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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Wednesday Regency: Law

With the soon to be released short story, Aycliff's Vow: A Hellfire Club Erotique, I take a quick peek into the British legal system. So what was it like in Regency England anyway?

Adultery, Buggery, Murder, Stolen purses…all in a day’s work at The Old Bailey Courthouse! The Old Bailey is the common name for London’s central criminal court. The legal system in England was far from simple but it is the forefather of our own American system. In fact, the barrister, William Garrow, was the first to utter the phrase, “Innocent until proven guilty.”

However, England’s legal system was not always so altruistic. Influence on the court was a common occurrence in Regency England if kept as quiet as possible. However, even the high born suffered at the court's hand - on rare occasions.

There was always a formality to the court even if just in dress. The jury was often given only a short while to deliberate its decisions, even if that decision involved life or death. Hangings were a public spectacle in the streets of London until 1868.

In Aycliff’s Vow, we open at the Old Bailey as our hero is observing the end of a trial. As an earl, Lord Aycliff could influence the court by his mere presence, not to mention that as a member of the House of Lords, Parliament, he could also sit on the committee drawing up many of the laws used at the Old Bailey.

In a short lived series from England called Garrow's Law; the lead character often says, "Strange in fact but true in Law."

This was very appropriate to the convoluted laws of the day. You can make an argument that it still holds true but we're talking Regency England :). For instance, a man could assault a woman with a weapon and receive a short sentence or a fine but he could also be hanged for damaging the fabric of her gown - which was protected by an importer's law of the day. Strange how law evolves.


  1. Kristabel, this was very interesting. Do you have any research sources that you'd recommend?

  2. I'd definitely recommend Jane Austen's World: I had to do a Find on Page for Crime because it's a long list, but those links are great.

    I also watched Garrow's Law and studied up on Garrow himself, since the BBC program was dramatized. :)