The Magna Carta revisited

FOLLOWERS MAY RECALL my post on the Magna Carta, January 3 this year. Well, I omitted to mention the three copies of the document held at the Society of Antiquaries of London. This is particularly remiss of me as I’m a Fellow of the Society!

The first one is the Black Book of Peterborough Abbey. This is a 13th century copy of the original 1215 manuscript. This is the most radical version as it contains the clause referring to no taxation to be imposed without the common consent of the Kingdom and the revolutionary ‘security clause’ (see January 3 post).

Black-Book-of-Peterborough_1215_a

Black Book of Peterborough Magna Carta

The second is the Halesowen Abbey copy of the 1225 version. This is a scroll document and may have been produced by the Abbey because the Abbot had to go to Court to fight against unjust action by King John in 1279. So it was the Abbot’s legal defence document (and he won).

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Halesowen Abbey scroll copy

The third is the Hart Book of Statutes. This is a 14th century volume of law (statutes) probably produced especially for lawyers – a modern day law book in fact. They (lawyers) had to read the law from somewhere and these statues books were produced (most likely in London) for that purpose. This particular 14th century book contains the Magna Carta.

Hart Book of Statutes

Hart Book of Statutes

My apologies to the Society for overlooking these copies …….

 


 Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I have discovered another volume of Artemus’ notebooks (followers will recall Dr Artemus Smith was an archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction). Here is another extract:

My colleague, Benedict Tantamount made mention to me:

“I had a near miss with the constabulary the other day. I was speeding in my motor vehicle and was chased and apprehended by the police, but with my quick thinking I managed to get away with it.

When I was eventually stopped, the police officer approached the car and said, ‘It’s been a long day and my shift is almost over, so if you can give me a good excuse for your behaviour, I’ll let you go.’  

I thought for a few seconds and then said, ‘My wife ran away with a policeman about a week ago and I thought you might be that officer trying to bring her back!'”

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George Jeffreys: The Hanging Judge

LAST WEEK I made mention in a footnote of George Jeffreys, 1st Baron Jeffreys of Wem, otherwise known as ‘The Hanging Judge’. Well, I thought I would elaborate. Was the ‘hanging judge’ a fair description of the fellow? And who was he?

His grandfather was John Jeffreys who had been Chief Justice of the Anglesey circuit of the Great Sessions, and his father, also John Jeffreys, served as High Sheriff of Denighshire.  His brother, Thomas, was the English Consul in Spain, and his other brother, William, became Vice-Dean of Canterbury. So authority and ambition was certainly in the family. George went to Trinity College, Cambridge, but only lasted a year, leaving without a degree. He entered Inner Temple (remember ‘My Cousin Ralph’, a couple of posts ago?) in 1663 and began his legal career in 1668.

George Jeffreys (1645-89)

In 1671 he was appointed Common Serjeant-at-Law of London (what?) [1]. Trust me , pretty fast promotion. He was knighted in 1677 and became Recorder of London [see fn 1, if you haven’t already] the following year.  By 1680 he had become Chief Justice of Chester and Counsel for the Crown at Ludlow and Justice of the Peace for Flintshire. Charles II created him a baronet in 1681, and by 1683 he was Chief Justice of the King’s Bench and a member of the Privy Council.  He was a busy boy (I would say he didn’t ‘hang around’ but that’s an awful pun bearing in mind his nickname … so I won’t say it).

It was when Jeffreys became Lord Chief Justice from 1683 that his conduct began to cause some unease. He presided over the trial of one Algernon Sydney who had been charged with conspiracy to assassinate King Charles II under the Rye House Plot. To establish treason two witnesses were required but the prosecution only had one. However, this didn’t seem to bother Jeffreys much and he ruled that Sydney’s own  writings on republicanism were a sufficient ‘second witness’.  Sydney was found guilty and executed. Good old 17th century justice.

Jeffreys as Lord Chancellor, 1685

By 1685 he had been appointed Lord Chancellor and this is when he picked up the ‘Hanging Judge’ tag. But really due to no fault of his own. He was also made a peer, Baron Jeffreys of Wem (Wem is near Shrewsbury in Shropshire … but you knew that).  In Autumn of 1685, in Taunton, he presided over the trials of the rebels of the Monmouth Rebellion (a West Country plot to overthrow James II – Charles II had died in February of that year). Of the 1381 defendants, it has been suggested that some 700 were found guilty and sentenced to death. In fact, it appears that the more likely figure is between 160 and 170. Regardless, Jeffreys sentenced them all to hang and this event became known as The Bloody Assizes.

Baron Jeffreys of Wem

Why ‘The Hanging Judge’ tag is a little unfair is because Jeffreys had no choice but to sentence them to hang as that was the law at the time for punishment for treason. If anything, the tag should be aimed at (I was going to say ‘hung on’, but …..) the king, James II. He had the Royal Prerogative to reprieve the sentences (which was not unusual) but he chose not to use it on this occasion.

Jeffreys was a very able lawyer but he did have a bit of a reputation as a bad tempered vindictive individual who was often a little worse for wear in court due to drink. He had a painful kidney disease which his doctor suggested he take alcohol to dull the pain (my kind of doctor!) and this may account for his behaviour.

I mentioned the Glorious Revolution in the Outlander post (last month). This is where Parliament passed legislation to prevent a Roman Catholic ruling as king of England and so deposing James II. Well, this took place in 1688 and was not good for Jeffreys, being a ‘James II man’. He tried to escape but was captured disguised as a sailor outside the ‘Town of Ramsgate’ public house in Wapping in London. He was sent to the Tower of London and died of his kidney disease the following year.

So, George Jeffreys, ‘The Hanging Judge’ – fair or what?    You judge …….

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Footnote

[1] The Common Serjeant-at-Law of London is one of the High Officers of the City of London (established in 1291 – the title not London). He is the second most senior permanent judge of the Central Criminal Court after the Recorder of London, acting as deputy to that office, and sitting as a judge in the trial of criminal offences. The 81st incumbent is His Honour Judge Richard Marks, QC, who was appointed on 3rd March 2015.

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Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I have discovered another volume of Artemus’ notebooks (followers will recall Dr Artemus Smith was an archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction). Here is another extract:

One of my students was telling me that neither he nor his parents had ever left their small village until last year.  They had saved money to travel to Oxford for the son’s interview. It was their very first time in a city. They visited a shopping mall and while the mother was shopping, the father and son were standing in awe in front of a lift (or elevator as some call it), having no idea what it was.

As they watched, an elderly lady walked into the strange silver doors and the doors closed. The father and son watched as the numbers went up, and then back down. When the doors opened a beautiful young woman walked out.

My student said that his father leaned over and whispered to the him, “Son, go get your mother!”

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The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean: Hollywood fact or fiction?

LET’S GO BACK to the Wild West (remember Wild Bill Hickok, Buffalo Bill of previous posts?) and meet Judge Roy Bean. The 1972 film starring Paul Newman in the lead and Ava Gardner as Lillie Langtry, is, shall we say, very loosely based on the facts and leave it at that.

bean

So, who was Judge Roy Bean? What of his past? Well, he was born in 1825 in Mason County, Kentucky. At the age of 16 he was obliged to flee to San Antonio in Texas (those of you who read my post on The Alamo last august will recognise that name) and joined his brother, Sam, hauling freight. By 1848, he and Sam had set up a trading post in Chihuahua in New Mexico, but Roy was forced to flee again after shooting and killing a Mexican desperado. He ended up with another brother, Joshua, who had been elected mayor of San Diego in California in 1850.

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Judge Roy Bean

All was well until he had a disagreement with a Scotsman named Collins in 1852. The latter challenged Bean to a pistol-shooting match on horseback and gave Bean the option of targets. Bean chose to shoot at each other. Well, why not! Bean won the contest by wounding Collins in the arm but was arrested for assault with intent to murder. Bean escaped incarceration in April and ended up in San Gabriel, still in California, as a bartender in a saloon owned by brother Joshua. In November, Joshua was murdered and Roy inherited the saloon.

In 1854, Bean’s girlfriend was kidnapped and forcibly married to a Mexican officer. Bean tracked him down and challenged him to a duel and killed him. The officer’s colleagues captured Bean and left him on his horse with  a noose around his neck. The horse failed to bolt and Bean’s ‘no longer-kidnapped’ girlfriend cut him free. He was left with a permanent rope burn on his neck and a permanent stiff neck – think himself lucky!

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Bean had had enough of California – not proving so lucky – and headed to New Mexico and brother Sam again who had been appointed the first sheriff of Dona Ana County. By 1861 they both ran a store and saloon in Pinos Altos. However, they were then interrupted by the Civil War. Roy joined the Confederates and ran a blockade by hauling cotton from San Antonio to British ships off the coast at Matamoros, then returning with supplies. After the war he remained in San Antonio for the next 20 years working as a teamster in haulage. He combined this work with other activities not entirely legal or successful (he tried a dairy business but watered down the milk; he tried a butchers’ business by rustling stock – you get the idea). By the late 1870s he was running a saloon in Beanville (don’t ask) but this wasn’t to last – he was paid to leave (well, bought out for $900) by a disgruntled store-owner who did not approve of his unscrupulous activities.

Come 1882 he had purchased a tent by the Pecos River (still New Mexico) and set up a saloon for the railroaders. He called the bar the Vinegaroon. This was untamed territory and the nearest court was at Fort Stockton, some 200 miles (320km) away.  Then, in August 1882, he was approached by a Texas Ranger to set up a courthouse and introduce some law and order. This ominous task he accepted and he was ‘appointed’ (perhaps better described as self-appointed) justice of the peace for the new Precinct 6 in Pecos County, and, along with his one and only law book, the 1879 edition of the Revised Statutes of Texas [1], he did, indeed, deal out justice – of a kind – and called himself ‘The Law West of the Pecos’.

Judge Bean with beard behind bicycle front wheel 

I always thought he had a bit of a reputation as a hanging judge [2]. In fact this was not so at all. It appears that he only ever sentenced two men to hanging and one of them escaped. The death penalty was standard for horse thieves but Bean let them go provided they returned the horse [3]. Anyway, trials were always good for business as he insisted all jurors (chosen from his best customers) bought drinks during a court recess.

On a legal technicality note, a saloon-owner competitor of Bean’s sold land at Langtry (as it was to be called) to the railway with a contractual term that no land was to be sold or leased to Bean. Bean got around this by setting up his saloon tent (he called the Jersey Lilly after Lillie Langtry) on a railway right-of-way not covered by the contract, and here he squatted for the next two decades. This legal loop-hole was not of his own discovery but by an Irishman, Paddy O’Rourke, who was repaying Bean for freeing him after he had murdered a migrant worker.

Jersey Lilly Saloon, Judge Roy Bean holding court in 1900. Bean is in the centre of the photograph, wearing hat, sitting on a barrel and holding open his law book. 

There was no jail in Langtry so Bean only ever fined culprits, the money he kept for himself. He calculated some amounts of fines based on how much the defendant had in his pocket at the time. His court did not have the power to grant divorces but this minor detail did not stop Bean. He would charge $10 for a divorce and again pocket the’ fee’, along with $5 for weddings. I wonder if he ever offered a package deal?

The saloon is still there today!

Bean won re-election to his post in 1884, but was defeated in 1886. The following year, the commissioner’s court created a new precinct in the county and appointed Bean to be the new justice of the peace. He continued to be elected until 1896. Even after that defeat, he refused to surrender his seal and law book and continued to try all cases that suited him in his own ‘precinct’. It’s not quite clear what the justice who was elected was doing.

In March 1903, after a bout of heavy drinking in San Antonio, he died peacefully in his bed, aged 77-78. Could have been worse …..

 

Footnotes:

[1] When newer law books showed up, Bean used them as kindling.

[2] The real so-called ‘hanging judge’ was a Welshman called George Jeffreys, 1st Baron Jeffreys of Wem (1645-89).

[3] Reminds me of the Artemus Smith extract from 28th July 2014 post (following ‘House of the Virgin Mary)!

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Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I have discovered another volume of Artemus’ notebooks (followers will recall Dr Artemus Smith was an archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction). Here is another extract:

I encountered my good friend, Professor Rolande Circumspeque, in the Senior Common Room the other day in fits of laughter. I enquired as to the reason for such mirth and he showed me an article in The Monthly Planet, an aerospace journal he was perusing. It read:

‘When NASA first started sending up astronauts, they quickly discovered that ball-point pens would not work in zero gravity.
To combat this problem, NASA scientists spent a decade and $12 million developing a pen that writes in zero gravity, upside down, underwater, on almost any surface including glass and at temperatures ranging from below freezing to over 300° C.’

“Interesting,” I commented, “but why do you find that so amusing.”

He replied, “The Russians use a pencil.” 

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My Cousin Ralph

IN AN EARLIER POST (December 24) I talked about my Inn of Court, Middle Temple. Well, a distant cousin on my father’s side, one Judge Ralph Reynolds Garlick, was a member of Inner Temple. So let’s say something about Inner Temple – it has a fine Hall which, although originally dated back to the Middle Ages, had been demolished in 1868, just before the birth of Cousin Ralph. It was rebuilt only to be destroyed by bombing in the last war (as was Middle Temple) and then rebuilt again to an impressive standard in 1952.

Inner Temple Hall today

Anyway, let me tell you about Cousin Ralph. He was born in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1876 and was educated at the King Edward VI School and went on to study a BA at Pembroke College, Oxford. He was admitted as a student to the Inner Temple on the 7th April 1910 at the age of 34 (a late starter like me – nothing wrong with that). So he would have witnessed Inner Temple Hall as the 1868 rebuild. Having qualified as a barrister, he went forth to India in 1900 and served in Bengal as assistant magistrate. Five years later he was transferred to Eastern Bengal and Assam, but returned to Bengal in 1912 and, a year later, became a district and session judge. In 1928 he held an appointment as an officiating judge of the Calcutta High Court.

The medieval Inner Temple Hall – being taken down here in 1868 and replaced by a larger Gothic Hall which was later destroyed by enemy action in 1941

In December 1930 in Calcutta, a Bengali rebel, Dinesh Gupta, murdered Lieut-Colonel Simpson, the British Inspector General of Prisons (admittedly infamous for the brutal oppression on the prisoners in his jails). Gupta was captured after trying to shoot himself and, in February the following year, Cousin Ralph was a member of the tribunal that sentenced Gupta to death by hanging.

Dinesh Gupta 1.jpg

Dinesh Chandra Gupta (1911-1931)

Sometime in mid-July 1931, Cousin Ralph received a letter threatening his life. As a result two police sergeants and several detectives were stationed in his courtroom. Ralph was undeterred by such threats and resolved to carry on his work regardless.

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Cousin Ralph in Stratford-upon-Avon before moving to India

On the 27th July, in Alipore, Calcutta, Judge Ralph returned to his courtroom after lunch to resume an earlier case. As he did so, Bimal Das Gupta (a Bengali architect) drew a revolver and fired at the judge from the far end of the court. The shot missed its mark but Gupta rushed up the court to the witness-box and fired again killing Cousin Ralph instantly with a bullet to the head.

The trial room, Alipore Sessions Court

According to the newspaper reports the police opened fire and the assassin was killed on the spot, although one policeman was injured. Bimal Das Gupta was a ‘wanted’ man following the murder of a somewhat unpleasant Mr James Peddie, district magistrate at Midanpore, in April.  A letter found in Gupta’s pocket stated that the murder was intended as a reprisal for the sentencing to death by Mr Ralph Garlick of Dinesh Gupta (Dinesh was Bimal’s mentor). The letter simply read, “Thou shalt be destroyed. This is the reward for the injustice done to Dinesh Gupta” and was signed by Bimal.

A short time before Cousin Ralph had decided to apply for leave preparatory to retirement and would have been coming home in the not too distant future.

The Court House at Calcutta (Illustrated London News)

William Wedgwood Benn, 1st Viscount of Stansgate, Secretary of State for India, (and father of Tony Benn – remember him?), read a telegram in the House of Commons announcing the murder: “Regret to have to report that Judge Garlick, Session Judge, Alipore, was shot dead to-day in court by assassin at present unknown, who was himself killed by guard.”  Benn added, “The House, will, I am sure, desire to express its sincere sympathy with the relatives of this officer.”

William Wedgewood-Benn.jpg

William Wedgwood Benn, Secretary of State for India, 1929-31

Interesting the telegram said ‘assassin at present unknown’.  As late as 18th September 1931, The Straits Times (‘India, Burma and Ceylon Week by Week’) ran an advertisement saying:    “MR GARLICK’S MURDERER   Rs. 500 for identification of photograph.     A reward of Rs. 500 is offered for the identification of the photograph of the murderer of Mr R. R. Garlick, late District and Sessions Judge of 24 Pergannas.  The amount originally announced was Rs. 150, but it has now been increased to Rs. 500.”

Bearing in mind the authorities were already looking for Bimal Das Gupta for the suspected murder of Peddie and found the aforementioned note referring to revenge for the death of Dinesh Gupta in Cousin Ralph’s assassin’s pocket, it all rather pointed to Bimal. And the newspaper reports clearly blamed him at the time. However, Bimal’s father denied that the body of the assassin was his son’s – hence the offer of the reward.

In fact, in a 2012 report, The Revolutionaries, by Rhituparna Basu, it appears that Bimal Das Gupta (Dasgupta) volunteered to assassinate the head of the European Association at the Writers’ Building (an anti-Indian independence organisation). Bimal only wounded his target and was arrested and tried for the murder of Peddie. Although no witnesses came forward he was still found guilty but spared the death penalty and sentenced to life-imprisonment on the notorious Andaman Islands penal colony. The report does not mention the date of the incarceration but goes on to say that Bimal was set free in 1939 when political events led to a release of political prisoners.

So, who shot Cousin Ralph?

Well, according to Manoshi Bhattacharya (in her books, Chittagong: Summer of 1930, published 2012; and sequel Eye of the Tiger: Chittagong, published 2014) it was Kanai Bhattacharya who pretended to be Bimal Das Gupta (Dasgupta) and killed Ralph Garlick.  Also she says the assassin was not shot by the police but died by taking a cyanide pill before he was overpowered. I’m not entirely sure what Kanai hoped to achieve by this deception. But that’s politics – or something.

Although I followed Cousin Ralph’s footsteps to Oxford and to the Bar as a barrister, I’m not planning to follow them any further by becoming a judge (no point in pushing my luck ….)

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Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I have discovered another volume of Artemus’ notebooks (followers will recall Dr Artemus Smith was an archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction). Here is an extract:

I had advertised for a new undergraduate researcher in archaeology for my College. I was reaching the end of the interview with one young hopeful, fresh out of university, when I asked him, “And what starting salary are you looking for?” He replied, “In the region of £60,000 a year, depending on the benefits package.”

I replied, “Well, what would you say to a package of ten weeks paid vacation, full medical and dental care, company matching retirement fund to 50% of salary, and a company car leased every two years, say, a Porsche Boxster?”

The young lad sat up straight and said, “Wow! Are you kidding?”

I responded, “Yep, but you started it.”

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Charles I – above the Law?

SHOULD Charles I have been tried by a Court of Law or is the Monarch above the law? His trial – well, it wasn’t much of a trial – in January 1649 lasted three days, but not three full days; it was  a bit of a non-event actually. Basically he refused to enter a plea against the charges arguing that ‘the Court’ had no authority to charge him as he was top dog being king. Today, if you refuse to enter a plea it is assumed you are saying you are not guilty and the State (aka the Crown Prosecution) must prove you ‘done it’. In the days of Charley boy, in the 17th century, it was the reverse – if you didn’t enter a plea it was assumed you were guilty.

charles-i-

Charley boy (1600-1649)

The Court in question was the High Court of Justice (not the same High Court as we have today) sitting at Westminster Hall. The judges were the Parliamentary Commission and its President was John Bradshaw who did most of the talking (when the king wasn’t). Bradshaw was a barrister, called to the Bar at Grays Inn (one of the Inns of Court – see my previous blog in December on another one, Middle Temple). The prosecution was led by John Cook, also a barrister from Grays Inn, and it was his task to read out the charges. He would then have had to prove the case against Charles but that was to be unnecessary as Charles saved him the bother.

John Bradshaw (1602-1659)

The trial began on the afternoon of Saturday 20th January. Cook was continually interrupted by the king in his attempts to read out the charges. Cook: “My Lord, on behalf of the [House of] Commons of England and of all the people thereof, I do accuse Charles Stuart here present of high treason and high misdemeanours, and I do, in the name of the Commons of England, desire the charge may be read unto him.” As Cook was about to read the charges, Charles tapped him with his silver-headed cane, saying, “Hold on.” Cook declined to hold on but, instead, carried on reading the charges.  ‘Tap, tap’. Cook ignored the tapping. ‘Tap, tap’ – then the silver head of the cane fell off. Cook ignored it and continued reading. It’s a bit like a comedy show……. Then Bradshaw gave the king a telling off, insisting that the charges had to be read without further interruption. Charles obeyed like a good little king.

‘Fictitious portrait called John Cook’ by Robert Cooper

When the charges had been completed the king was ask how he pleaded to them. He simply replied, “I would know by what power I am called hither. I would know by what authority, I mean lawful… Remember I am your King.” He rattled on a bit more but basically he was saying that this Court had no authority to try him.

Bradshaw responded, “In the name of the people of England, of which you are elected king.” Ooooops, mistake. Charles came back, “England was never an elective Kingdom, but a hereditary Kingdom for near these thousand years.” This went on awhile – same questions on authority by Charles, same answers by Bradshaw. Eventually Bradshaw called an end to the proceedings and adjourned the Court until Monday, at which time he hoped the king would answer the charges. Well, Monday came and went with the same results – the king demanding on whose authority was he being charged and Bradshaw responding with “We are satisfied with our authority…They [the members of Commission] sit here by the authority of the Commons of England.” Charles objected, “The Commons was never a Court of Judicature, I would know how they came to be so.”  Whoa, good point Charley; indeed, the House of Commons was not a Court but Parliament was (and the Commons is part of Parliament). Anyway, stalemate. So Bradshaw adjourned again to the next day to give the king one last chance. Tuesday came and Charles didn’t relent on his point of view so Bradshaw, along with his fellow judges, treated his obstinacy as a guilty plea.

Charles (sitting, wearing hat, with back to you) in ‘the dock’ at Westminster Hall

On the 27th January, the Commissioners (68 of them) reassembled to pass sentence. It was at this stage that Charles attempted to refute the allegations made against him, saying, “I would desire only one word before you give sentence; and that is that you would hear me concerning those great imputations that you have laid to my charge.” A bit late now – and Bradshaw told him so. The clerk (possibly Andrew Broughton) rose to his feet and began reading the Commissioners’ decision, “Charles Stuart, as a Tyrant, Traitor, Murderer and public enemy, shall be put to death, by the severing his head from his body.”  Again the king tried to speak but was told he could not be heard after sentence. On the 30th January 1649 the king was executed. Regicide rules OK.

The idea of criminal law in the UK is that we are judged by our equals. Hence judgements by members of the public (generally) in the Magistrates Court (magistrates are not lawyers, they are members of the public) and likewise with juries (12 members of the public)  in the Crown Court (what do you mean you don’t know about these courts? – to be enlightened, click here). And ‘in the ‘good old days’ aristocratic peers (Lords) had to be tried by the House of Lords. So who is equal to the Monarch to try him/her? Is the Monarch above the law? Obviously not in the 17th century. It hadn’t been tried (excuse the pun) before or since.

 

POSTSCRIPT

John Bradshaw died in 1659, aged 57. Charles II came to the throne in 1660 and the following year, on 30th January, the 12th anniversary of his father’s execution, he had Bradshaw’s and Oliver Cromwell’s (he had died in 1658) remains exhumed and displayed in chains at the gallows at Tyburn where official hangings took place. The following day, their heads were put on spikes outside Westminster Hall and their bodies thrown into a common pit. Charles also had his father’s prosecutor, John Cook, put on trial for high treason for which he was found guilty and hung, drawn and quartered. There’s justice for you.

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Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I continue my research of the notebooks of Dr Artemus Smith, archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction. Here is another extract:

I met my good friend Dr Armani Haberdasher the other day. He said his wife had been complaining about him going to the pub every night so she decided to join him. When they arrived he asked her what she would like to drink. Not being much of a drinker she said she didn’t know so would have whatever he was having. He ordered two whiskeys. When they arrived he knocked his back in one. She took a sipped and exclaimed, “Aaaagh, that’s horrible!”

He turned to her and said, “Well there you go. And you thought I was down here enjoying myself every night.”

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Juries – a good thing or a bad thing?

IN THE FINAL scene of the final play of the Oresteia trilogy (The Eumenides) by the Greek playwright, Aeschylus, Orestes is at the Areopagus in Athens facing trial by a jury of twelve. The play was first performed in 458 BC and is probably the first reference to trial by jury in the history of man.

Aeschylus (525-456 BC)

Juries have been used in the English legal system for over 1000 years (set up in the 12th century by Henry II), representing a person’s right to trial by ‘the lawful judgement of his peers’. By the middle of the 15th century, juries had become independent assessors and assumed their modern role as deciders of fact. Well, I say ‘independent’, in the famous Bushell’s Case of 1670, it had to battle for such independence.

The case came about from a previous case involving two Quakers, William Penn and William Mead, who had been charged with unlawful assembly. The two Quakers were challenging the Conventicle Act, which restricted certain religious practices. The judge had charged the jury that they “shall not be dismissed until we have a verdict that the court will accept.” (note: ‘that the court will accept’!). When the jury decided to acquit, the judge was not willing to accept it and sent them back to reconsider, fining them in the process. Edward Bushel, one of the jurors, refused to pay the fine and so the judge threatened him with, “You shall be locked up without meat, drink, fire, and tobacco. You shall not think thus to abuse the court; we will have a verdict, by the help of God, or you shall starve for it.”

Bushel took the case to the Court of Common Pleas (sort of equivalent to the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court today) where it was established by Sir John Vaughan that a jury could not be coerced into giving a particular verdict. This case established unequivocally the independence of the jury.

Sir John Vaughan (1603-1674)

Despite this, well into the 19th century, some jurors were locked up without ‘food or fire, water or candle’ until they reached a verdict – any verdict would do now , not necessarily as expected by the court. There are numerous interesting cases in which deliberations went on in this manner for so long that jurors fainted and doctors were summoned.

However, the very fact that a jury system is steeped in time has led to the debate over whether it has become outdated. Certainly we know of some pretty odd decisions being made – and many, I imagine, that we don’t know about. In one case, R v Young, in 1994, the jury found the defendant, Stephen Young, guilty of the murder of Harry Fuller and his wife, Nicola, after four of its members (during an overnight stay in the hotel …. and some alcohol) had contacted one of deceased victims by way of a séance and a Ouija Board! This only came to light because one of the jurors panicked and reported it. Generally we would not know how or why a jury comes to its decision and its deliberations are private – so you may be found guilty by the toss of a coin. Hardly in the spirit of justice. (Young was in fact retried and found guilty again, presumably without the assistance of either Harry or Nicola).

Ouija Board – win some, lose some!

In some instances juries completely ignore the law and go for what is called a decision of conscience. One such case was R v Ponting (1985) in which a civil servant was charged under the old Official Secrets Act 1911 for leaking information to an opposition MP about the sinking of the General Belgrano in the Falklands War. There was no doubt he had committed the offence and, despite the judge ruling that there was no defence, the jury refused to convict him seeing as he was acting for ‘public interest’.  In other words, the public had the right to know if the government was being economical with the truth – and rightly so. Who needs laws ….

Clive Ponting

Clive Ponting – in the public conscience …..

In his 1985 book, What Next in the Law?, that great judge, Lord Denning, said, “… the chances, by sheer weight of numbers, are loaded heavily against the jurors being sensible and responsible members of the community.” Far be it for me to comment further.  However, juries have made critical mistakes. Take R v Bentley for example. In that case the Court of Appeal decided in 1998 that Derek Bentley was not guilty of the murder of a policeman as decided by the jury in December 1952. Unfortunately, as a result of the jury’s decision, Bentley had been hanged in January 1953.

Lord Denning (1899-1999)

The American comedian, Norm Crosby observed, “When you go into court you are putting your fate into the hands of twelve people who weren’t smart enough to get out of jury duty.” Mind you, Grouch Marx once said, “I was married by a judge. I should have asked for a jury.”

Want to know more about juries and the English Legal System? You should do. If you haven’t already (why not?), find out more by downloading onto your kindle, iPad, phone, or whatever, my fascinating e-book on the subject, Do you know your law from your elbow? Click here.  

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Next week: Thomas Edward Booth of the Booth Museum, Brighton


Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I continue my research of the notebooks of Dr Artemus Smith, archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction. Here is another extract:

My good friend, the Very Reverend Uriah Doorstopp, told me of a tale of his cousin who was an archaeologist. Apparently he (the cousin) was in the deepest jungle and suddenly found himself surrounded by what he perceived to be a bloodthirsty group of headhunters. Upon surveying the situation, he said quietly to himself, “Oh God, I’m in big trouble.” There was a ray of light from heaven and a voice boomed out, “No you are NOT in big trouble. Pick up that stone at your feet and hit the head of the chief standing in front of you.”

So his cousin picked up the stone and proceeded to hit the chief over the head.  As he stood above the lifeless body, breathing heavily and surrounded by 100 possible headhunters with a look of shock on their faces, the voice from above boomed out again, “Okay, NOW you’re in big trouble.”

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William Price – the druid who created cremation

SO THERE I WAS preparing a talk on ‘Human Bones and the Law’ when I came upon this case R v Price 1884. Now the law on ownership of bones dates way-back. Basically no one owns bones, not even if they belong to a member of your family. Sir Edward Coke, Chief Justice in the 17th century, pontificated, “The burial of the cadaver [corpse], that is caro data vermibus [flesh given to the worms] is nullius in bonis [among the property of no person] and belongs to the ecclesiastical cognizance.” [1]

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Sir Edward Coke (pronounced ‘Cook’) C.J. (1552-1634)

Well, there was this Welshman, William Price (1800-93), who had qualified as a medical doctor and became a member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England (having trained in London). He returned to Wales to work as a GP and, in 1823, became the chief surgeon at the Brown Lenox Chainworks in Pontypridd. So far so good.

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Dr William Price in 1822 as a respectable medical student – ‘so far so good’

He then became involved in the Chartist movement (believing in votes for all men regardless of status – next there will be votes for women!) which led to an uprising which led to Price escaping to France. In Paris, at the Louvre Museum, he experienced his ‘turning point in his religious life’ when he saw an ancient Greek inscription which, for some bizarre reason, he interpreted as a Celtic bard addressing the moon. Yeah, okay. This was a sign to him to spread the word of the ‘true secrets’ of the Welsh language and free the Welsh from English dominance. Nothing new there. Anyway, as a result he became a druid and founded a new Druidic group which gained many followers. Just to give you an idea of some of his antics: he christened his daughter Gwenhiolan Iarlles Morganwg – meaning ‘Gwenhiolan, Countess of Glamorgan’; he organised an eisteddfod at Pontypridd but no one turned up (bad marketing); he held a Welsh nationalist parade along with a half-naked man called Myrddin (the Welsh name for Merlin) and a goat … of course.

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Price in his druid gear in 1884

So wacky or what? But I digress, so now to the point. In 1883, when Price was 83 years old, his second wife, who was in her mid twenties (let’s not go there), gave birth to a son whom he named  Iesu Grist (the Welsh for Jesus Christ) as he had ‘great expectations’ for him. Sadly the child died after 5 months. Price’s religious belief prevented him from burying the corpse as it would pollute the earth. So he decided to cremate him on the hill outside his village of Llantrisant which was ‘not the done thing’ then. In fact, many of the villagers saw the smoke of the fire and attacked him. He was rescued by the police and the child was taken from the pyre before it had been engulfed in flames.

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Painting of Price in his famous fox-skinned headdress 

Price was then arrested for illegal disposal of a corpse (the police were satisfied that the child had died of natural causes prior to the cremation attempt). At his trial at Cardiff Crown Court, whilst he accepted that cremation was not legal, he argued that there was no law against it either. Going back to Sir Edward Coke (above), the principle here is that if no one owns a body how can it be illegal to do what one wishes with it?  The judge, Mr Justice Stephen, agreed with Price and he was released from custody to much cheering from the people (not the ones from his village obviously). It would appear that cremation was here to stay and on the 14th March Price did, indeed, cremate his son. This led to the newly founded Cremation Society of Great Britain which put sufficient pressure on the government to introduce the Cremation Act 1902 (of which there have been several amended versions since).

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Cremation of William Price

The case made Price famous, so much so that a statute of him was erected in Llantrisant in 1982 by the Cremation Society of Great Britain. His wife produced another boy who was also named Iesu Grist for the same reason as his first, the coming of the second (or third) Jesus Christ – he wasn’t (but that is no surprise). William Price was cremated in 1893 on the same hillside as his first son and was watched by some 20,000 people (see pic above). He certainly made an impression!

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Statute of Price at Llantrisant

Footnote

[1] Unless they have “acquired different attributes by virtue of the application of skill, such as dissection or preservation techniques, for exhibition or teaching purposes. It thereby acquires a usefulness or value. It is capable of becoming property in the usual way, and can be stolen.” (See the case of R v Kelly & Lindsay 1998 – stealing bones used for educational purposes by a hospital).

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Next week: Odd bods: Eadweard Muybridge ….. ‘moving picture-maker’ who got away with murder


Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I continue my research of the notebooks of Dr Artemus Smith, archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction. Here is another extract:

 My neighbour, George Shortbrain, came into the public house and sat next to me. An unfortunate name but similar to his nature – a man of limited intelligence. The public house had a television set and was showing the 10:00 PM news. The news crew was covering a story of a man on a ledge of a large building preparing to jump.

George said, “Do you think he’ll jump?”

“Yes he will,” I answered.

“Well, I bet he won’t,” said George. “In fact, I bet you a five pounds he won’t.’”

I agreed to the bet.

Just then the chap on the ledge did a swan dive off the building, falling to his demise.

George was very upset but willingly handed me the five pounds.

I said, “I can’t take your money, George, I saw this earlier on the 6:00 PM news and so I knew he would jump.'”

George replied, “I did too, but I didn’t think he’d do it again.”

I took the money.           

 

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