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p-lawyers-msg - 11/27/99


Medieval laws and lawyers.


NOTE: See also the files: commerce-msg, p-education-msg, monks-msg, universities-msg, med-law-art, punishments-msg, p-medicine-msg.





This file is a collection of various messages having a common theme that I  have collected from my reading of the various computer networks. Some messages date back to 1989, some may be as recent as yesterday.


This file is part of a collection of files called Stefan's Florilegium. These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


I  have done  a limited amount  of  editing. Messages having to do  with separate topics  were sometimes split into different files and sometimes extraneous information was removed. For instance, the  message IDs  were removed to save space and remove clutter.


The comments made in these messages are not necessarily my viewpoints. I make  no claims  as  to the accuracy  of  the information  given by the individual authors.


Please  respect the time  and  efforts of  those who have written  these messages. The  copyright status  of these messages  is  unclear at this time. If  information  is  published  from  these  messages, please give credit to the originator(s).


Thank you,

    Mark S. Harris                  AKA:  THLord Stefan li Rous

                                          Stefan at florilegium.org



Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

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, V.i


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)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

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)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

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

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

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?


Ancarett Nankivellis

Janice Liedl

Laurentian University, Canada




From: Engle.3 at nd.EDU (Harriet)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

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

ISBN 0393951324.


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)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

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

English "justice".




               haslock at zso.dec.com



From: HAROLD.FELD at hq.doe.GOV

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

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)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

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

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

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.


Meistari Gerekr

Gerekr at aol.com



From: bjm10 at cornell.edu (Bryan J. Maloney)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

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)

Newsgroups: alt.history.living,rec.org.sca,soc.history,soc.history.living

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.

               Avenel Kellough



From: HAROLD.FELD at hq.doe.GOV

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

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

     a laborer.





From: sbloch at adl15.adelphi.edu (Stephen Bloch)

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

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

marginal notations.


                                        mar-Joshua ibn-Eleazar ha-Shalib


                                                 Stephen Bloch

                                           sbloch at panther.adelphi.edu


                                        Math/CS Dept, Adelphi University



From: "James W. Reilly" <enda at algonet.se>

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

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

is interested.





From: "Maureen S. O'Brien" <mobrien at dnaco.net>

Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

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

Van Gulik.)


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.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org