I am looking forward to going to a conference on coverture, in a few weeks, and trying to find a few new angles on the topic. I am interested in the medieval aspects, obviously (Bracton’s sister, not Coke’s or Blackstone’s, right?). But also rather intrigued by the other end of things – the dwindling and shadows left behind in the twentieth century in particular, though there are still a few neglected survivals in ‘the statute book’ which could and should be extirpated.
A smile was raised when I came upon a late (1945) manifestation of unity-of-persons coverture theory, via a Modern Law Review article, and then some newspaper reports. It came up in a criminal case, but we are not talking about the higher end of criminality … the heinous offence was that of a man travelling using the return part of his wife’s ticket.
Arthur Donald Floyd was hauled up before Tonbridge magistrates in 1945, accused of an offence under the Regulation of Railways Act 1889 s. 5(3)(a) and by-law no. 6 of the Southern Railway Co, in having used the return portion of a ticket which his wife, Doris, had bought, and which was, explicitly, non-transferable.
Floyd was found not guilty.
So far, so banal (and so, so trivial …). The interesting part is that some newspaper reports stated that the reason for the not guilty verdict was based on the unity species of coverture, i.e. it did not matter that the ticket was non-transferable, since it had not been transferred: husband and wife were one person in law. Now, it seems that this unity view was aired in the case, but it was not the reason for the decision. While the Times report of 5th December 1945 puts the observation that a man and his wife were one person at law in the mouth of the Chairman of the Bench, Mr H.Vivian Phillipps, it seems that this unity point was made by or for Mr Floyd, not by the magistrates. Mr Phillipps wrote to the Times, and his letter was printed on 8th December. It insisted that the not guilty finding was based not on a deduction from coverture/unity, but on the view that Donald Floyd had not in fact intended to defraud the Southern Railway Company.[i][ii] The unity idea seems to have come not from the magistrates but from Floyd himself. who, in the account of the Sevenoaks Chronicle and Kentish Advertiser, said he thought – indeed, was sure – the rule about not using somebody else’s ticket did not apply because spouses ‘became as one in the eyes of the law’ when married.[iii]
It seems rather an interesting example of the absorption into general consciousness of the possibility of using a unity conception of marriage as a way out of a legal difficulty (and, note, by a man rather than a woman …).
Possibly even better was discovering a usage of coverture hitherto unknown to me at least – in relation to cakes and chocolates! At times indicating ‘icing’, at times ‘coating’, it comes up in a number of (amusingly non-slick) advertisements, and the odd account of the food rationing rules of the 1940s. In the 1920s, Clifton’s chocolates (‘the chocolate with an unconditional guarantee’) had ‘the finest coverture’ (as well as ‘intriguing’ flavours – not sure I want my chocs ‘intriguing’, really)[iv] In the 1930s, Warren Chocolates had ‘good’ coverture as well as ‘original’ centres (sardine? mustard? Again, I am not sure I really want originality as opposed to loveliness in a choc, though, to be fair, we do get the sharp claim that they are ‘very enjoyable’ – got to love 1930s advertising … ).[v]
In the 1940s, as we get into rationing, there is much concern about the future of cakes – especially wedding cakes. In July 1940, there was reassurance by the Ministry of Food that chocolate coverture would not be prohibited (unlike some other cake adornment options).[vi]
Obviously, I am now
- trying to see a way to use chocolates with original and/or intriguing centres in a pretentious way to illustrate coverture in law and practice
- wondering whether Donald and Doris Floyd became more hardened criminals, slipping down the enticing slope from railway ticket offences to … whisper it … the wrong sort of cake icing ….
[i] Williams, G. L. (1947). The legal unity of husband and wife. Modern Law Review, 10(1), 16-31; Times, 5th and 8th December, 1945, 9th May, 1846.
[ii] Poor old Mr Phillips: trying to make sure things were correct … in fact the lack of intention was later found to be irrelevant, since the offence under the Regulation of Railways Act 1889 s. 5(3)(a) and no. 6 of the by-laws of the Southern Railway Co, was constructed in such a way that a lack of intention did not mean a lack of guilt.
[iii] Sevenoaks Chronicle and Kentish Advertiser, 7th December, 1945, ‘Man Can Use Wife’s Railway Ticket’.
[iv] Scotsman, 12th April, 1924
[v] Waterford Standard, 17th April, 1937
[vi] Scotsman, 15th July, 1940; Daily News (London), 26th September, 1941 – this one is headed ‘Iced Cake Law’ – how has this not become a sub-discipline in Law Schools???
Who is feeling peckish?