Unusual, Strange & Funny Judicial Decisions and Opinions logo It seems like our legal ancestors had all the fun. What with the Plague, the pillory, capital punishment for shoplifting: and now, the Ecclesiastic Court inspectors.

Which brings us to Grimbaldeston v Anderson, a case which would have been lost to history but for Phillimore Reports, Volume III where, at page 155, Justice Joseph Phillimore, half-Priest, half-lawyer, reported on a 1778 case before Justices Bettesworth and Calvert of the Ecclesiastical Court of England.

Before the Court was an application for libel, wife versus husband. The judge was perplexed that the claim case so soon after the date of marriage, less than three months. The Ecclesiastic Courts lie to wait at least three years before entertaining an action for annulment based on impotency. After all, it could be just initial nervousness. Give a man some time, appeared to be the judicial policy.

In those days, the Court had its own inspectors verify the claims of divorce or annulment brought in these religious courts under the heading of a libel. The parties could be interviewed out-of-court and, well, other inspections carried out. And Ms Grimbaldeston was claiming that her husband, Mr. Anderson was impotent.


But it had to be done.

The result?

A cryptic judgment ... "soft and short which does not always continue":

Impotency a good ground of nullity. Not much weight in argument as to favourable suit. Whether the case is such as the Court can address.

The virginity of woman very material.

Libel properly drawn.

But in this case, the opinions of inspectors only must determine; and not sufficient for the Court, as in the words of the libel they could only say it appeared soft and short which does not always continue.

Therefore, three years cohabitation necessary"


  • Grimbaldeston v Anderson, [1778] USFJDO 1, cited in the commentary to Norton v Seton, 3 Phill. Ecc. 155