Hearing and Speaking the Law in Medieval England

Legal History Miscellany

By Sara M. Butler; posted 21 February 2020.

A recent article in the Journal of Legal History by Gwen Seabourne addresses one of the more unusual requirements of medieval law. If a widower hoped to remain on the land brought into marriage by his dead wife, his claim rested on having fathered a live and legitimate child by her. Even if the child immediately died, its short life was sufficient to grant a widower an interest in his wife’s land for the remainder of his life. What is most remarkable, though, is the nature of the evidence required for proof of life: a crying test. A Year Book from the late thirteenth century spells out the condition:  “[I]n order that the husband may hold the inheritance of his wife by the curtesy of England by reason of issue between them, it is necessary that the issue be heard to cry…

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