Author Archives: vifgage

About vifgage

Professor Gwen Seabourne teaches and researches Legal History, with a particular focus on the medieval period. She is the author of two books and several articles, mainly on this period of Legal History. Current interests include women in legal history and legal humour. This site does not purport to reflect the views of her employer, nor to constitute legal advice.

Slick advertising copy

Can only apologise for this .. absolutely no legal-historical justification, nor academic merit, just a collection of adverts from old newspapers (Welsh Newspaper Archive – thank you!) which made me smile for one reason or another. There is something utterly charming about the clumsy earnestness of a lot of late 19th-early 20th C advertising, and somehow that is intensified in papers from well outside London and its orbit.

First off, here is a rather scary lingerie/scaffolding ad from 1918 … definitely no suggestion of comfort …

Still with clothing, this one from 1910 has all sorts going on … I like the slick ‘for the million and the millionaire’ line, and the name of the shop – they definitely had a brand strategy. And the concept of a ‘holiday suit’ is rather interesting …

And this one from 1908 speaks for itself (snigger …)

Smiled at the clumsy chirpiness of a couple of ads from the Cambrian in 1907: first, we have the classic advert non sequitur, pushing toffees

and then a bouncing bit of alliteration to encourage us in the direction of ‘bile beans’ (mmmm!)

A bit of verse is always nice – we can see a fine example in this bread ad from 1906:

 

The extra layer in some of the adverts is the provision of either a full translation, or else just a line of Welsh. Somebody was probably very satisfied with this, in a tea advert of 1906 – this was ‘the best (tea) under the sun’, for example …

 

Could go on and on, but we’ll end with my favourite, a cracker from 1908 – a ‘Wenglish’ classic –  ‘What about Knickers?; Well, indeed. What about them? Sadly it is not your actual underwear – or presumably not, since there is mention of cord and tweed. I mean, no doubt the people of the early 20th C were tougher than the likes of us, but I don’t think even they would want smalls made of tweed. I am assuming that it’s some sort of trouserage.

GS

23/9/2022 (and later updates)

Daggers, lances, secrets, puzzles

(CW: sexual offences, rape)

The issue summarised

There are occasional late-medieval allegations of sexual offences – rapes in modern terminology – which include references to what appear, on the surface, to be weapons, but this talk of weapons may have been understood as a metaphorical way of referring to male genitalia. It is hard to be certain, at times, whether we are looking at an allegation of rape (modern sense) plus additional assault with an actual weapon, penetration with a weapon (probably not, but just about possible) or rape with a penis described in metaphorical weapon terms. The whole business is made more complicated by the fact that one medieval weapon was actually called a ‘ballock-hafted dagger’ or ‘ballock dagger’, because it was thought reminiscent of the obvious (the hilt – you can imagine …). I have written a couple of previous posts on this topic, but it’s time for another one, as I have found yet another relevant indictment.

 

Where I had got to with this …

In a previous post, I noted an entry on the King’s Bench plea roll for Easter 1435 relating to proceedings against a clerk, Thomas Harvy, for alleged offences in Norfolk, including a sexual offence (which was probably understood to be ‘consensual’ – at least in contemporary terms of an absence of overt physical struggle).[i] Jurors had presented before the justices of the peace that, on 1st October 1433, Thomas Harvy of Testerton, clerk, … broke into the house of  John Serjeant of Colkirk, at Colkirk, and attacked Margaret, John’s wife,  wounding her shamefully (turpiter) with a certain carnal lance called, in English, a ‘ballokhaftitdagher’, and so he continued to do until that day, setting a bad example etc., to John’s great damage and against John’s will.’[ii]

I did, at first, question my reading of the carnal lance/ ballokhaftitdagher’: could the lance perhaps have been some sort of butchery implement? Was the dagger just an actual dagger regarded as having a genital-like appearance? But both terms being used together made a pretty strong case for seeing the ‘carnal lance’ and ‘ballock hafted dagger’ as evoking not actual weapons but metaphorical weapons, and, given the context, to refer to male genitalia. It is worth noting that a resort to metaphorical language is unusual within the generally unfanciful context of medieval plea rolls, but that the use of weapon-imagery is a well-known practice in literary sources.[iii] Obviously, I am not a scholar of literature, and it seems to me that there is a definite need for some interdisciplinary discussion of this, but this is where I am at the moment …

I had come across the ‘carnal lance’ image on its own in a very small number of other cases.iv] Sometimes there is additional information linking the lance to specific parts of a woman’s body which appear to make a sexual penetration meaning most likely (though these might be interpreted as penetration with an actual weapon, just about). For example, a case going back to the 1440s shows a Kent jury swearing that Richard Kay, parson of the church of Hartley, on 20th November 1439, broke into and entered the house of Thomas Cotyer in Hartley, with force and arms, and, in a barn, assaulted Rose, Thomas Cotyer’s wife, beat and wounded and mistreated her, and hit her so severely with a certain carnal lance between her thighs, that she fell to the floor onto her back, and then he lay with her, against the king’s peace. They added that Richard was ‘a common adulterer etc.’[v]

A ‘carnal lance’ reference, in a 1483 Devon indictment,[vi] does seem to separate the attack with the lance and the sexual penetration, so did make me wonder once more whether I might be talking fanciful nonsense, but yet another, from the same county and roll, mentions the use in an attack on a female servant of both ‘carnal lance’ and two ‘stones’.[vii]

Another reference to carnal lances and stones, from Devon, from an indictment file for Hilary term 1482 – does, I think, confirm that carnal lances were not actual lances, and stones were not actual stones, in some legal records. It is a deeply unpleasant sexual assault accusation, in which a certain William Gamon, clerk, was accused of what would now be called  a rape (though no ‘rape term’ is used, and neither are words of felony) on Joan, wife of John Stonehewer, on two separate occasions.[viii] A rough-and-ready translation of the case would be:

‘[A Devon jury on 12 October 1480] said on oath that William Gamon, [ff] recently of [Denbury], Devon, on 2nd July and 10th October 1479, with force and arms and against the peace of the lord king, with staves and knives and also a carnal lance, broke and entered  the houses of John Stonehewer at Denbury and Ottery St Mary, hit John’s wife, Joan, several times, and then hit and penetrated her with the aforesaid lance and two stones hanging in the said William’s nether regions, in a certain hairy opening between her two thighs, in the rear, so that her life was despaired of and against the peace of the lord king.’

A metaphorical link between testicles and stones was certainly present in the medieval period, and appears, for example, in the Mirror of Justices, in a discussion of mayhem (Book I c. 9). It is, of course, still hard to be sure that this was not a real lance and real stones, but the more examples I find of the link between weapon-talk and sexual offence cases, the less likely that seems.

Aside from confirming the lance/stones metaphor usage, the Gamon case introduces further examples of figurative language for body parts in the sexual context. The woman’s body is discussed in particularly demeaning terms here, which is not very surprising really, but it reinforces the everyday misogyny which would have pervaded the atmosphere of medieval courts.

Recently, I came across a relevant indictment in a file from Yorkshire, from 1454. KB9/149 m. 21 contains the allegation that William Shepley of ‘Wymbursley’ (Wimberley?), Yorkshire,  tailor, on 31st October 1453, came with force and arms (i.e. with swords, bows and arrows), broke the close and house of Henry Smith of Norton nr Campsall, Yorkshire,  feloniously took seven marks in money, and other utensils to the value of six marks, from the goods and chattels of Henry, and (the relevant bit for me) assaulted Agnes Smith, wife of Henry, with force and arms, ‘i.e. with a large instrument of small value called a ballokhafted dagger, of length of approximately one hand and a half (longitudinis unius manip’li & di’) worth one penny, and pierced and entered her ‘secret parts’, raping the said Agnes then and there. William had been outlawed, but, thus far, I have found no further proceedings.

What exactly was the alleged offence against Agnes? There are several mutually reinforcing layers of mud here: the euphemistic reference to secreta, the well-known obscurity or breadth of raptus, the fact that there actually was a sort of dagger with that suggestive name, and the conventional lists of weaponry commonly seen in allegations of assaults or forceful wrongs, but no imagined by anyone actually to have been used.

There are new complications with this new content, relating to the ‘large instrument of small value’ line, the length cited, and the price cited.

While it is usual to include the value of a weapon or item which caused a death (because it, or its value, would be forfeit) and other items are sometimes listed with a price, in allegations of crime, I have never seen this phrase about something being ‘a large instrument of small value’. It seems an unnecessary piece of verbiage, when the price of 1d is also included. Unless it is not an actual dagger, but a penis-as-metaphorical-dagger. But then why include a price – one presumes that there would be no question of a forfeit. Unless this is either satirical, or just an unthinking, instinctive inclusion on the part of the clerk.

On the question of size of the dagger (or not-really-a-dagger), there is also room for debate. The hand, handsbreadth or ‘handful’ as a unit of measurement was certainly ‘a thing’. We know the ‘hand’ as a unit of measurement for the height of horses. There are other overlapping, if not necessarily identical concepts – the handsbreadth, the shaftment, the pes manualis.[ix] A quick, inexpert, survey suggests that these range from about 4 to 13 inches; 10 to 33 cm (so it’s related to an idea of an average – male, adult – hand, but varies in terms of how you measure it, and whether the extended thumb is included or not). This rather large range of possibilities means that, on the hypothesis that the thing being measured is not really a dagger, it is quite difficult to understand whether the ‘instrument’ is really being presented as large (implications of force, damage, perhaps?) or small (implications of ridicule). If the unit of measurement to be understood here is the 13.1 inch pes manualis, then that is on the large side (that conclusion brought to you by some rough sums and quick and possibly dubious internet information). The horse-measuring hand of 4 inches seems rather more likely (giving us an overall length of about 6 inches?). If we are actually talking about a dagger, a quick search brings up lengths of c. 13-14 inches/35-36 cm.[x] Anyway, I don’t think I can say anything very definite here, but others may be able to.  

I have not gone out looking for references in a systematic way, and it seems unlikely that I have, by chance, found all of them. The best view which I can give at the moment is that this weapon/penis association was a known idiom/image in later medieval England, and an unusual, but not unknown, inclusion in legal records.

 

Why is this interesting, and what does it all mean?

Let us assume, for a moment, that the ‘weapons’ are metaphorical. What then?

What are the implications of this weapon imagery in the legal context?  Several things occur to me, all a little tentative just now – I would certainly be interested to know what others think. Here are some of them:

  1. I wonder whether we can read into the occasional intrusion of this sort of imagery in entries on the legal record something of the mood of discussion about such offences, amongst the men involved in making records, or those in court. Is there validity to my intuitive reaction that it sounds like joking about and diminishing the seriousness, or the wrong, of sexual assault and rape? Might it be argued to show the exact opposite: since we know that these prosecutions almost never ‘succeeded’ in the sense of ending with a conviction and punishment according to secular law, aligning it more closely with the ‘ordinary’ sort of violence (and especially categorising the harm as a ‘wound’, as in ‘ordinary’ batteries etc.) showed a greater-than-usual degree of concern. The ‘rape: an offence (predominantly) of sex or violence?’ question is something of an ‘old chestnut’ in modern legal scholarship, but I think that there is some worth in considering linking up those debates with the work on rape/sexual offences in historical studies, which does not always deal with this point.
  2. What does the weapon imagery say about ideas of men, rape and sex?
  • Does associating offending sex with a weapon in some sense dissociate man and penis, and, if so, is this something which serves to minimise – or ‘outsource’ – culpability?
  • How does the association work with ideas/reality of rape as a weapon in (medieval) warfare?
  • What does it all say about contemporary ideas of (socially sanctioned) sex? We are well used to the medieval idea of heterosexual encounters as asymmetrical, perhaps with a ‘playful’ combat aspect. Does using the weapon idea in sexual offence cases suggest an acceptance of a continuity between offending and non-offending sex?
  • If weapon-imagery is to be used, what is the reason to choose one type of weapon rather than another? What implications might there be in choosing a lance rather than a dagger, a Latin/French term or an English one?

As ever with medieval legal records, far more loose ends and questions than concrete findings, but, it does seem to me that one thing the use of weapon-words must have done was to reinforce the connections between the men involved in the legal process (jurors, clerks, those in court) and place them in opposition to the woman against whom, or with regard to whose body, the offence had, allegedly, been committed. The wielding of such weapons was a thing clearly gendered male, and, as such, something drawing men together in exclusion of women. What hints might there be there about gender, law and justice? Apart from anything else, it does suggest great complexity.

 

GS

This version 20/09/2022

 

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash (Going for a general idea of fog/uncertainty here – get it?)

[i] KB 27/697 Rex m.5 AALT IMG 0183. You can see a scan of the record here on the AALT website.

[ii] For the ‘ballock hafted dagger’ (a real weapon), see the earlier post, and Ole-Magne Nøttveit, ‘The Kidney Dagger as a Symbol of Masculine Identity – The Ballock Dagger in the Scandinavian Context’, Norwegian Archaeological Review 39, no. 2 (2006), 138-50.

[iii] See, e.g., D. Izdebska, ‘Metaphors of weapons and armour through time’, in W. Anderson, E.  Bramwell, C. Hough, Mapping English Metaphor Through Time (Oxford, 2016), c. 14; C. Saunders, Rape and Ravishment in the Literature of Medieval England (Woodbridge, 2001), 42; R. Mazo Karras, Sexuality in Medieval Europe: Doing Unto Others, third edn, (Abingdon, 2017), 26, 151, 172; Robert Clark ‘Jousting without a lance’, in F.C. Sautman and P. Sheingorn (eds), Same Sex Love and Desire Among Women in the Middle Ages (New York, 2001), 143-77, 166. The Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources (Brepols, 2018) suggests this meaning too, in its sixth variation on ‘hasta’.

[iv] KB 9/359/mm 67, 68 (these two also mention stones); AALT IMG 141 (1482). There are two on KB 9/359 m.3

[v] KB 9/293 m. 2 This also appears on the KB plea roll: KB 27/725 m. 31d; AALT IMG 567 (1442), in which Richard pleaded not guilty, but made fine, ‘in order to save everyone trouble’.[ The fine was 40s, according to the roll.

[vi] KB9/363 m. 2

[vii] KB 9/363 m.3

[viii] KB 9/359 m.2

[ix] See R.D. Connor, The weights and measures of England (1987), esp. at pp. 2, 29.

[x] I am sure somebody can do better – amateur hour. Looked at, e.g. Ballock Knife | Western European, possibly Britain | The Metropolitan Museum of Art (metmuseum.org) Ballock Dagger – Hundred Years’ War – Royal Armouries coll

‘Poetry in the Dock!’ in the dock

As a dabbler in poetry as well as a legal historian (I know – as if I could not be any less cool …), this one grabbed me as a bit of a sad incident. (It is in the Welsh newspaper archive, though the story is from England).

The date, 1910; the location, Yorkshire. A certain Benjamin H. Swaffield was in court on a D & D (drunk and disorderly) charge. The newspaper reports spell out clearly the particulars of neither the drunkenness nor the disorderliness – all that we are told is that he was allegedly found reciting poetry, and that the alleged recitation was ‘for butchers’ (no doubt there is something snobby going on here – butchers? Poetry? How very incongruous!). Swaffield denies that he had opened his mouth, but the prosecution included, and we are treated to, a couple of the lines allegedly declaimed:

‘He sells one kind only, and that’s delicious

It would not make a king feel vicious.’

Found guilty, the court would have none of the prisoner’s pleading for another chance, or claim to have been converted (from drink? From poetry? To Christianity?). Down he was sent for a month (though at least without hard labour).

Somebody was probably quite pleased with finding this oddity, and with the grand title ‘Poetry in the Dock!’. It struck me, though, as both harsh and poignant. And rather an interesting indication that, if we want to think about legal control of public expression, we would do well to think not just of the usually-headline-grabbing offences and mechanisms (defamation laws, laws on sedition of various sorts, obscenity laws etc.) but of this low-level ridicule and sousing of what seems to have been the humble attempting to put thoughts about their own world into poetry – however clumsily.

I was also struck by the thought that, had he had a way of getting a foot in the door, B.H. Swaffield might well have made a decent living as an advertising copywriter. After all, his competition in 1910 was not exactly bardic (see this fine ad.

– bet that got them flocking in!)

 

GS

19/9/2022

 

Photo by Jonathan Taylor on Unsplash

What the catafalque

Well, I meant to leave the whole royal death well alone (even though it is obviously legal history adjacent), but goat has been got by the coverage of ‘the queue’, and the idea that it is only those who perform in particular ways who are ‘part of history’. It feels important to challenge that, to disagree both with the prevailing narrative of this event (we are all in it together, Blitz spirit , etc. etc.) and also with the idea that history is predominantly about monarchs and battles, and with acts rather than omissions or choices not to act. This chimed in with a tweet this morning by an eminent history professor, and I am afraid I was tipped over into limericking (yes, that is a verb …).

 

The Lying in State

News bulletins beat a tattoo

of a long loyal royalist queue

but they don’t choose to say

vast crowds stayed well away

And that that’s part of history too.

 

GS

16/9/2022

Photo by Nathan Mcgregor on Unsplash

The test(icles) of time

Just doing a little preparation for a forthcoming paper, on mayhem (roughly, wrongful, serious but non-fatal permanent injury) and reminding myself of the relevant parts of everyone’s favourite thirteenth-century treatise, Bracton.

There is one truly bizarre section which I had forgotten all about. It is at II, 409, and it is tacked on to the end of a discussion of appropriate modes of proof in an appeal of wounding and mayhem. The discussion deals with one likely scenario, in cases of alleged serious but non-fatal injury, i.e. the case in which the defendant cannot defend himself by battle, because the person bringing the appeal is, of course, claiming a serious injury – which might be supposed to put him at such a disadvantage in terms of fighting, that even the God who fixed matters so that little, badly-armed David beat strapping man-mountain Goliath would consider it a bit tricky to let right prevail over might. So far, so unsurprising. Equally unsurprising is the explanation that, if trial by battle is ruled out, then the usual substitute would be trial by jury.  Getting towards the odd bit, but still not especially odd, is the suggestion that, sometimes, jury trial itself will be unnecessary – i.e. when the defendant has made a confession of guilt to somebody in authority. In such a case, the record of the confession suffices to dispose of the case. But then we get into it, with the example of this which is given:

‘as may happen where one castrates another and acknowledges that he is seised of he testicles; he cannot make any further denial of the deed contrary to their
record.’[i]

It is not completely gratuitous testicle-talk: there had been a discussion (rather indebted to Roman law sources) of the wrongs of castration just a few sections earlier on (at II, 408). It is, though, hard to understand why anyone would ‘acknowledge that he is seised of the testicles’.  This strikes me as strange as a matter of language – seisin [and the Latin does use exactly this concept too] is a term and idea more regularly encountered in the context of land. It is certainly interesting to see (real) property words being used in relation to a pair of removed testicles, and brings to mind all sorts of interesting modern legal debates about the possibility of property in human bodies and body parts and products. Stranger yet, though, is the underlying idea that a person castrating a man or boy would keep the testicles. Should we be thinking about a bit of gloating immediately after the mutilation, or some sort of preserved trophy? Bracton, annoyingly, gives us no more. Not quite sure what I am going to do with this in my paper, but I don’t suppose I will be able to restrain myself from making some allusion to it. Never said I was classy.

 

GS

10/9/2022

 

Image – come on, what image would you choose? I think this is a relatively tasteful choice …  Photo by Juliana Romão on Unsplash

 

 

[i] Thorne’s translation

A question of Truss

And, after the faffing and fuss,

the answer: it’s PM Liz Truss!

Tax cuts? [heart], workers? – lazy,

beyond that, somewhat hazy

on policy; woe betide us.

 

(No it’s not remotely legal history – but could not let this auspicious day pass without marking it with a work of poetic genius. Either that or I was bored on the train to London for a conference (which features some LH, so there you go – relevant!).

GS

5/9/2022.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

The Criminal Bibliographic Near-Manel

It is masked by the convention of using initials, but I think Naomi Hurnard is the only non-man who made it into this list in the substantive crime chapter of the latest edition of Baker’s Introduction to English Legal History. Not many lady legal historians interested in this area, it would seem (see also the Landmarks book in this list).

Incredibly heartened that there is work afoot by some young women scholars to do something about LH’s woman problem. Not mine to tell, but it is going to be good.

GS (STP)

30/8/2022

 

Lady Lawyers in the Press

For some decades before the reluctant acceptance of the first women into the legal profession in England and Wales,[i] the issue of whether or not this step should be taken was aired in many venues. The Welsh Newspaper Archive provides some interesting insights. Most of them are not particularly Welsh – and the stories are copied from national (English) and international publications. Nevertheless, it is interesting to imagine the newspaper readers of Pembrokeshire, Monmouth, Cardiff or Rhyl digesting these views and comments over their morning bara brith, laverbread etc. etc.

They were invited to consider the early efforts  of women in England and Wales to be accepted as lawyers, and the comparative success of women elsewhere in this area. There is certainly some interest in ‘firsts’ and early female lawyers. Thus reports of the 1870s-1910s mention women (or, more often, ‘ladies’) becoming, or working as, lawyers in  France, Belgium, Ro[u]mania, Switzerland, Scotland, Italy, Netherlands, Russia[ii], Spain,  Illinois, California, New York, Idaho, Nebraska, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Ontario,  Australia, New Zealand, Japan.

 

Nobody will be surprised to hear that there is a fair sprinkling of anti-women feeling. There were, for example,  reports of some lovely, generous and in no way intellectually impoverished, sentiments from the Chief Justice of Australia in 1905, as the first woman barrister was admitted: ‘ladies entering the legal profession were … handicapped by nature and sex. Women were naturally more sympathetic than judicial, more emotional than logical. Besides, knowledge of the world was as essential to success at the Bar as knowledge of the law.’ A charmer, and I do like the idea that ‘the world’ is, by implication, the world of men.

As well as the predictable discriminatory nonsense, there are also some very stupid arguments – trivial reasons not to allow women to be lawyers. One 1897 writer was concerned that language would not cope with it: when the admission of women to the Paris bar was on the cards, he worried out loud that there was a problem about what to call them. Maître would not be appropriate, maîtresse would ‘grate’ and soeur would sound too much like a nun. {In the end, as fellow-fans of the marvellous Joséphine Karlsson from Engrenages/Spiral will know, they did the unthinkable and went with Maître, even if it did ‘unsex’ them – definitely not a problem for J. Karlsson …]

Oh and then there is ‘humour’ – the predictable misogynist nonsense applied to the idea of women lawyers. Somehow worse when it is thrown about in relation to a profession supposed to have rules about what constitutes evidence, isn’t it? So, they use their wiles to get ahead – up to and including marrying a client to keep him … They are evasive about their age.  Yawn. They are ridiculous and insist on having the last word. They talk too much! No, they really love talking. Really – they can talk a chap to sleep!  On the subject of talking too much, and thus needing to be shut up, I do find it rather telling that a 1910 report on the Divorce Commission, mentioning evidence from an eminent US lady lawyer, unnamed, about the reasons for rising divorce rates there, the report breaks off, effectively shutting her up mid-sentence, like this: ‘No longer would woman submit to the domination [Proceeding]’. Take that, you shrew! Absolutely no experience whatsoever of such treatment …

There is some more generous sentiment – e.g. approval for the hard work and perseverance of NZ first, Lucy Rebecca Benjamin, who got where she was through hard work, her family not being rich. There are positive accounts – some time afterwards – of US women lawyers. There is also what might be described as surprised approval at times. Some accounts note a woman lawyer’s appropriate conduct (such as acting with ‘due gravity’). There is certainly surprise in the account of a French ‘lady barrister’ making out ‘a good case for her client’ with a speech which was ‘both clever and practical’, and which ‘impressed’ the Court. And another French female advocate was described as ‘eloquent’, and having had a ‘triumph’ in getting her client acquitted – but the matter was surely only newsworthy because she was a woman, and thus this was surprising.[iii]

Some things phrased as praise are very much coming from a particular, narrow, view of gender appropriate behaviour. It is a positive, for example, that Myra Bradwell, Illinois legal pioneer, never allowed her lawyering ‘to conflict with the claims of her growing family.

And then there is the French story of the ‘captivating lady lawyer’ who ‘charms [an] impressionable jury’, which brings us to …

 

That’s all very well, but is she hot?

OK, they would not have said ‘hot’, but there is a fair amount of rather creepy and certainly belittling comment about the looks of the early female lawyers. Hard not to get pointlessly angry at it (at least in the sense that the writers in question are long gone – though maybe not, in the sense that some of these attitudes are still zombie-ing on today).

Early American female attorney, Miss Phoebe Couzins, received a particularly gushing description in 1870: she was young, ‘about 21, tall, well-formed and strikingly handsome’. And there was more. ‘Her hair of the raven hue [black – he means black] and her heavy eyebrows and lashes give force to a most intellectual face.’ The grim condescension and dreadful attempts at literary flourish continue – ‘She approached the stand with timid gracefulness that won all hearts before she said a word, and then assuming, apparently without design [oooh!] an exquisite pose, she opened her lips, and the sweet voice came ringing out like coins dropped down a many-fathomed well.’ [You what?] No need to record anything the poor woman actually said. Or if she really sounded like metal plinking and plopping into a well, possibly there was a bit of a communication issue. Do you know what, I think somebody rather fancied our Phoebe.

The ‘Roumanian’ pioneer, Mlle Bilbisco,  seeking admission to the French profession was described in 1890 as having ‘a magnificent pair of dark eyes and a wide but well-formed mouth’. But this focus on her physical attributes was absolutely not gratuitous, right, because that mouth ‘enable[d] her to throw her voice to a considerable distance’.

In 1894, the sole Spanish lady lawyer who could be found, was noted ‘not only for her legal acumen, but for her great personal beauty’.

The aforementioned French captivating lady lawyer had ‘a slight feminine figure’, ‘of medium height, dark haired and dark-eyed. She has a silvery voice, and a befitting gravity of manner. … 26 … looks well in her robes … personal charm …’ And there is some treatment of her technique – ‘She has so effective a way of appeal to the sympathies that the judge … was heard to murmur “The stage has lost another Rachel in our new confre&re”. I have to say I like her bold line of argument, in defending a client up for homicide – the argument to the jury was, apparently ‘You have mothers and sisters of your own. Can you say in truth none of them has ever raised a hand against you in anger? My client’s hand had a knife in it, but that was her misfortune, not her crime.’ Hmmm. That might have required a bit of ‘sheer personal charm’ to persuade me.

 

And what did she wear?

The account of another early French female advocate was keen to tell us she was wearing an advocate’s gown [as opposed to? Can-can outfit]. This, perhaps, had a certain ‘wearing the trousers’ idea about it – because it was a case in which the woman was appearing with her husband, also an advocate as her junior, ‘playing second fiddle’: ‘unusual’ indeed, and probably in a rather disconcerting way.

Dress itself may be the story, as in an 1896 discussion of an American lawyer, who had spoken in court in her bonnet – her headgear being more important than her words – and the reported 1910 argument as to whether it was acceptable for a lady lawyer to wear a ‘hobble skirt’, (indeed a daft garment).

Inspiring art

There is reference to … er … art on the topic of women lawyers too. I have three exhibits for you:

  1. A 1906 ‘amusing sketch’, co-written by a woman, called ‘A 21st century trial’, imagining a female-dominated courtroom. Honestly, read it.
  2. I am taken with the idea of a courtroom drama told through the medium of silent film, as the clients of a Tonypandy cinema were treated to a  film called The Weaker Sex in 1917 – which featured a woman lawyer being … good. More – being better than the boys …. And saving the day … though also with a flavour of Standing By Her Man … Really want to see this now, but can’t seem to track it down…
  3. Words cannot describe the awfulness of an 1895 lawyer-lady lawyer romance story. Or I cannot. Read it if you are of a stronger constitution…. Here. Bleurgh!!!

 

28/8/2022

GS

 

[i] See, e.g., this site.

[ii] And see this one.

[iii] See also this one.

Image c/o wikimedia commons

Mediums in local media

OK so not really legal history, but …

I was looking through the ‘What’s On’ section of the local free newspaper, and found this intriguing opportunity:

Feels as if they forgot to keep communicating to us mere mortals at the end. Possibly the more advanced medium would be able to work out how to join the meeting other than by turning up (Zoom? Astral Plane?). Or could the mysterious ending conceal an invitation to those on THE OTHER SIDE????

GS

27/8/2022

Heavy humour – but, pants!

Idling a bit, I confess – I turned to a favourite internet source, the fabulous Welsh Newspaper Archive, in search of the weird and wonderful topics set for essay competitions and other writing competitions, and the search threw up the following example of extremely stodgy 19th C ‘humour’ ….

I am sure this appeared in many places, but I found it in the Cardiff Times, 8th June 1894.

Now just imagining the worthy citizens of Cardiff finding that highly amusing. Humour really doesn’t travel well through time, does it. Pants, and the transatlantic pant difference, however – never not funny.

GS

26/8/2022