Category Archives: General Rambles

Top Ten Gwens: a mostly trivial list

Named after my grandmother, and as an embodiment of Welsh heritage, I have always been proud of my name (it’s the sort of bone-headed pride which comes despite not having a hand in the choosing of it). Today, this splendid name seems to be in something of a decline – even on the lists of Welsh baby names (it’s all about Seren, apparently). So here, to assist in the Gwenaissance, is a list of fabulous Gwens of past, present and the imagination…

  1. Gwen Cooper (Torchwood) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cYxWY1r7BiM (she’s not English, you know) See the source image
  2. Gwenllian ferch Gruffudd https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gwenllian_ferch_Gruffydd (definite Xena, Warrior Princess vibe) See this rousing trailer: https://twitter.com/BBCWales/status/1264605832081072136 – I’m not the only one who thought Xena.
  3. Gwenllian ferch Llywelyn (tragic stolen medieval baby princess, but has her own society) http://www.princessgwenllian.co.uk/
  4. Gwen John (artist) https://biography.wales/article/s3-JOHN-MAR-1876 (talented, slightly scandalous).
  5. Gwen Guthrie https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gwen_Guthrie (nothing going on but the rent: first non-British Gwen I ever came across: international Gwen-solidarity)
  6. Gwen(ffrewi) St Winifred – she of the bouncing head, decapitation/stiched back on miracle: well, well … https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Winifred https://www.stwinefrideswell.org.uk/
  7. Gwen(doline) Mary Lacy, from Malory Towers. Misunderstood and misrepresented by her goody two-shoes over-privileged boarding school nemesis, Darrell Rivers. Quite right not to like lacrosse.
  8. Gwen from the film Gwen (a bit scary, but nice big GWEN on the poster – good for Gwen-awareness… https://www.empireonline.com/movies/news/exclusive-new-trailer-and-poster-for-dark-drama-gwen/ )
  9. Gwen Stefani (what is she up to? Deserves her place for barking brilliance of Rich Girl)
  10. Gwen Torrence (official fastest Gwen in the Gwenlympics https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gwen_Torrence )

Go Gwens!

GS

16/5/2020

And hello to a new Gwen

New to me at least – check out this piece on Gwen Farrar – a vintage comedic Gwen (category: Gwentertainment)  https://womenshistorynetwork.org/partners-and-pals-by-alison-child/

18/9/202

A blow to Gwen-awareness

This week, like much of academia in the UK and elsewhere, I have been in recording and captioning mode, as we prepare for the new Blended Learning World (the sensible bit  – online learning – rather than the ludicrous face to face during a pandemic bit) and I have learned a terrible truth: the captioning software does not recognise the name Gwen. I am therefore ‘when seaborne’ … Not so bothered about the second bit – in fact my family did spell it without the u until c. 1900 when they decided Seabourne was posher, or something. But not recognising ‘Gwen’ – clearly an outrage!

Historical Gwen Injustice

This one is not at all trivial. The first woman executed in Wales for witchcraft, during the reign of Elizabeth I, was, apparently, a Gwen: Gwen ferch Elis to be exact: https://parish.churchinwales.org.uk/a065/history-en/gwen-ferch-elis-1542-1594/

An injustice at more than one level.

Gwens in space …

Watched an old favourite tonight – Galaxy Quest, I had forgotten its Gwen-relevance, with Sigourney Weaver as Gwen Demarco: See the source image

https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/74/a8/b2/74a8b2d4ffab5135dfd0e7136f983ea3.jpg

5/12/2020

Gwentertainment continued … a long-lived and classy Gwen

Gwen Ffrangcon Davies (1891-1992): ‘legend’, it says! Good work!

Gwen Ffrangcon Davies (1891-1992) – Collections Online (museum.wales)

Additional Pages: A historical source in their own right

For most of my academic career, reading at speed, and always off to the next book on the list, I have skipped and skimmed the ‘additional pages’ – the Roman-numbered ones at the beginning and end of a volume, containing the preface and index. More recently, though, I have become a little obsessed. First of all, I started looking at the index of any book I was reading, to see whether they had anything to say about women (in the case of Legal History books, the answer was very often no). Then, more recently, I have started to read prefaces. A particular feature seems to be the ‘minimising and patronising thanks’ motif – especially the brief, duty-bound, mention of women who no doubt did more than the transcription and typing credited to them. The attitude conveyed is one of arrogance and self-importance, seeking to emphasise the author’s own struggle, importance and genius. A particular gem turned up in my reading today, featuring not only women-minimising, but also something of an under-estimate of the others involved in bringing a book to press.

 

In Selden Society vol. 62, C.T. Flower, Introduction to the Curia Regis Rolls (London,. 1944), Preface, viii, Our Cyril (as I am sure he was known) informs his reader that ‘This book has been read in proof by my colleague, Mr. L. C. Hector, who has made numerous suggestions, of which I have used a very large proportion. I am greatly indebted to Mr. Stuart Moore for his unfailing encouragement, and to Professor Plucknett for his careful scrutiny of the proof sheets. My wife has made my task much easier by typing more than half the text, although she was at the time crippled by an accident. A last word of thanks is due to the printers, on whom the times in which we are living must have imposed great difficulties, of which they seldom made me aware.’

 

So what sets my teeth on edge here? Well, first of all it is the bit about his wife. No name. It’s his wife and he can’t even be bothered to include her name. According to his ODNB entry, it was Helen Mary Harding, before she married Cyril. Thereafter, apparently, ‘my wife’ sufficed. Then there is the ‘more than half the text’ – was it really necessary to go into proportions? And finally, the implications of this poor woman typing away whilst badly injured (we will pass over ‘crippled’: vile though it is, it was probably not out of the ordinary at that time). The idea that, during WWII, it was thought to be so urgent a matter to get out a volume on medieval legal records that a very-injured woman was called upon to type it up suggests both a lack of perspective and also a less-than-healthy partnership. The dismissal of the printers and their ‘great difficulties’ in a few bland words also seems jarring – and is there a hint that they sometimes did make him aware of problems (uppity little tradesmen! Don’t they know how important the work of a learned society is? Hitler will look upon my disussion of essoins in thirteenth century records and despair!)?

 

I shall continue to seek out dodgy preface remarks: they seem to be an interesting window into the mental world and self-regard of earlier scholars, and the lives of Legal Historians’ Wives. There seem to be so many ways to go wrong in a preface – self-indulgence, boasting, performative thanking, general dullness – that I do wonder whether we might not do away with them and just, you know, write the book. Which is what I am supposed to be doing now.

 

GS

4/4/2020

A’ things hae an end … post-Christmas musing

Twelfth night is upon us, and although I have taken the decorations down, I am looking at a pile of still-to-be-gobbled Christmas puddings. This may explain why my mind has been turning on a pudding-related issue from a late-medieval legal treatise today.

Littleton’s Tenures is not an especially easy or exciting read, and I had been putting (or pudding?) off checking some bits of it for a project I’m working on. Finally made myself do it today, only to be sidetracked by Littleton Bk 3 c 2 ‘§ 267, a passage on something called ‘hotchpot’. Without getting too tedious, this is to do with ensuring fair shares of property to a group, by looking at assets together. To the extent that I had ever thought about the word, I suppose I would have seen a connection with the ‘hotpot’ produced in great quantities once upon a time by Coronation Street’s Betty Turpin. But Littleton sees it not as a stew, but as a metaphorical ‘puddyng’ in which we might expect to see a variety of ingredients. His description is a little reminiscent of some of those Great British Bake Off technical challenges – ‘for in this pudding [puddyng] is not commonly put one thing alone, but one thing with other things together’. But what things, Littleton, what things? Are we talking sweet or savoury – or one of those sweet v. meat horrors?

We need to know!

GS

5/1/2020

Papal infallibility

This morning’s mind-broadening podcast (listened to as a way of attempting to blot out the sheer tedium of a gym session) was the latest ‘In Our Time’ on papal infallibility.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0001yck

As ever, a good way of getting an overview of a subject on which I am not entirely ignorant, but my knowledge is pretty thin. Also as ever, however scrupulously the programme tries not to make the easy modern connections, it is very hard for the listener not to relate it to current debates about sovereignty, supra-national organisations, binding authority for the future … I now blame the Franciscans for our current slither towards Brexit.

12/1/2019.

 

Podcasts: a lot of eighteenth-century crime

 

Teaching an undergraduate Legal History unit means venturing outside my usual medieval limits, and, when it comes to criminal law and criminal justice, it means engaging with the vast and ever-increasing scholarship on the 18th century.

I will admit to a bit of anti 18th century prejudice – probably stemming from having ‘done’ 18th C history at ‘A’ level and wanting to move on from Walpole, Bubbles and Wars. But I am starting to get over it by listening to some podcasts on crime and punishment in this era (study of which is more popular than ever amongst historians, at least partly because of the Old Bailey digitisation project).

Today’s mind-broadener was from 2013 at the Institute of Historical Research, London: Steve Poole (UWE) ‘For the benefit of example’: hanging felons at the scene of their crime in the long eighteenth century’. https://www.history.ac.uk/podcasts/british-history-long-18th-century/benefit-example-hanging-felons-scene-their-crime-long

 This was extremely interesting.  It was good to hear about places other than London (the Old Bailey project, marvellous though it is, has tended to push London even more to the fore in crime history scholarship than had previously been the case) and intriguing to learn about differences in practice, and cross-currents, in relation to the location of, procession to, and conduct of executions. The paper was also very worthwhile in its demonstration of the danger of trying to impose progress narratives on the past.Apart from anything else, my heart was gladdened to see yet another example of Foucault’s much-genuflected-at theories being proved inaccurate. (One can only hope that the end is in sight for the disciplining and punishment of academia by these pretty patterns which, when examined in the context of specific histories, show their lack of substance).

This paper, and the research behind it, however, showed real substance, and introduced important matters for consideration. In particular, it is vital – though hugely difficult – to try and get one’s head around what people of the past thought was good and appropriate about public execution. There are some good and thoughtful suggestions here, and some excellent examples to back them up.

Well worth a listen.   

UCU dispute: ‘Leaked UUK Limerick’?

This week in UK legal history, it’s all about the pensions strike by lecturers, professional services and librarians:

https://www.ucu.org.uk/strikeforuss

I feel sure that Bracton’s sister would have been completely behind the union on this one. (offering solidarity on behalf of the Union of Families of Reputed Medieval Treatise Writers along with Glanvill’s Auntie and Britton’s Kitten).

The following lines have reached me – I cannot speak for the provenance of this work of literature, (and I take the point of the International Association of Weasels about some of their members being quite honest and straightforward, and that of the British Trough Diners’ Club  that they have made great strides in improving their image by the promotion of dainty eating amongst members and guests, and do not appreciate reinforcement of tired stereotypes of greed and indelicacy) but it does seem to chime in with the attitudes of a certain body …

 

We’re getting unwelcome attention

For our stance of tone-deaf condescension

We could end this all easily

But we’d rather be weaselly –

Promise ‘talks’, (only not about pensions).

 

[PS, Just ignore those unpleasant ‘noises off’

It’s just some VCs, falling, snout first, into a trough.]

( https://www.theguardian.com/media/2018/feb/24/vice-chancellors-expenses-scandal-channel-4-dispatches-universities )

Update: good heavens, here’s another ‘leaked position paper’ (yes – it does strike me as odd that policy is being expressed through the medium of limericks, but who am I to question?)

We know it’s unfair, doesn’t mean we

Can’t stiff our staff really obscenely

We can dump defined benefit

If we sex up the ‘deficit’

Now: pass me my porn star martini.

Legal History Novels

Not being particularly up with recent fiction, I have just got around to reading F. von Schirach, The Collini Case (2011). Wow – how often does a novel turn on legal history, legislation and limitation and (geek heaven) have an appendix setting out relevant provisions. Marvellous. Oh and a good story too…

Reformation Disputation

This scurrilous nonsense was, apparently, found stuck to the door of some church in Germany …

 

Martin L. (the Augustinian Brother who could Do No Other)

 

A Diet of Worms caused constipation

till his guts experienced  Reformation.

He objected to indulgences but still grew stout;

shacked up with a nun, chucked celibacy out;

wrote hot hit hymns, and cool translations

and tied himself in knots over consubstantiation.

His views on Jews can’t be overcome:

he had 95 theses: but tolerance definitely wasn’t one.

 

 

Recent reads September 2017

It is a big task to keep on top of emerging scholarship in Legal History, especially when it’s outside my ‘research period’, but it’s important to try (for teaching and SLS convening, as well as for the avoidance of disappearing in a puff of over-specialisation) so here’s what I’ve been looking at most recently:

  1. The AJLH goes all out for spousal murder

Not one but two articles in this area in the latest edition:

Andrea McKenzie, ‘His Barbarous Usages’, Her ‘Evil Tongue’: Character and Class in Trials for Spouse Murder at the Old Bailey, 1674-1790’,  American Journal of Legal History, 2017, 57, 354–384. Very interesting and well-argued treatment of changes and continuities in conviction rate, defences and sympathies. [On a trivial note: striking numbers of knife-throwing homicides, and mercifully brief reference to the (IMO) appalling epistolary novel, Pamela.]

 Ian C. Pilarczyk, ‘Acts of the “Most Sanguinary Rage”: Spousal Murder in Montreal, 1825-1850’, American Journal of Legal History, 2017, 57, 316–353. As a complete novice in relation to Canadian LH, this was 100% profit for me. Some great (in the sense of terrible) cases here and interesting to see issues of extreme domestic violence in a different social milieu. Lots of alcohol, fewer guns than I might have thought, and some all-too-familiar narratives of domestic horror.

  1. The JLH gets emotional

I was a bit stunned to see that the usually rather conservative Journal of Legal History has,  in 2017’s Vol. 38 no. 2,  embraced the very cutting-edge area of history of emotions. Still getting over it – comments will follow shortly. …

Merridee L. Bailey & Kimberley-Joy Knight (2017) Writing Histories of Law and Emotion, The Journal of Legal History, 38:2, 117-129. This one introduces the area – not necessarily one which would be familiar to JLH readers. It argues for an ‘emotional turn’ in historical study (I have to confess to bridling a bit at ‘turns’ – clearly need to work on that), and gives a clear account of the difficulties and possibilities in the field.

John Hudson (2017) Emotions in the Early Common Law (c. 1166–1215), The Journal of Legal History, 38:2, 130-154, Drawing on decades of detailed study of this period, Hudson considers the inclusion and exclusion of emotion in the treatises and records of the Angevin-era common law. We see mention of fear, affection, anger and spite, amongst other emotions, but also indications that law could be responding to the disruptive power of emotions, and those administering it might consider it appropriate to exclude emotion from legal proceedings, in order to achieve fairness and rationality. I am sure I will be making use of this in my own medieval research, and it has certainly started a few musings about intersections with gender, and contemporary ideas about gender.

Amy Milka & David Lemmings (2017) Narratives of Feeling and Majesty: Mediated Emotions in the Eighteenth-Century Criminal Courtroom, The Journal of Legal History, 38:2, 155-178. This article looks at the complicated relationship between the well-known ‘majesty of the law’ idea in relation to criminal justice, and display/use/suppression of emotions on the parts of different ‘players’ in the drama, dealing with cross-currents of rising ‘sensibility’, changing role of the press and changes in legal representation. It is an extremely convincing and thoughtful piece, and managed entirely to overcome my usual emotional response to things about the 18th C [urghhh – sensibility ….]. Going on the UG reading list.

Alecia Simmonds (2017) ‘She Felt Strongly the Injury to Her Affections’: Breach of Promise of Marriage and the Medicalization of Heartbreak in Early Twentieth-Century Australia, The Journal of Legal History, 38:2, 179-202, Breach of promise of marriage is a much-ridiculed area of legal intervention, and yet a wonderful way of getting at ideas of gender and damage which prevailed at any given period. Early 20th C Australia is pretty unfamiliar to me, but this was very instructive. Made its argument well. Also well worth a look for its wider relevance to ideas of appropriate compensation for different sorts of damage – and historical contingency of legal attitude to different categories of harm. [And for some charming statements on the veracity of women, hauntingly reminiscent of Hale’s words on rape and witchcraft, see p. 184].

Katie Barclay (2017) Narrative, Law and Emotion: Husband Killers in Early Nineteenth-Century Ireland, The Journal of Legal History, 38:2, 203-227, And we’re back to spouse-killing. Clearly one of the topics of 2017. Illustrates well the important but complicated role of emotions (and their suppression/absence) in the 19th C homicide trial. Given contemporary understanding of gender, emotion, psychology and the murder/manslaughter boundary, there were clearly some real tactical conundrums in the conduct of such cases.

Overall emotion at the end of this? (See how I am getting into the swing of this?) Happiness! It strikes me as a very healthy sign that this sort of scholarship is being displayed in the JLH. Glad to see a very established figure in UK legal history contributing to this special edition, and to learn what a talented and interesting set of scholars has been gathered around the history of law and emotion.

3. The Selden Society gets bigamous

R. Probert, ‘Double trouble: the rise and fall of the crime of bigamy’, (London, Selden Society, 2015) (SS Lecture for 2013) in which R. Probert upsets some assumptions about levels of bigamy in the 19th C (having previously done a good job revising ideas about levels of cohabitation, and attitudes to cohabitation)

Matters Testamentary: first thoughts on Law Commission Consultation Paper 231, Making a Will

I have just got through the very wide-ranging Law Com Consultation Paper on wills: a huge project, dealing with a important area which needs reform, though perhaps not something which is going to be at the top of T. May’s ‘to do’ list just at the moment.

There are some interesting developments in the ways in which the Law Commission is making its consultations available. Alongside the usual formal document and English summary (still pretty long!), I was pleased to see a prominent  summary in Welsh (Hwre!)  and also the well-thought-out ‘Easy Reading’ version. On this subject in particular, it seems important to get the views of people who would struggle with the usual academic/legal presentation. I do also love the infographics: these seem to have appeared quite recently in Law Com publications. But there is only so far you can go, and ademption and fraudulent calumny would not be easy to illustrate. In the end, this is a pretty involved area, and I suspect that most of the respondents to much of the consultation will be academics and/or lawyers.

Given the complex nature of the subject matter, the main document does a good job of setting out the areas which might be changed or questioned, as clearly and succinctly as possible. It is, however, rather too quick to assume that testamentary freedom is of overriding importance to a large majority of people (see, e.g. 1.12). If press reactions to the recent Ilott case show us anything, it is that ideas about personal responsibility for family members and dependents, and wider responsibility to society are also important to many of us. The extent to which rights over property should outlive us, allowing our dead hands to retain some grasp over assets which were ours in life, is and should be a matter for debate. Attention to the history of all of this demonstrates that English common law’s championing of testamentary freedom is relatively recent and has, at almost all times, been subject to limitations.

There is plenty which is picturesque in the language of succession law(e.g. I’ve always liked the idea that a will is ‘ambulatory’ – picture a formal document wandering around the place) and plenty which seems amusing about wills written on eggshells, and the many and various ways in which people can get things wrong, but there are also worrying cases, particularly those regarding vulnerable testators and the possibility of their being pressurised or tricked into making their wills in particular ways.  The paper makes some interesting suggestions about how to try and enable vulnerable people to make wills, while guarding against dubious behaviour on the part of those around them. In doing so, it has to deal with the messy state of play surrounding pleas of’undue influence’ and ‘lack of knowledge and approval’. The idea of some sort of support scheme for people whose capacity is diminished but not wholly absent, allowing them to make a will, seems humane and in line with international obligations, but whether this should be in any way state funded is much more difficult. Where should enabling those with assets to leave to depart from intestacy rules lie on a list of priorities which includes much more basic medical and social care needs? In addition, the gentle suggestion that medical and care staff should not be discouraged by their institutional policies from becoming involved in the will-making of their patients (1.33) seems to me to be questionable. Is facilitating ‘testamentary freedom’ really part of the appropriate role of these people and institutions, so that they should involve themselves in will-making, and the attendant risk of future litigation over the will of a patient, rather than looking after other patients who do not have assets to distribute? That would seem to be transforming this ‘freedom’ to a right – and one which trumps various, more basic and universally accepted, rights of others.

The paper has a go at the implications and opportunities of computing and the internet. Yes, Land Lawyers – shudder with me at the echoes of ‘e-conveyancing’- there are suggestions concerning the possibility of  e[lectronic] wills. The lessons of e-conveyancing seem to have been learned, though, and there is no great fanfare about this, just some discussion of the possibilities and difficulties and the suggestion of an enabling provision to deal with this as and when the technical difficulties are cleared up. So despite the Mirror’s excitement (http://www.mirror.co.uk/money/if-die-you-can-xbox-10796411 ), it is probably unlikely that we are about to see wills made by drunken text message.There is also some work on various electronic property or ‘property-adjacent’ things. I do look forward to seeing hardcore property lawyers getting into debates about rights to characters in online games [though perhaps they would enjoy ‘In the Toils of a Harlot’: the online undue influence game].

At times, reading this made me wonder about the role and process of consultation. On the one hand, too great a role seems to be given to those who choose to reply: thus, some of the consultation questions look as if they would be better answered by a solid empirical study, rather than by way of a question thrown out to all who wish to involve themselves – e.g. q 2 about experiences of the impact of making wills and disputes over wills after T’s death. Wouldn’t we get a more solid answer if there was actually a proper survey on this? On the other hand, those who choose to respond to the consultation may feel that they are regarded as being less important than those already sought out for ‘pre-consultation’ and labelled ‘stakeholders’. I am not fond of this word in any case, except in a gambling context or in relation to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It’s an unthinking borrowing from corporate-speak of the worst kind, and it needs to stop. Leaving that aside, calling some people ‘stakeholders’ appears to me to give prominence to certain individuals or groups over the public at large. In this context, I am not sure that anyone should be regarded as having more of a ‘stake’ than anyone else: this law applies to all of us. As with the totemisation of testatory freedom, it plays down the impact on the public of changes to private law. It may well be sensible to talk to particular individuals and groups before writing a consultation document, but that is more to do with their particular expertise than their ‘stake’. Of course, we don’t like using the ‘e-word’ these days, do we?

GS 15/07/2017