I can’t believe that it has taken me until now to bring together two important themes in my life: Land Law (taught it almost my whole academic career) and vampire stories (Dracula, Buffy, more versions of Dracula, the Vampyre, Carmilla, even Twilight – despite Bella Swan). What is there to say about Land Law and Vampires? Well, it dawned (!) on me as I watched an episode of latest fun trashy binge-watch The Vampire Diaries, (no, not even mildly embarrassed … vampires are cool and sexy and fascinating, especially when not the tortured goody-goody type, and obviously beat werewolves any day) that there are lots of unanswered points in relation to the Undead and their interactions with systems of property.
Can I come in? Yes, that one. It’s a common ‘rule of the game’ that a vampire cannot come into a home unless invited. From the point of view of suspense and narrative, it’s great – because often the person in the house doesn’t know the stranger on the doorstep is a vampire, and we groan at the uninformed acquiescence (because there’s no idea of informed consent here, is there?) as the vampire gains freedom to enter at will. Also, there is the comedy potential of a vampire denied entry walking into an invisible barrier.
The Vampire Diaries, however, has had a couple of scenes playing with this whole idea, with resonances for those of us involved in another area regarded as a little … undead … – Land Law. In series one, Damon (everyone’s favourite evil-but-good-but-evil vampire) and Alaric (slightly Harrison Ford-ish human with a magic ring) banter about the rule, revealing that there are some doubts as to exactly who has the right to invite somebody in, in particular with regard to short term lets, motels etc. It’s not fully fleshed out, but it hints at one of the issues. There is much that we need to know:
To which buildings does the rule apply?
Who has the right to invite?
There’s just so much, isn’t there? And oddly, not much in the way of existing scholarship (honourable exceptions in terms of general law/vampire study: Anne McGillivray’s ‘”He would have made a wonderful solicitor”: law, modernity and professionalism in Bram Stoker’s Dracula‘, in Lawyers and Vampires : Cultural Histories of Legal Professions, edited by David Sugarman, and W. W. Pue, (2004), c. 9; Anthony Bradney . ‘Choosing laws, choosing families: images of law, love and authority in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” Web J.C.L.I. 2003, 2 – the abstract of which looks promising, and which I’m trying to find). It’s a shame I am on study leave next year, or I would definitely be suggesting this for a Final Year Research Project. Ah well, like the undead, it will keep (as long as it avoids direct sunlight, decapitation, or a stake through the heart …)
And an update, 15/3 – the latest episode of VD (yes, we are using that) which I saw (s.2 ep. 18) went totally for the Venn diagram overlap between Vampires and Land Law, by having a conveyance of a house to (slightly drippy but alive and human) Elena, so that she could use her right to invite/refuse to keep out undesirable vampires, but let in her paramour, Stefan (he of the tortured soul, frequently demonstrated by moping in a tight vest) and other vampire allies.
(Image – what is very obviously a vampire, from an AALT scan of a Common Pleas roll of 1489: ‘vampires and legal history’ is a thing.)
For a long time, I have been conscious of an odd habit amongst many of those writing about law: referring to the weakening, diminution or nullification of laws and institutions as ’emasculation’. After doing some pre-tutorial reading for a cycle of Land Law tutorials on proprietary estoppel some time ago, I could contain my annoyance no longer: why are academics and lawyers so keen on this imagery of emasculation, and why they are not more frequently ‘called out’ on the implications of using a word which assumes that that which is good and useful has male genitalia, and that its goodness and usefulness are located in the aforesaid genitalia? I started collecting examples, and have updated this a number of times. It came up once again in my Land Law preparation this week (Human Rights & Land Law, What is Property?) so it felt like time to revamp and re-post.
The one which started me off was a well-known case comment entitled ‘Emasculating Estoppel’ ( Conv 210), but I soon saw that it really is pretty common, and is often used in rather odd ways. A quick database search threw up examples relating to the emasculation of:
In a previous iteration, I had noted the odd rays of hope suggesting that people are beginning to see that this language might be best avoided, and tipped my hat to the appearance of a set of scare quotes around the word in Miss S C Hall v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police 2015 WL 5202319, before Mrs Justice Elisabeth Laing DBE, at  in her judgment. Perhaps other judges, academic commentators, barristers, might try out ‘undermine’, ‘weaken’, ‘render useless’ or some such non-violent and not unnecessarily gendered phrase? Surely it wouldn’t ’emasculate’ their arguments? But no, ’emasculation’ remains a metaphor of first resort for many people. A cursory look suggests that there’s most waving of ‘emasculation’ in commercial cases these days, but it’s not only the more traditional, hide-bound areas in which it crops up – e.g. we see a sneaky ‘emasculation of the State’s health and safety enforcement agency’ in K.D. Ewing and John Hendy, ‘Covid 19 and the failure of labour law Part I’, Industrial Law Journal 2020, 49(4), 497-538, note 105. Depressing.
Until ‘the penny drops’, I will be watching out for more, and would specially like to find the casual sexism bingo row of ‘emasculation’ plus a ‘mistress’, plus a cricketing metaphor in the same case or article.
(various times, updated 11/3/2021)
(Image- a tasteful picture of medieval underwear: File:Braies 14th century.jpg – Wikimedia Commons It was difficult to find an appropriate, but not too rude, picture for this. I have gone with ‘pants’, which has a certain connection with the subject at hand, and also has the benefit of bringing to mind a slangy metaphorical usage of its own, used as it is – in the UK at least – to denote something which is not very good at all … Take that as you will.)
It’s not quite the season of compulsory romance, but Valentine’s Day, and, for those lucky enough to be Welsh, the problematic Dydd Santes Dwynwen (Jan 25th – none of your Burns Night here, thank you very much)[i] will soon be upon us. There is, therefore, half an excuse to write about the online National Archives online exhibition about documents relating to love, which can be found at With Love – The National Archives
A very nice idea, and well presented. Sadly, I must report that it is inflaming rather than soothing my own particular pining – for the archives themselves. Very much looking forward to The After Times when I can get my hands on some MSS once again.
— Gwen Seabourne (@gcseabourne) December 19, 2020
Tonight, I finally found a good place to go and look at the night sky event of 2020, the Grand Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. Semi-confined as we still are, here in Bristol (now Tier 2 rather than Tier 3, but, apart from it still not being OK to lick doorknobs, or indeed people, I have lost track of what that means…) it took a bit of thought to come up with a decent lookout spot, and it started to … persist … down with rain just as I was setting off, but the view from the Downs was not bad at all.
Of course, apart from just enjoying the phenomenon, with my birdwatching binoculars (I am a strictly part-time stargazer) my mind could not help but run over various DEEPER MEANINGS: about things appearing to be touching, but in fact being spectacularly distant, about human longing to see and feel connections – life, the universe and everything. (Never quite left the angsty sixth form phase).
And then, equally ‘of course’, off my thoughts went to LEGAL HISTORY – because one of the reasons this celestial event is so cool is that it comes around very infrequently. What, I asked myself, was going on in the world of history/legal history at other points when this conjunction could be seen? Which historical heroes and villains might have seen it? Well, my old chum Edward Coke (ruffs, bad temper, casual relationship with the truth …) was around the last time the internet says it happened (in 1623) but would not have been able to see it, since on that occasion, it was too close to the sun. We are told that the last time it would have been possible to see the event was much further back, on 4th March 1226. The resonance which this has for me, and where I am now, is that, at this date, Eleanor of Brittany, unfortunate Angevin noblewoman and subject of an article I wrote long ago (Gwen, Eleanor of Brittany and her Treatment by King John and Henry III https://ssrn.com/abstract=3609270) as well as cropping up in other works, was involuntarily resident in Bristol, confined in the castle, and, not that she knew it, never again to be allowed her liberty. No doubt other interesting things were going on at the time (Carpenter’s Henry III Part I is earmarked for reading when I get a bit of spare time over the holiday, so I will be better informed shortly) but that rather self-centred connection is the one which suggests itself this evening.
Anyway, it seems appropriate, somehow, that 2020 should be rounded off by a celestial marvel, the ‘purblind Doomsters’ putting piffling humans in our rightful place good and proper. Here’s hoping that 2021 becomes calmer and less interesting for historians of the future.
And this qualifies as Legal History because …
It is … shall we say interesting … to note that my dear employer, and presumably the decision is one by the senior management team, has changed the way that it is publishing information on coronavirus, now that the cumulative total of cases looks very bad, and the institution is hovering around the top 5 or 6 according to the UCU dashboard (all the others above it being in known hotspots in the NE and NW and E Midlands).
Pleased to see that somebody is trying to fight back: https://worriedacademic.wixsite.com/bristolunicoviddata
Otherwise, feeling pretty powerless, as there is so little accountability for all of this. Sometimes, all that’s left is resistance by limerick. So here’s one I found earlier (in my head):
‘Our priority is the health and safety of our staff, students and community’ [signed, from a safe distance, some very well paid people with an interest in minimising the impression that they are putting other people in harm’s way, ]
We care about students and staff,
don’t want you to worry – don’t laugh –
we promise you, that’s
why we’ve swapped scary stats
for a sweet, soothing, ‘what virus?’ graph.
… 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 thanks 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.
The stiffest and starchiest stuff,
bleached, folded, fussed over enough
to demonstrate I’m
rich in servants and time:
behold, my ridiculous ruff!
Well, this was a bit of a clumsy attempt to justify including an item about ruffs in what is (very vaguely) a blog about legal history. Obviously, there was a long tradition in various jurisdictions of legislating about the sorts of clothing which people could wear, but not (as far as I know) specifically about what is clearly the most ridiculous item of neckwear ever – the early modern ruff.
I have been equally horrified and obsessed by the ruff since being bought a Marks and Spencers book about the Tudors, one childhood Christmas, with all of the classic, much-reproduced pictures of the celebs of the day, increasingly, over the 16th C, ruffed up. I mean, the codpieces were … disturbing (especially on young Edward VI – just so wrong) … but it was the ruffs that really stood out for me. They seemed to be a combination of extreme discomfort and extreme silliness. Also a seriously bad idea to be drawing attention to your neck in an era rather well known for its beheading. Some of them even made the ruffee look like familiar pictures of John the Baptist’s head on a plate.
I seem to keep coming across ruff-pics these days, when looking up biographies of legal history ‘great men’ or on social media feeds about various historical things, and feel the need to work out some of my repressed ruff issues. Here, then, is my chart of ruffs – no doubt to be updated as more ruff-porn comes to my attention.
A subtle little number, sort of polo-neck-cum-ruff, from R. Dudley
The ruff itself is less than spectacular – but with that puffy sleeve, chain and skull accessorising, a winner from ‘Mam Cymru’
It’s Walter Raleigh, wearing a doily https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Coke#/media/File:Sir_Walter_Raleigh.jpg
I am not convinced that ruffs are very godly, bishop Hooper
Johannes Eccard is wearing a ruff, but he’s not happy about it …
In everyone’s favourite tale of domestic violence, Mr Punch’s dog, Toby, always seems to have a ruff
Because there’s no need to be all business-like about your armour,
The absolute satisfaction of knowing yours is the biggest, silliest ruff out there. Also a fine example of the implications of ruffs for hair-dos.
The the humble and charming Sir Edward Coke – ruthless misogynist, show-off and snappy dresser.
Then there’s the picture above – the ‘beard squeezer ruff’ – right up under the ears too 0 astounding.
Was there ever any doubt – this one has it all: the spectacular ruff, the puffy sleeves, the hair … apotheosis of the ruff – ruff as neck-halo, almost.
OK, good to get that off my chest. Or neck. Or whatever.
Not quite worthy of a place on the Completely Official Ruff Pics Top Ten, but may get there in time …
This picture looks as if it has had a bit of early modern photo-shopping. That hat is so 2D. But it’s the ‘ruff almost meets hat’ and ‘scraggy beard’ combo which is worthy of recognition:
Well hello doily!
An honourable mention in the ruff-accessorising category goes to this gent – another Coke – who has cut up a doily and stuck it to his hat and cuffs, to cheer up his look. Also love the detail of shadow on his ruff from his little pointy beard. Marvellous.
Take the ruff with the smooth
William Cecil sets off his hat/ruff/beard combo with a lot of velvet. Marks for detail in relation to the ‘hand ruff’ cuffs (why not make your wrists just as uncomfy as your neck?) and that emphatic rod (virga – definitely has subtext…)
Born #OTD 1520/1 William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley.
A chief advisor to Elizabeth I, Burghley held many important posts in his career, incl. Secretary of State and Lord Treasurer.
Find out more about his career in the House of Commons in his #HistParl bio: https://t.co/SZykYd2vq4 pic.twitter.com/Z6T2IVsg9h
— HistoryofParliament (@HistParl) September 13, 2020
Not even close …
I am afraid this chap just gets it all wrong. There really is no point in ruffing if your ruff is overshadowed by a brushed beard and natty hat. Yes I know it was early in ruff history, but still…:
Died #OTD 1549, Anthony Denny, MP for Ipswich and later Hertfordshire, and close friend of Henry VIII.
— HistoryofParliament (@HistParl) September 10, 2020
What about this one – excellent illustration of variation of ruff angle: James VI of Scotland in the 1580s, ruffed at a very steep angle indeed – going full ‘John the Baptist’s head on a plate’: the head and body seem to be completely separate.
And, new in on 5/11/2020 it’s this veritable neck-tutu from Henry Howard, earl of Northants, d. 1614 (from https://blogs.bl.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2019/11/coppie-the-words-but-burne-this-paper.html:
This one – can’t quite put my finger on what it looks like: meringue?
Died #OTD 1642, Henry Montagu, lawyer and MP for London 1604 & 1614.
Following a prominent career in the Commons, Montagu was elevated to the peerage in 1620, becoming lord high treasurer and later lord privy seal.
Read his Commons bio here: https://t.co/dCKFkRws5E pic.twitter.com/wWZY9ZvT0m
— HistoryofParliament (@HistParl) November 7, 2020
Ruffs: it will never be enough
Well, it would seem that my ruff-obsession remains. Entirely unable to help myself commenting on two more instances of ruff-age, which turned up on Twitter:
This one is a lovely scene of friendship and pastimes, but I can’t help but wonder (yes I know that is rather C. Bradshaw) whether it might have been easier to sew, or to cuddle a child, without the impediment of a ludicrous and extensive folderol about the neck. There must surely have come a point at which the ruff interfered with visibility of the hands or piece of embroidery (directly or because of its shadow). At the same time I would be a bit disappointed to find out that ruffs were not actually worn all the time like this, and it was just a bit of an artistic convention.
Isabella Rosner on Twitter: “I just learned about this image of women embroidering in the @britishlibrary’s friendship album of Gervasius Fabricius zu Klesheim made between 1603 and 1637 and I truly cannot stop thinking about it. Where has it been all my life?? https://t.co/27RF0gjvqL” / Twitter
Feast your eyes on this multi-layered monstrosity. It puts me in mind of those foam collars worn by people with a whiplash injury, or – in a certain sense – the ‘cones of shame’ worn by dogs who have had an operation. No way Frankie would be licking his stitches with this thing on.
Gray’s Inn on Twitter: “Did you know that the Library holds a collection of pre-1800 books, including a collection of the works of Francis Bacon? Whilst the Library is closed you can find out more remotely here: https://t.co/ohEQOmDWhL https://t.co/PNI0NOuJHf” / Twitter
More treats for ruff-watchers here: ignore Charles (casually wearing a suit of armour – like you do; what this? I just put on the first thing that was lying about in my room …) and look at the necks of (i) the Infanta (is that a furry ruff? What would we call that? A fluff?) and (ii) Buckingham – who is sporting the sort of antimacassar thing I remember from my grandmother’s sofa. Ruffs and silly neckwear clearly still holding firm in the 1620s.
John McCafferty on Twitter: “18 Feb 1623: Charles I & Buckingham set off for #Madrid #otd disguised & under false names to go courting the Infanta Maria, sister to Philip IV #otd. They arrive on 7 March https://t.co/0O9ewSkAtu” / Twitter
Oh dear, yet another muddled bit of journalism, pushing the tired ‘anything bad can be called medieval’ line. Simon Jenkins’s piece in the Guardian today makes a sensible overall point about the pointlessness, at best, of most incarceration. But he can’t help himself from going down the easy, lazy route of calling bad things ‘medieval’.
‘Except for dangerously violent individuals, imprisonment is a medieval hangover, a world of clanging gates, yelling guards and filthy cells, the sole purpose being to “teach ’em a lesson”. ‘
Why is this important? Well calling Bad Things ‘medieval’ insults and ‘others’ the long dead, and annoys academics working on medieval matters. In the case of this particular Bad Thing, It is also just inaccurate, in that mass incarceration as punishment for serious offences, in great big fortressy institutions is more properly laid at the feet of the Victorians than medieval people. Likewise, if the point is about the poor conditions, or solitary confinement, then that is not something which is specifically ‘medieval’. There is a big, important, point that is missed, in labelling such Bad Things medieval, and that is that it plays down the connection between the Bad Thing and a particular, later, mode of societal organisation – capitalism. Prison policy, in the nineteenth century and today, is deeply connected to capitalism. It helps nobody to ignore that.
Lawyers and legal historians do love a body metaphor, don’t they – they are all over the place, from descriptions of marriage (one flesh, unity, man as head woman as body versions …) to Baker’s ‘The Law’s Two Bodies’, to all of those rather repulsive metaphors about precedent and childbirth (which somehow segues into horse breeding – you know the one I mean: Bagnall, Cowcher, Denning, Eves), and the even more dodgy ‘emasculation’ references (male bits = good; no male bits = weak and useless). I suppose it all goes back a long way; maybe calling a collection of law a ‘corpus’ did not help. Some interesting possible routes along the lines of Corpus Iuris > Corpus Christi > transubstantiation > it’s OK to make fanciful metaphors about bodies when discussing very definitely disembodied, world of the mind, types of things. Wouldn’t it be an interesting experiment to just … not. The campaign against body metaphors for things that are intellectual constructs starts here (once I have removed several ‘corpus’ references from chapter I’m currently working on …