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LAWmazing #4

More astounding facts and true stories from the world of law and justice.


The 24-Hour Marriage

Pedro the CruelLeave it to the monarchy to once again test the speed limits of the law.

In the annals of matrimonial and marriage law, one marriage stands out as a record-maker. Peter the Cruel (of Castille, now part of Spain) lived from 1334 to 1369. Also known as Pedro I, he was a tyrant but nonetheless quite creative when it came to pickup ruses.

In May 1354, at the age of 19, he fell head over heels with Dona Juana de Castro, sister of Fernando Perez de Castro. Though Pedro was already married to Blanche of Bourbon, he dismissed that as null and void, gathered two bishops to attest to this and to preside over the wedding, and proceeded to marry his new queen at the Church at Cuellar.

He consummated the marriage that night - we know this because Juana bore him a son. But the very day of his wedding, he received a very distressing courier - that an enemy army was poised to invade Castille and that Fernando, incensed at the trickery of his sister, had joined leagues with the enemy.

The next day, Pedro the Cruel disavowed his new marriage and left Juana never to see her again.A civil war ensued which was resolved only when Pedro agreed to honor his original marriage to Blanche.

After losing yet another civil war in 1369, Pedro was beheaded by his own brother.

The Instant Lawyer

Hamilton before a panel of judgesAlexander Hamilton, the famous American revolutionary studied law for only three (3) months before  being called to the bar in July of 1783.

Born outside of the USA, in about 1757, he left college to join the fight against the British and became one of George Washington's officers.

Called he was and he was admitted after what must be the shortest legal education in record.

There must have been some hero worship in his admission test. Hamilton had been a hero of the War of Independence. Once certified as a lawyer, he was quick to accept a patronage appointment, named Receiver General for New York. In 1789, he was appointed Secretary of the Treasury for the United States of America. Leaving this position in 1795, he returned to his lucrative law practice only to die in July of 1804, in a duel he had provoked against the Vice-President of the United States, Aaron Burr.

Hammurabi, Beer Drinker

Mesopotamia Beer tabletHammurabi (1810-1750 BC), to whom is credited one of the first and greatest law codes ever, was fond of his beer (which they called dida or sikaru).

Numerous clay engravings show citizens of his empire drinking beer.

Indeed, his Code itself contains harsh penalties for tavern-keepers who cheat their customers. There was a goddess of brewing (Ninkasi) and one clay tablet dated to about 3,000 BC, has a recipe for beer. A song called Hymn to Ninkasi actually includes a recipe for beer.

According to the British Museum, the clay tablet pictured is dated about 3,000 BC and:

"The symbol for beer, an upright jar with pointed base, appears three times on the tablet. Beer was the most popular drink in Mesopotamia...."

The Alchemy Ban!

Henry IVIn 1404, in the 5th year of his reign as King of England, Henry IV (1367-1413, pictured), passed a law which prohibited alchemy which, as an impossible process, gives that statute the title of the only English law that has never been broken.

The statute:

"It is ordained and established that none from henceforth shall use to multiply gold or silver nor use the craft of multiplication and if any the same do and be thereof attaint, that he shall incur the pain of felony."

The pain of felony meant capital punishment and forfeiture of all the felon's property to the Crown.

He Liked It So Much, He Bought The Prison

A Drunkards ReformThomas Handford liked the prison he was so often thrown in that as soon as it was put up for sale by the local government, he bought it and lived in it until his death.

111 High Street, New Mills, England is the address (previously, Dye House Lane). A plaque on the building reads "A Drunkard's Reform".

Handford was a local petty criminal, a poacher and a habitual drunkard. he was often incarcerated at 111 High Street, the New Mills municipal prison.

Handford was out drinking with a buddy at a pub right next to the New Mills prison when the buddy suddenly fell down, dead. It scared Handford into becoming an immediate teetotaler; he never drank alcohol again right up to his death 35 years later, in 1877.

In 1854, a decade into his purge, the prison was put up for sale and Handford bought it and had the plaque put up.

Book of Murder Bound In Murderer's Skin

Trial of Corder bookWilliam Corder shot and killed his girlfriend in Polstead, England in 1827, and the mother of their illegitimate child. The crime occurred on the grounds of a red barn.

A year later, the body was found and Corder arrested in London, where he had began a new life, having married.

His murder trial was a sensation. Corder testified on his own behalf and after an implausible story, the jury unanimously found him guilty. His hanging in Suffolk 1828 drew a crowd of 7,000.

Judge Alexander sentenced him to be hung and to be "dissected and anatomized".

The dissection surgeon, George Creed, cut off and dried Corder's skin and used it to bind a copy of the trial transcript, entitled simply Trial Of Corder.

The book is still on display at the Moyse's Hall Museum in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk (England).

The Naked Bride

The Naked BrideWilliam Ward died intestate in 1788 leaving his wife Hannah with his mountain of debt. But she saw a way out of the liability and decided to marry Major Moses Joy of Putney, Vermont.

According to the common law estate law of the era, a man marrying a widow became executor de son tort and liable for the deceased husband's estate debts if he came into contact with any thing or item of property belonging to the deceased.

So as to take no chances, Hannah Ward decided to simply get married naked.

The marriage, which occurred on February 22, 1789 at Newfane, Vermont, Rev. Hezekiah Taylor presiding, was described as follows:

"To avoid the unpleasantries of the law ... Mrs. Ward placed herself in a closet with a tire-woman who stripped her of all her clothing and when in a perfectly nude state, she thrust her fair, round arm through a diamond hole in the door of the closet and the gallant Major clasped the hand of the buxom widow and was married in due form."

Moses Joy had bought a new set of clothes for his new bride, which she put on as soon as the marriage ceremony ended.

US Supreme Court: Non-Lawyers Can Apply

United States Supreme Court buildingUnited States Supreme Court judges are not required by law to be lawyers. But only three members have ever been appointed outside the pool of practicing lawyers, lower-court judges or law school professors - all lawyers and attorneys.

According to University of Richmond law professor John Paul Jones:

"No prior experience as a judge, no expertise as a constitutionalist - indeed, no training in the law at all, is formally necessary."

The Supreme Court Historical Society writes:

"The president’s choices for appointment to the Court have all been lawyers, although there is no constitutional or legal requirement to that effect."

Suicide To Avoid a Judicial Appointment

RockinghamIn 1770, Charles Yorke (1723-1770) had publicly committed himself to the Whig political party of Charles Wentworth (1730-1782, aka Lord Rockingham; pictured). Yorke was a graduate of Cambridge University (1742) and had been called to the bar in 1743.

But the British king, George III, knowing Yorke's father had been chief justice and minister of justice (Lord Chancellor) desperately wanted to bring some instant credibility to his cabinet table.

Knowing Yorke's value to the government, and hoping to keep good men from the government in power, Rockingham made Yorke promise he would not submit to any offer from the opposition's prime minister or the King.

The king asked Yorke to meet him on January 13 and again on January 16. There, he threatened Yorke that if he refused the Lord Chancellorship now, he'd never be offered it again. King George even offered Yorke a peerage; he and his descendants could use the title of Lord Morsden - an irresistible offer to any good class-loving Brit.

Unable to refuse the package, Yorke gave in and accepted to become Lord Chancellor.

But then he visited upon his brother to debrief, only to find Rockingham and other members of his opposition party present. Yorke was violently reproached.

Overwhelmed with shame, he retreated to his home and started drinking. In those few ominous days left to him, his diary had uncharacteristic mentions of suicide.

Finally overwhelmed, three days later, to avoid the appointment as England's chief justice, he took his own life and was found dead in his home, in a pool of blood.

On his desk was discovered the Great Seal of the Lord Chancellor in his house as well as the peerage papers but because he failed to appose the seal on the patent, the peerage failed and was denied his descendants.


  • Author unknown "Life of The Hon. Charles Yorke", in The Law Magazine, Volume XXX, London: Saunders and Benning, Law Booksellers, 1843.pages 49-95 re Suicide To Avoid A Judicial Appointment
  • British Museum (, Tablet Recording The Allocation of Beer, Item ME 140855 (re Hammurabi, Beer Drinker)
  • Duhaime, Lloyd, LAWmazing 1, LAWmazing 2, LAWmazing 3LAWmazing 5LAWmazing 6 and LAWmazing 7.
  • Dunham, S., The History Spain and Portugal (London: Lonsman and others, 1832), page 210 re 24-Hour Marriage.
  • Dyer, C., A Brief History of the Joy Family by One of Them (New York: T. Whittaker, private printing, 1894) page 29, re the Naked Bride.
  • Green, J. and others, Centennial Proceedings and Other Historical Facts and Incidents Relating to Newfane: The County Seat of Windham County, Vermont (Brattleboro: D. Leonard Printer, 1877), pages 30-31, re The Naked Bride.
  • Huish, R., The Red Barn: A Tale Founded on Fact (London: Knight and Lacey, 1828) re William Corder.
  • Jones, J. P., The Supreme Court: A Unique Institution (29 July 2008), published at, re the US Supreme Court.
  • Lodge, C., American Statesmen: Alexander Hamilton (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1898), page 33 (re the Instant Lawyer).
  • Menzies, S., Royal Favourites, Volume I (London: John Maxwell & Company, 1865), pages 105-109, re the 24-Hour Marriage.
  • Moyse's Hall Museum at re William Corder.
  • Supreme Court Historical Society at re Supreme Court Judges
  • Taylor, F. Sh. The Alchemists (Kessinger Publishing, 1992), page 124, re Alchemy Ban.


  • Thank you to Barry Dent and Marie of New Mills, England for information re Thomas Handford.