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.

Long rain, short reign

Very wet morning walk today – not easy to get myself going. Did see this curiosity though – an Edward VIII postbox. How odd to think of people putting these up, assuming that they were in for years of E VIII. Historical hindsight, eh? Not that I am either in favour of monarchy, nor at all sympathetic to E VIII (very dubious character). But an interesting little time capsule of a thing. And of course I was immediately set off thinking about a micro-legal-history project on the Laws of Edward VIII. No, no, no … far too many other things on my plate …

(Yes, it was dark – winter + obviously this)



Woman in 2030 – not long to go now …

Today, looking for something in HeinOnline, I stumbled across  F.E. Smith (Birkenhead), The World in 2030 A.D. (London, 1930). I had never seen this before, and was interested to see that it includes a chapter ‘Woman in 2030’ – summary – there will be ectogenesis, but we should know our place… must get working on that charm and wit, only 7 years to go …


What a nice man! I note, also that it is dedicated to his daughter, Pamela (p. v). I wonder what she made of Daddy’s thoughts on women.

In some ways – apart from the content, this is my ideal book, bringing together law, history and a sort of sci-fi (and the illustrations are great). But then there is the content – not just dubious sexism, but also all sorts of other stuff which is very questionable from a race point of view,

I am excited to see that, within 7 years we will have:

limitless cheap power (p.3)

no more epidemic diseases (p.7)

completely painless childbirth (p.11)

drudgery abolished by science (p. 17)

Though sadly, as p. 21 tells us …

And the ‘ideas of Asiatic peoples’ may mean that we don’t in fact get rid of epidemics (p. 21). Yes, there is plenty of racism (and eugenics) in here.


A few other odd suggestions

p. 36 – ‘Cavalry, organised as mounted machine-gunners, will come into their own again.

p.72 mentions a 16 hour working week (because, technology, science etc etc). Wouldn’t that be nice!

p.88 We will be on our way to being content with the ‘rule of experts’ rather than party politics.

p. 91 All children will go to university.

p. 92 The conquest of poverty will be in sight.

p. 103 ‘Dirt will have disappeared from the ordinary man’s experience.’

p. 107 ‘As wealth increases, we shall all be able to ride to hounds.’

p. 155 ‘British rule in India will endure.’

p. 191 Average life span will be 120 years, and life will end with euthanasia.









‘Emasculation’: they are still at it …

I have a long-standing concern with the metaphorical use of the concept of  ‘emasculation’ as a way of describing weakening something or effectively rendering it useless. (See older comments on it). Why – well, think about it, the message is ‘something with male genitalia good, powerful, strong; something without male genitalia feeble, damaged, pointless’. It is less frequently encountered in legal sources, these days, but not as absent as it should be.

A quick New Year scan of Westlaw shows that it came up in some recent cases, discussing the weakening of statutes, statutory provisions, powers, etc. (see, e.g., DPP v Bailey et al. [2022] EWHC 3302 at para 18; Interactive Ltd. v. Oovee Ltd [2022] EWCA Civ 1665 at para 40; Novartis [2022] EWHC 959 (Ch) at 31). Particularly striking, perhaps, was its appearance in the Supreme Court (Lady Arden) in Triple Point v PTT [2021] UKSC 29 at 53, in relation to emasculation of a cap on liability by way of a ‘cap carve-out’ (which seems an odd mixture of different parts of the body, apart from anything else, though I suppose the ‘carve out’ idea has some resonance with the process of castration).

There is not too much resort to this sort of thing in modern legal scholarship, but I did note a pair of emasculations in an article in one of the most prestigious English law journals: see Neil Duxbury, ‘Final court jurisprudence in the crystallisation era’ L.Q.R. 2023, 139(Jan), 153-166, 165, in which a law professor chose to describe the practice of undermining or weakening precedents through the language of removal of male genitalia. It is very interesting to ponder what is the ‘spin’ on the subject matter of the article – jurisprudence, modern legal history of a sort – which is given by this emasculation vocabulary, to what extent its inclusion was uncritically carrying on the patterns of past analysis, to what extent it was a considered choice, and whether there is any sense in which it was necessary to use this metaphor in an article in 2023.




Photo by Esteban Bernal on Unsplash

New Year

Just a bit of New Year fluff …

Love this campaign from a maker of fine pharmaceuticals, from the early 20th C – just what everyone needs for New Year, and as ever, I am in awe of the slick advertising. Offer is from 1907,

And what about this handsome chap with a fine moustache – Mr J Belcher of London – a sufferer not from belching but from, er, more down-the-way issues,  used in the same Bile Beans campaign of 1907?

Anyway, a happy 2023 to anyone who stumbles upon this (in 2023 – otherwise rather redundant wishes …). May better things lie ahead for all of us, even if we are just a bit late for the Bile Beans offer …



Love and peace from Sir F. Pollock

Came across this today, and it is rather nice – lawyers, historians – let’s be friendly and interdisciplinary!

(from F. Pollock, Oxford Lectures and Other Discourses (London, 1890), 45(

Now wouldn’t that be nice?

Legal History goals for 2023 …

[Editing out the latter parts of this chapter, celebrating Empire in a very hubristic way …]



The case of the Southwark sorcerer

Now here is an unusual case from the King’s Bench plea roll for Michaelmas term 1364. (I was looking for mayhem, but found … magic and madness).

And it goes a little something like this …

Surrey. Richard, son of Nicholas Cook of Southwark (by attorney) sued Nicholas le Clerke of Southwark, asking him to explain why he had taken and imprisoned Richard at Southwark, and kept him imprisoned until Richard lost his mind [sensum suum amisit], as a result of seeing evil spirits, diabolically summoned up by Nicholas, [per visum malignorum spirituum per coniuraciones diabolicas per prefatum Nicholaum factas suscitatorum] and other outrages, to his great damage, against the peace etc. Nicholas did not turn up, so the entry descends into procedural things, and I am yet to find any resolution.

Whatever happened, the point is that this case was brought, and entertained by the court. It is, I think,  quite interesting to see  the use of malign magic as part of a trespass case, and the idea that spirits could be raised and deployed in a way which could cause a man to lose his sanity. To be absolutely fair to Nicholas le Clerke, it is not quite clear that the allegation was that he was deliberately setting out to use the spirits to make Richard lose his mind. That might have been an unfortunate side-effect of his fiendish antics.

It all seems a bit matter-of-fact and low-key, doesn’t it – certainly when compared with early modern treatment of harm caused by the summoning of spirits?  A good one to use as an illustration in future legal history classes on witchcraft laws, I think.



Photo by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash

Festive mercy from Judge Owen

Here’s a seasonal snippet on somebody I have become interested in, as a biographical subject: a report in the Evening Express for 14th December 1906, telling readers that Judge Owen was giving ‘contemptuous debtors’ who were brought before him, in his court at Newport, an additional week to pay, so as to avoid locking them up over the Christmas period, giving them a marginally less bleak midwinter.





Ladies – know your place!

A couple of newspaper snippets caught my attention today, both on the topic of female incursion into the male domain of history. In one case, from 1895, this seems to have been treated with some scorn:

In the other case, from 1901, I suppose it is treated with some amazement:

I must say, a night out watching a child answering history questions sounds absolutely thrilling! Why doesn’t somebody bring that back?



Not giving up the day job

Sometimes the spirit moves me to attempt a cartoon. Snag: absolutely no artistic talent whatsoever. Nevertheless, I am moved to share this fine work of comparative legal historical art created during a very good presentation on an aspect of contract law history, as a contribution to the gaiety of nations on a dark November day …