Crazy English Laws comes in three pages: 1 > 2 > 3 (this is page 2).
Once again, as in Crazy Laws – English Style (1482-1541), all of these extracts have been taken directly from the old, dusty English Statute collection. The spelling of words has been left as is (eg. "attornies") and the language sounds more like Yoda from Star Wars than what one would expect from smart, articulate lawyers, but otherwise, taken as it is out of the context of time in which these statutes were enacted, they are wild 'n' crazy!
► WOW! NICE PRIVATE PARTS, M'LORD!
In or about (no pun intended) 1548, British men had a fashion craze where they would expose their private parts under very short little skirts called tunics. The King, Edward VI, thought to protect and distinguish his aristocrats by outlawing, in 1548, that any one below the rank of Lord would display his "privy member and buttokes".
► UNTIL THEIR FORMER WIVES AND FORMER HUSBANDS BE DEAD
In 1604, James I had been king for but a year when his Parliament decided to act against bigamy and polygamy in a statute which had the quaintest name: An Act to Restrain All Persons From Marriage Until Their Former Wives and Former Husbands Be Dead.
You just can’t find statute names like that anymore!
Society also sometimes criticizes Muslim law for their severe punishments for what are really religious offenses, and not criminal offences, but we can see from this example, that we are only several hundred years apart from that type of nonsense ourselves:
"Forasmuch as divers evil disposed persons being married, run out of one County into another, or into places where they are not known, and there become to be married, having another husband or wife living, to the great dishonour of God, and utter undoing of divers honest men's children and others;
"Be it therefore enacted by the King’s Majesty, with the consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and of the Commons in this present Parliament assembled, that if any person or persons within his Majesty’s Dominions of England and Wales, being married, or which hereafter shall marry, do at any time after the end of the session of this present Parliament, marry any person or persons, the former husband or wife being alive; that then every such offense shall be felony, and the person in persons so offending shall suffer death...."
► THE INFINITE NUMBER OF SOLICITORS AND ATTORNIES
In 1605, England suffered from a novel problem which appears to continue to this day.
The statute passed during the reign of James I, in 1605, was aptly entitled: An Act to Reform the Multitudes and Misdemeanors of Attornies and Solicitors at Law and to Avoid Unnecessary Suits and Charges in Law. This law is not as "crazy" as others but it is crazy to think that we’ve been alive to this issue for so long and have yet to find a solution to it.
This was one of several attempts by the English Parliament to contain not just the growing number of lawyers but also the suspect character of some of them:
"For that through the abuse of sundry attorneys and solicitors by charging their clients with excessive fees and other unnecessary demands ... whereby the subjects grow to be over much burthened and the practice of the just and honest sergeant and counsellor at law greatly slandered; and for that to work the private gain of such attorneys and solicitors, the client is oftentimes extraordinarily delayed; be it enacted by the authority of this present Parliament that no attorney, solicitor or servant to any shall be allowed from his client or master, of or for any fee ... in any court or courts of record at Westminster unless you have a ticket ... testifying how much he hath received for his feet ..., and at what time and how often....
"And to avoid the infinite number of solicitors and attornies, be it enacted by the authority of this present Parliament that none shall from henceforth be admitted attorneys in any the Kings courts of record aforesaid, but such as have been brought up in the same courts or otherwise well practiced in soliciting of causes and have been found by their dealings to be skillful and of honest disposition...."
Even today, many societies continue to struggle with an overabundance of lawyers which is a perfect reflection of the unnecessary but growing complexity of legal systems.
► ODIOUS AND LOATHSOME
Three years into the reign of James I, his Parliament decided to act in regards to a growing social problem and enacted, in 1606, An Act For Repressing the Odious and Loathsome Sin of Drunkenness in the usual style of a preamble, which stated the reason for the law, followed by the actual law itself.
"Whereas the loathsome and odious sin of drunkenness is of late grown into common use within this Realm, being the root and foundation of many other enormous sins, as a bloodshed, stabbing, murder, swearing, fornication, adultery and such like, to the great dishonour of God, and of our nation, the overthrow of many good arts and manual trades, the disabling of divers workmen and the general impoverishing of many good subjects abusively wasting the good creatures of God.
"Be it therefore enacted by the King's most Excellent Majesty, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled and by the authority of the same, and all and every person or persons which after 40 days next following the end of this present session of Parliament, shall be drunk, and of the same offense of drunkenness shall be lawfully convicted, shall for each such offence forfeit and lose five shillings of lawful money of England to be paid within one week next after his, her or their conviction thereof....
"If the offender or offenders be not able to pay the said some of five shillings, then the offender or offenders shall be committed to the stocks for every offense, they are to remain by the space of six hours."
► T FOR THIEF
In the very active 1623 session of Parliament, the men of the Commons considered a very gallant piece of legislation eventually endorsed by James I, which became known as An Act Concerning Woman Convicted of Small Felonies.
Women, like men and children, were being executed summarily for small crimes. English society was slowly evolving and a segment found the execution of woman for small crimes (such as theft of something of small value), disgraceful or barbaric.
That segment found the ear of Parliament and the rest is history:
"Whereas by the laws of this realm ... many women do suffer death for small causes;
"Be it enacted by the authority of this present Parliament, that any woman be lawfully convicted by her confession or by the verdict of 12 men, of or for the felonious taking of any money, goods or chattels above the value of 12 pence and under the value of 10 shillings, or as accessory to any such offence, the said offence being no burglary nor robbery in or near the highway, shall for the first offence be branded and marked in the hand, upon the brawn of the left thumb with a hot burning iron having a Roman T upon the said iron, the said Mark to be made by the gaoler openly in the court before the judge; and also to be further punished by imprisonment, whipping, stocking or sending to the house of correction in such sort, manner and form, and for so long time (not exceeding the space of one whole year) as the judge ... before whom she shall be so convicted ... shall in their discretion think meet according to the quality of the offense...."
►ATTENTION! MOVE AWAY FROM THE BASTARD!
By 1623, James I was only two years away from death. But his Parliament's statute-craze, of 1623, wasn’t finished.
As they had recognized women in previous legislation to reduce their punishment for small crimes, his Parliament showed no mercy when it came to another issue of social policy related to the fairer sex; a statute with the name which says it all: An Act to Prevent the Destroying and Murdering of Bastard Children:
"Whereas many lewd women that have been delivered a bastard children, to avoid their shame and to escape punishment, do secretly bury or conceal the death of their children, and after, if the child be found dead, the said women do allege that the said child was born dead;
"Whereas it falleth out sometimes (although hardly it is to be proved) that the said child or children were murdered by the said woman, their lewd mothers, or by their assent or procurement;
"For the preventing therefore of this great mischief, be it enacted by the authority of this present Parliament, that any woman ... be delivered of any issue of her body, male or female, which being born alive, shared by the laws of this realm be a bastard, and that she endeavour privately, either by drowning or secret burying thereof, or any other way, either by herself or the procuring of others, so to conceal the death thereof, as that it may not come to light whether it were born alive or not, but the concealed.
"In every such case the said mother so offending shall suffer death ... except such mother can make proof by one witness at the least, that the child (whose death was by her so intended to be concealed) was born dead."
• In three pages: 1 > 2 > 3 (this is page 2).
- An Act Concerning Woman Convicted of Small Felonies, 21 James I, Chapter 6 (1623)
- An Act to Prevent the Destroying and Murdering of Bastard Children, 21 James I, Chapter 27 (1623)
- An Act for Repressing the Odious and Loathsome Sin of Drunkenness, 4 James I Chapter 5 (1606)
- An Act to Reform the Multitudes and Misdemeanors of Attornies and Solicitors at Law and to Avoid Unnecessary Suits and Charges in Law, 3 James I, Chapter 7 (1605)
- An Act to Restrain All Persons From Marriage Until Their Former Wives and Former Husbands Be Dead, 2 James I Chapter 11 (1604)
- Duhaime, Lloyd, Crazy Laws - English Style (1482-1541) • Crazy Laws - American Style • Crazy Laws - American Style, The Sequel • Dumb, Crazy or Stupid Laws Around the World, all at Duhaime.org's LawFun, published at duhaime.org/LawFun.aspx
- Richardson, M. The Royal Book of Lists (Oxford: Dundurn Press, 2001), at page 225 re "private parts"