be (effectively) whether the biological father of Alice was HS or the ‘other man’. This strikes me as a rather difficult thing for a jury to conclude upon, and it is interesting that it was thought feasible that they could do so. Also of interest is the point that the fact of there having been espousals did not blot out the possibility of B3 being found to be a bastard. My inquiries into later versions of the presumption of legitimacy within marriage show some interesting ups and downs in terms of its strength, and what sort of doubts might be entertained about paternity after the mother’s marriage, but it seems that, at least at this point, challenging legitimacy in these circumstances was a real possibility: if the ‘unloaded’, neutral, question ‘was X or Y the biological father of Z’ could be left to a jury, there would seem to be a fairly even chance of a finding of bastardy or of legitimacy. I am also pondering the issue of there having been a particular fascination amongst common lawyers at this point for the question of bastardy/legitimacy within marriage – another project I have done looked at a case from just before this one, Tyryngton v Beauchamp (1369),[ii]  the report of which saw common lawyers introducing a gratuitous discussion of just this issue (that case did not concern a child whose legitimacy was in dispute, but the report shows lawyers ‘going off on one’ about this).

The reporter loses interest once the issue is identified, as is usual, but the record tells us (some of) what happened in the end. The record includes later stages of procedure, which went on for some terms, and, to cut a long story short, TM dropped out, and so the case came to an end, leaving JP and B2 in possession of the land. There never was a jury verdict. It may be that some deal was struck, or it may be that TM decided that a jury would not have believed that B3 was the biological child of the mysterious ‘other man’.

So there we have it – for my immediate purposes, it represents an interesting stage in the development of doctrine around determinations and presumptions of legitimacy. More broadly, it is fascinating both legally and socially. The legal structure is set up so that it is in order – and perhaps it is an early resort – for claimants to land to cast aspersions about the sexual behaviour of non-party individuals. We see insights into a plausible story of a long term non-marital relationship which might be regularised on the point of death, and also a deep-seated suspicion of deathbed marital dealings (generally of the ‘woman as gold-digger’ variety: given the unequal system of real property, such marriages would tend to be for the benefit of women rather than men). If the background to this case was indeed a recurrence of plague, it is also interesting to ponder the effects of such crises of mortality on law and practice with regard to marriage, legitimacy and succession.

[And then of course there is the oblique evidence provided for the otherwise unknown ‘Statute of Beatrixes’ (or should it be ‘Beatrices’?), under which all female children in the West Midlands were required to be called Beatrix.]

GS

23/10/2020

(For more on bastardy in common law and canon law, and jurisdictional issues, in medieval England, including a 1364 case which might also support the idea of particular attention on this issue in this era, see, e.g. R. H. Helmholz, ‘Bastardy Litigation in Medieval England’, American Journal of Legal History 13, (1969): 360-83).

[i] VCH Warkwickshire (not going to pretend I can get to libraries at the moment): https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/warks/vol4/pp200-205

[ii] William de Tyryngton and Johanna his wife v. John Beauchamp del Holte and Joan his wife (1369).CP 40/435 m.387, 387d (IMG 773 and 1857(; Seipp 1369.059; YB 43 Edw. III Trin. pl. 5.

Destructive trusts: a family fight over beneficial interests

[This is a modern Land Law comment – sorry legal history chums!]

Amin v Amin [2020] EWHC 2675 (Ch) is a recent constructive trusts case, a judgment by Nugee LJ on appeal from the London county court.

https://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2020/2675.pdf

It has some interesting aspects from the point of view of explanation of ‘the rules’ on common intention constructive trusts (nothing especially new, but nicely put) but also a good one to read to get an idea of the sorts of disputes which this body of law may be called upon to handle, and also issues of practical case-crafting  and handling of evidence, at different stages of proceedings.

The basic facts of the dispute were that Mrs Amin was sole legal owner of a house in London. She regarded herself as having the whole legal and equitable interest in it. Her husband, Mr Amin, and her sons, Raja and Zubaire, claimed that they were entitled to an equitable interest by way of a common intention constructive trust. (The dispute initially arose as a possession proceeding by Mrs Amin, and a counter-claim by Mr Amin and the sons for a declaration of their interest, and thus entitlement to stay). This way of proceeding meant that it was a virtual  ‘all or nothing’ case – Mrs Amin claimed everything, and Mr Amin and the sons counter-claimed 100% of the equitable interest.The county court judge decided in favour of Mr Amin and the sons – the house was held by Mrs Amin on trust for them, and she must transfer the legal title to them. She appealed.

The judgment, which has just appeared on BAILI, describes quite a number of property dealings within a large family, and is of considerable interest from a ‘law meets culture’ point of view. One fact to bear in mind, and which is of some relevance, is that the Amin parents were not officially married as far as English law was concerned. They had been through a religious form of marriage, the nikkah, but technically were not married. As Land Law students know, there is a fairly stark line between cases involving married (or once-married) couples and those who are, strictly, ‘cohabitants’. The Amins would surely not have seen themselves in the same bracket as those involved in informal living together situations, but in some ways, Land Law does (certainly a factor to consider in relation to suggestions for reform of cohabitation/property law). There is also some discussion of what may look to modern Land Law students like an (allegedly) unusual or old-fashioned financial relationship between the parties, in which Mr Amin ‘did not allow’ Mrs Amin to have her own bank account. I have often been told, when discussing cases like Burns v Burns that modern female cohabitants would not end up in such a dependent financial position. Perhaps we might reconsider that.

Nugee LJ provides a good summary of where he thinks the law is on common intention constructive trusts, and what has to be shown, by whom. It may be picked up as blurring some boundaries but (heretically, I know) I am less interested in that. FWIW, the judge had applied the Jones v Kernott [2011] UKSC 53 test – using financial and other criteria to decide ‘what shares (if any) were intended’. (Land Law students will notice that this is drawing together two questions which we have tended to keep apart in teaching – the ‘is there an interest’ question, and the ‘if so, how much’ question). The case put by Mrs Amin’s lawyer in this appeal included a strong idea of it being wrong not to make separate, overt findings on all of the separate elements as to whether there a common intention at all, and if so what was its nature, and whether there was appropriate detrimental reliance. We have some further discussion on the (paper thin in my view- I am very skeptical about the idea of objective deduction in these cases) distinction between imputing and inferring intentions.  There is a nice quotable quote on the supposed separation of ‘is there a CICT’ and ‘how much of a share do people get?’: ‘I do not think the two stages can always be neatly distinguished’ [33] – the point is that the same evidence may well cover both bits: [34] ‘it seems to me to make no sense to try and make a sharp divide between evidence that enables an inference to be made as to their common intention that the beneficial interests should not follow the legal ownership, and evidence that enables an inference to be made as to what they intended those beneficial interests to be. Those questions are necessarily bound up together.’ Hackles will no doubt rise at this, but, really, it is a common dynamic in many areas of law, including Land Law, to move back and forth between ‘steppy’ tests and ‘holistic’ (cue whale music …) tests.

What I find more interesting and thought-provoking are the issues concerning the way in which the case was presented, and the evidence. Since this was an appeal, there were already limits on what could be done by way of going over the evidence, and deciding whether there was anything wrong with the initial decision. Greater limitations were imposed by a decision by Mrs Amin not to provide a transcript of oral evidence from the first hearing. Nugee LJ remarked on this more than once. He also highlighted the original judge’s doubts about Mrs Amin’s allegations of domestic abuse [8.11] though these were ‘not directly relevant to the proceedings’. Again, that might bear some exploration – what is relevant to proceedings is, to some extent, a matter of choice and perspective. Comment on the offences of false accounting of another witness were also mentioned (I do wonder whether people realise this sort of public and permanent comment will be made when they agree to be witnesses. I suppose they do).

I can see that, in such cases, judges do have to make comments on the credit-worthiness of witness/parties, but it is always a rather uncomfortable thing. I am sure that I would feel deeply insulted and mortified to see myself referred to as ‘[not having made] a good witness’ as was the case with Mrs Amin here, a description based on the fact that, in the initial judgment,

‘The Judge found her oral evidence to be confused and imprecise, and referred to her complete inability at times to recall any precise detail contained in her witness statement – something that happened so frequently that he formed the view that it was almost as if the statement had been written for her by someone else’.  [at 8]

It is also interesting to note the nature of the outcome (100% equity to Mr Amin – now deceased – and the sons) was the logical outcome of the way the case was put. Though this was portrayed as particularly harsh by Mrs Amin’s lawyer, both sides had gone for an ‘all or nothing’ approach, and neither had suggested a plan to share out the equitable interest, so, if Mrs Amin lost, this was always on the cards (though the practical effect could be less harsh, as she could seek indemnity from the beneficiaries on the mortgage payments which she, as legal owner, was still liable to pay).

So – an interesting case in a number of respects: legal, evidential, cultural. It is a bit out of the ordinary for such cases in dealing with a wider family group, whose relations are both personal and financial. It also leaves some untied ends relating to the position of the two Amin daughters, whose interests may well be affected. All in all, a messy situation meets an unsatisfactory area of law. Good luck with it, Law students of England and Wales.

‘It’s the Climb’

… as noted jurist M. Cyrus would have said…

Thoughts on a manuscript submission…

Well – big day: I’m about to press the button and send off my checked-over manuscript to the publisher. Women and the Medieval Common Law c. 1200-1500 is a real thing! No doubt there will be  messing around and checking – perhaps some battles about the (admittedly copious) length of the notes, but essentially this is it. I won’t be able to change anything major from this point onwards.

Naturally, I can’t just do it, I have to agonise about doing it … and reflect about it. Well, indulge me, it’s been a long time in the works, and I don’t think I’ll be doing anything like it again.

I have wanted to write about women and legal history for such a long time – probably since my days on a postgrad course in which women were very much an add-on, and only interesting from a property perspective. For a long time, I avoided it, though. It seemed too close to home, in a way – I did drink in all the objective standpoint stuff rather too enthusiastically in my academic youth – and I was well aware that it would not be popular with the powers that be in the world of Law School legal history. So there was a lengthy diversion into other things – economic offences (seems a lifetime ago) suicide, all sorts. (And even a brief stint of masquerading as a modern property lawyer … But eventually it got to the point that I felt robust enough to have a go, and so it has been there in the background for a few years now.

It has changed a lot over the course of researching and writing. Obviously I was massively over-ambitious in thinking I could look at every subject, every relevant document (that has, of course, been especially true in the last few months, with library and archive restrictions). I more than half expect to be clobbered with the old ‘Why have you not looked at [insert name of 50 obscure MSS which would take a year to locate and translate…] and done a comprehensive survey of levels of women’s participation over 3 centuries [at least another year, with a research team and a way with complex quantitative analysis], but there does come a time when you just have to stop and publish the thing. It is the right length for the publishers’ parameters, it has some things to say, and I hope it will make a contribution. So – a little sadness that it is not all that I meant it to be, and trepidation that it will end up being clobbered from several different directions, by those who wouldn’t have done it at all, or would have done it in a different way …but I am so ready to move on.

One of the later things to do in this sort of project is the preface, dedication and so on. I am dedicating it to my mother, who very much deserves it. I hope it will make her happy and proud. I decided, though, against anything else personal by way of preface. I have become rather disenchanted with academic book prefaces. The convention of thanking people at the start of books they will probably never read, nor know about,  is polite in a way, but also a little odd. In some cases, it does feel a bit master/servant, in others, there is the sneaking suspicion that there’s a bit of boasting going on (look – not only do I write books, but I have a great personal life, supportive spouse etc. …) I hope that I have thanked those people who deserve my thanks in person anyway, and treated people in libraries and at conferences with respect as we work together. So I used the preface in a more content-relevant way, to set up the material which would follow. I feel more comfortable with that. At the moment, if I did the thank you thing, it might turn out to be rather more of a sarky ‘and I’d like to say THANK YOU VERY MUCH to the Senior Managers at my University for their handling of the coronavirus emergency and the [innuendo: abysmal] level of respect and support for staff who already have a lot to do [such as writing legal history books] over the summer’. And the email system which decided to play up just when I needed to despatch my files. Which would make me look extremely grumpy to anyone who looked at the book, years from now. So best not. [Could of course start a new trend for ‘And no thatnks to …’ sections, a.k.a. Er gwaetha pawb a phopeth if you know your Dafydd Iwan …]

Anyway. Time for action. Things to do. Buttons to press.

With crossed fingers.

And … done.