p-lawyers-msg - 11/27/99
Medieval laws and lawyers.
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Mark S. Harris AKA: THLord Stefan li Rous
Stefan at florilegium.org
From: mittle at watson.ibm.com (Arval d'Espas Nord)
Subject: Period Lawyer Jokes (was Re: Congrats to Harold Feld/ Yakkov)
Date: Tue, 30 Nov 1993 20:05:09 GMT
Organization: IBM T.J. Watson Research
Kate Sanderson asked:
> Anybody know any period lawyer jokes?
The "kill all the lawyers" motif appears several times in period
literature. One example can be found in "Tirant lo Blanc", a 15th century
Catalan novel of the greatest knight who ever lived. At one point, he
suggests holding a grand parade of all the guilds, letting the lawyers
march first for their honor. As the parade passes over a bridge, guards
should close the bridge from both sides, isolating the lawyers. All but
one of them should be killed, and he should be given but 24 hours to decide
any case, on pain of his life.
Shakespeare offers his own version:
2 Henry VI, IV.ii
DICK The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers.
CADE Nay, that I mean to do. Is not this a lamentable
thing, that of the skin of an innocent lamb should
be made parchment? that parchment, being scribbled
o'er, should undo a man? Some say the bee stings:
but I say, 'tis the bee's wax; for I did but seal
once to a thing, and I was never mine own man
As You Like It, III.ii
ROSALIND Time travels in divers paces with
divers persons. I'll tell you who Time ambles
withal, who Time trots withal, who Time gallops
withal and who he stands still withal.
ORLANDO Who stays it still withal?
ROSALIND With lawyers in the vacation, for they sleep between
term and term and then they perceive not how Time moves.
HAMLET There's another: why may not that be the skull of a
lawyer? Where be his quiddities now, his quillets,
his cases, his tenures, and his tricks? why does he
suffer this rude knave now to knock him about the
sconce with a dirty shovel, and will not tell him of
his action of battery? Hum! This fellow might be
in's time a great buyer of land, with his statutes,
his recognizances, his fines, his double vouchers,
his recoveries: is this the fine of his fines, and
the recovery of his recoveries, to have his fine
pate full of fine dirt? will his vouchers vouch him
no more of his purchases, and double ones too, than
the length and breadth of a pair of indentures? The
very conveyances of his lands will hardly lie in
this box; and must the inheritor himself have no more, ha?
King Lear, I.iv
KENT This is nothing, fool.
Fool Then 'tis like the breath of an unfee'd lawyer; you
gave me nothing for't.
Arval d'Espas Nord mittle at watson.ibm.com
From: ga_tewes at postoffice.utas.edu.au (Alex Tewes)
Subject: Re: Period Lawyer Jokes
Date: 2 Dec 1993 05:17:59 GMT
Organization: University of Tasmania
My favourite Period Lawyer Story comes from the book "Tirant lo Blanc"
(13thC?) anyway, the book was highly recommended by Cervantes.
In one section it tells the story of a Grand Tournament to be held in
England. The weeks of Tourneys were to start with a parade through town
which was to include the Chivalry, the Nobility, and also the Town Guilds.
A great argument arose among the Guilds concerning precedence ( nothing new
there...) The ruckus was so loud that the King himself went to investigate
what was going on. A little detective work proved that most of the problem
had been caused by three lawyers acting for various guilds, so the King had
a scaffold built and the lawyers were promptly hanged. Pity the practice
didn't catch on....
_-_-|\ Martin de Mont Blanc (mka Alex Tewes)
/ \ ga_tewes at postoffice.utas.edu.au
v <------ Barony of Ynys Fawr/Lochac/West
(That's Tasmania, AUSTRALIA)
From: jeffs at math.bu.EDU (Jeff Suzuki)
Subject: lawyer jokes
Date: 1 Dec 1993 14:54:04 -0500
Organization: The Internet
>Anybody know any period lawyer jokes?
If memory serves, "First, we hang all the lawyers" was supposed to be
a comic interruption in an otherwise depressing play.
From: jliedl at nickel.laurentian.ca
Subject: Period Lawyer Jokes
Date: 1 Dec 93 11:14:33 -0500
Organization: Laurentian University
My favorite period lawyer anecdote is when I list off all the
different groups that were allowed to immigrate to Hispaniola
(Spanish colony in New World) at the start of the sixteenth
century--convict, slaves, anyone, _except_ lawyers (they
were forbidden as a source of dissension in a population).
Sort of the snake in paradise, I guess?
Laurentian University, Canada
JLIEDL at NICKEL.LAURENTIAN.CA
From: Engle.3 at nd.EDU (Harriet)
Subject: re: Lyon book (was: any law students...)
Date: 13 Jul 1994 22:13:15 -0400
Organization: the internet
Greetings! I have found the listing of Bryce Lyon's "A Constitutional and
Legal History of Medieval England" and lost the address of the fellow who
wanted it. Batting 1.000 today...
Lyon, Bryce Dale (title as above) 2nd edition, pub. NYC- Norton,c 1980
The first edition is also Norton, with a date of 1960, I think. Hope this helps.
* Harriet Engle, Engle.3 at nd.edu * Chief Announcer WSND 88.9 FM ND/South Bend
* SCA: Eiric MacBean,White Waters,Middle * Brother in the Great Dark Horde
* Disclaimer: Notre Dame has as little to do with me as possible ;-)
From: haslock at oleum.zso.dec.com (Nigel Haslock)
Subject: Re: prisoners, punishments, etc.
Date: 9 Sep 1994 00:07:28 GMT
Organization: Digital Equipment Corporation
Greetings from Fiacha,
If I understand the Irish codes correctly, they were purely compensation based.
However, the system was very different from any of todays systems.
Step one. The two aggrieved parties hunted up a lawyer.
Step two. The lawyer listens to the complaints and the testimony of witnesses.
If two witnesses give conflicting stories, the higher status witness
is assumed to be truthful.
Step three. The lawyer states what laws apply, quoting legendary situations
that parallel the incident. He then declares who has been injured
and quotes the standard compensation for the injury, taking into
account the status of the injured party. High status individuals
are minimally damaged by loss of goods but are severely damaged by
attacks on their good name and reputation; low status individuals
are severely damaged by loss of goods but minimally damaged by attacks
on their name and reputation.
The maximum compensation that could be paid to the victim was the victim's
"honour price". This ranged from virtually nothing up to seven ounces of silver
(the equivalent of seven years gross income for a semi skilled worker).
Things could go wrong. If you are a poor farmer and a noble comes by and steals
some of your livestock, what do you do. You could complain to higher authority,
you could find another noble of equal status and becomes his man or you can
start a hunger strike on the noble's doorstep. The object of the hunger strike
is to shame the noble into letting the case be heard. Reputation being
important to the nobility and generosity being a prised virtue, having someone
starving on your doorstep was very damaging.
The next problem is that of jurisdiction. Within a tuath (the people who follow
a specific righ, roughly a clan but very close in concept to an English barony)
it is clear that the law applies and that social pressure will ensure that the
compensation will be paid. There are no guarantees when the two parties are from
different tuatha. Given that the first job of a newly appointed righ is to
lead the men of the tuath of a raid for more cattle, expecting him to allow a
lawyer to tell him to give them back is pretty silly.
Thus Irish law only applies with the tuath (treaties and alliances could extend
the range for a while).
As a result, you can escape justice by running away. It was OK to let people
run away because they could not take their wealth with them. You can't take
livestock because you will not be able to find anywhere to keep them (good
land is always owned by someone). Also, you will not be able to defend you right
to own them (non-members of a tuath have zero status within the tuath). By
running, you are acting like a runaway slave and are likely to be treated like
a runaway slave. Obviously, there are some treasures that equate to
transportable wealth but they are not common and trading them for necessities
could be difficult.
Most importantly, the concept of prison and long term confinement is not likely
to occur to a semi nomadic culture. The christian farming communities might
have come up with the idea but are not likely to have seen the need given the
traditional system of compensation that was already in place.
It is important to notice that the Irish system of laws survived the danish
settlers and converted the Anglo-norman settlers who were far enough from Dublin
to get away with it. It took Cromwell to break the system and replace it with
haslock at zso.dec.com
From: HAROLD.FELD at hq.doe.GOV
Subject: Conversion of Beer Taps
Date: 23 Aug 1995 13:17:52 -0400
Organization: The Internet
Greetings from Yaakov.
From the description made by Guillietta (sp?), that actions described
are, indeed, common law conversion. It is not *theft*, because the
kegs were brought onto the property in question in a law abiding
For those interested in Medieval history (remeber the middle ages) and
the history of the common law, the action of conversion has a rather
amusing history. After about the 12th century, the common law
developed a tremendous problem in dealing with difficulties not
narrowly pigeonholed by the writ system (this ultimately led to the
expansion of the action for tresspass in the 15th and 16th centuries
as King's Bench derived its revenues from writs. In the face of such
narriow justice, folks began to abandon King's Bench and Common Pleas
for Chancery. King's Bench survived both through inventive use of the
tresspass action and the growing bureaucracy surrounding Chancery.)
In any event, the common law judges had a problem: if the object came
into possession legally, it could not be theft, since theft is defined
as seizing someone else's property. The answer was a legal fiction.
Plaintif asserted that the defendant had always conspired in his heart
of hearts to keep the property. Thus, even though the defendant had
received the object legally, it was through fraud. This "fraud"
eliminated the element of consent and allowed an action to proceed.
(who wishes we did more legal stuff in the context of the game)
From: jeffs at math.bu.edu (Jeff Suzuki)
Subject: Re: Medieval Laws
Date: 26 Sep 1995 20:16:53 GMT
Organization: Boston University
Peter Rose (WISH at uriacc.uri.EDU) wrote:
: >>I'm looking for a compact list of common Medival Laws such as "Anybody
: >>caught stealing will get their hand cut off" or similar stuff. Is there a
: >>list somewhere? Thanks!
: >I have been wondering if the Irish brehon laws were published. Perhaps
: >someone could point us both in the right direction.
: I dunno about brief, or Irish, but if you're at all interested in
: a relevent digression, you should skim through the 1st volume of
: Blackstone's _On English Law_.
On the principle of "dry is probably OK" (so sue me), Henry Charles
Lea has a couple of books out; one of them (IMSC) is _The Duel and the
Oath_, which deals with things legal, and the other that comes to mind
regards the Inquisition (titled, oddly enough, _The Inquisition_).
The first _seemed_ to be pretty well researched and footnoted, but was
dry as toast and I only suffered through the first three or so
William the Alchymist
From: Gerekr at aol.COM
Subject: Medieval Law
Date: 27 Sep 1995 14:37:20 -0400
Organization: The Internet
David/(Cariadoc) mentioned _Gragas_ . The full citation is: Dennis, Andrew
et al. _Laws of Early Iceland: Gragas._ Winnipeg: University of Manitoba
Press, 1980. When Chimene talked with them back in April only vol. I was
available, with vol. II expected in October, I think. Their publication date
keeps retreating however.
A translation of the Frostathing Law from Norway is available in the
University of Illinois Studies in Language and Literature series, 1922.
These are available from Johnson Reprints, I believe. I'm sorry, I don't
remember the translator or volume, but there is a copy in the University of
Oregon library if you need the additional information.
There was also a copy of the law of the province of Skane from c1300 in the
Codex Runicus (Regius). I don't know if there is a translation available,
but I've translated a few extracts. It's in runic, including one of the
oldest folk songs known.
Gerekr at aol.com
From: bjm10 at cornell.edu (Bryan J. Maloney)
Subject: Re: MURDER, back onto an historical bent
Date: Tue, 16 Jan 1996 12:32:57 -0400
Organization: Cornell University
This discussion reminds me of something I figured out whilst reading
translations of a few ancient and medieval law codes (that I was an utter
FOOL about and didn't Xerox at the time).
Today, we speak of "an eye for an eye" as a harsh, to some people
excessively harsh, approach towards criminal justice. Even many of those
who advocate it do so from a mostly visceral, "get even", position.
Here's where it gets to be a history lesson: The Mosaic criminal law code
may be unique among ancient and medieval European law codes in that it
prescribes a single punishment for a given crime, REGARDLESS OF THE STATUS
OF THE VICTIM OR THE PERPETRATOR. This is quite a change from other
codes, which make assault or murder of an ordinary freeman a lesser crime
than assault upon or murder of somebody higher up on the social ladder.
Thus, "an eye for an eye" was a remarkably egalitarian approach towards
criminal justice. You didn't charge a higher penalty for attacking a rich
man, and you didn't permit rich men to get away with crimes by paying
weregild (or equivalent). This was not completely equal, since women,
children, slaves, and foreigners had lesser protection, but it was still
an interesting innovation.
I later found out that I was far from the first person to realize this
about the Mosaic code, but I still found it to be quite interesting.
From: kellogg at rohan.sdsu.edu (kellogg)
Subject: Anglo-Saxon Law codes on-line (was: Re: Heriots in Anglo-Saxon England)
Date: 25 Mar 1996 19:54:21 GMT
Organization: San Diego State University Computing Services
ben at hrofi.demon.co.uk wrote:
: P.S. Does anyone know if there are online copies of Anglo-Saxon laws
: from Cnut to Edward the Confessor available?
The laws of Alfred and Ine can be found at <URL: http://
They are in the original language. The same document can also be
found at <URL: http://www.to.icl.fi:80/~aj/texts/laws.html>.
I haven't found any translations to Modern English yet.
Hope this helps.
From: HAROLD.FELD at hq.doe.GOV
Subject: Peasants & Laborers
Date: 25 Mar 1996 15:28:57 -0500
Greetings from Yaakov.
I'm not sure how true any of this is outside of England, but there are
a few *major* developments for English law on the matter.
The first is Littleton's "Land Tenures." With one stroke, the system
of classification of people by land tenure and land tenure by
possession of rights was frozen in time and remains an influence on
real property law *to* *this* *day* (in Common Law countries). It is
hard to overstate the importance of Littleton to the development of
common law in this area from the 13th Century (I *think* Littleton is
13th Century, notes are at home) to the 18th.
The second is the Statute of Laborers, passed in (I think) 1353 in
response to the labor shortage caused by the plague. The statute
fixed wages for "laborers" at their pre-plague level. However,
"craftsmen" were exempted from the statute. As you might imagine,
considerable litigation ensued over who was or was not a craftsman or
From: sbloch at adl15.adelphi.edu (Stephen Bloch)
Subject: Re: Brehon law
Date: 9 Nov 1996 21:44:44 GMT
Organization: Adelphi University, Garden City, NY
Diane Carter <uboru at erols.com> wrote:
>Does anyone know of any sources to study the early Irish laws-Brehon
>laws. All help is greatly appreciated.
A number of years ago I was browsing my then-local University library
and ran into a book entitled _Seanchus Mor_. As I recall, when St.
Patrick converted a bunch of the ruling class of Ireland, he had the
Ard-Righ's brehon(s) recite laws from memory for a couple of days, with
his own monks taking dictation (in Irish Gaelic). I believe little or
none of this material had ever been written down before. Anyway, St.
Patrick then went through all these laws and crossed out anything he
felt directly contradicted Christian teaching (apparently with a good
measure of restraint, i.e. most of the Brehon Law was left intact).
The book was copied out for future reference, and over the next few
centuries it acquired a lot of layers of commentary (sorta like the
Talmud). The book I saw in the UCSD library was a reprinting, with
facing-page English translation, of the result, complete with different
type sizes and positions on the page to indicate different hands and
mar-Joshua ibn-Eleazar ha-Shalib
sbloch at panther.adelphi.edu
Math/CS Dept, Adelphi University
From: "James W. Reilly" <enda at algonet.se>
Subject: Re: Brehon law
Date: Wed, 13 Nov 1996 00:31:51 +0100
mr. Block makes a very good point with only very minor aberrations to
the results of my own research. As my research has come up with this
story of St. Patrick's re-writing of the Brehon Laws, is that instead of
taking out things that he felt to be unchristian, he sat with the
brehons and went over the Irish laws (Brehon if you wish) one by one and
re-formulated them in a christian manner without actually changing the
meaning of any of them.
This may be totally unimportant, but the information is there if anyone
From: "Maureen S. O'Brien" <mobrien at dnaco.net>
Subject: Re: Brehon Laws
Date: Thu, 03 Apr 1997 00:02:19 -0800
Organization: Dayton Network Access Company
Eric C. Smith wrote:
> I am in search of reference material on the Brehon Laws of Ireland.
> Specifically, I hope to find a source for the actual set of laws
> themselves, in translation of course as I do not speak, much less read,
> Irish Gaelic of any period.
Ancient Laws of Ireland: Senchus Mor and Athgabail (Law of Distraint),
Vol. I (William S. Hein & Co., Buffalo NY, 1983). This is a reprint
of a book originally pubbed in Dublin in 1865 by the Royal Stationery
Office. One side in Middle Irish, the other in English translation,
with notes and introduction.
W.N. Hancock et al ed. and trans. Ancient Laws of Ireland, Vol. 1:
Senchus Mor, and Athgabail (Law of distraint). William S. Hein & Co,
Buffalo NY, 1983. A reprint of the 1865 book, with Irish on one page
and English translation on the facing page. Includes notes and
introduction. Very interesting!
Look for it in your local law school library. I've seen it there at the
University of Toledo, not usually a Celtic studies powerhouse. (Not to
mention the medieval Chinese lawbooks and casebooks translated by
The rest of these books I haven't read.
Fergus Kelly, A Guide to Early Irish Law. Dublin, 1988.
D.A. Binchy ed. and trans., Corpus Juris Hibernici. 6 vols. Dublin,
"", "Bretha Crolige", Eriu 12 (1952): 1-77.
"", "Bretha Dein Checht", Eriu 20 (1966): 1-66.
"", Crith Gablach, Dublin, 1941.
W.N. Hancock et al ed. and trans., Ancient Laws of Ireland. 6 vols. in
all. Dublin, 1865- 1901. Maybe those guys in Buffalo reprinted the other
Good luck. If you find these babies, tell me where.