Election Special 2015 – X Marks the Spot, or, Ballot Dos and Don’ts


Our federal election is swiftly approaching, and all signs point to a close race.

We sometimes become disillusioned about the worth of each individual vote, but a tight three-way contest will demonstrate the importance of every ballot. I don’t say ballot to metonymically refer only to each individual’s participation in the election process, but literally each ballot – each slip of paper marked with the elector’s desired candidate – because if you’re not careful, your vote may not float.

If you plan to vote, you want to make it count. The CBC reports that in the last federal election (2011), eight Toronto ridings were decided by fewer than 1,500 votes. In Etobicoke Center, Conservative Ted Opitz edged out Liberal Borys Wrzesnewskyj by only 26 votes!

With such close races, you cannot afford – nay, Canada cannot afford! – to have your ballot discounted by the returning officer due to a casual elector error. After all, four years ago, 26 ballot errors might have led to an even more dramatic result in Etobicoke Center. Much is at stake: each riding is riding on the decision of its constituents, so the returning officer needs to have clear rules to determine which votes are valid and which are not.

The legislation governing elections – along with other helpful resources such as links to significant cases, maps and data on electoral districts, historical data, extensive description of Canadian electoral process – is all available online via the Elections Canada Resource Centre, but I was inspired by an old returning officer manual to share some ballot dos and don’ts to ensure that each voter’s vote is valid.

Title page

The Powers, Duties, & Liabilities of an Election Agent, and of a Returning Officer, at a Parliamentary Election in England or Wales, published in 1885, offers “fac-simile copies of ballot papers” that gave them trouble all those years ago. As the book states, “Several cases have come before the courts in which instances of irregularly marked ballot papers have been considered, and these may serve as guides to the returning officer in determining any question that may come before him” (182). Though the voting process might seem simple, there are an alarming number of ways to give counters pause when tallying votes. So…

DON’T! Identify yourself on the ballot. Identification includes voter registration numbers, names, and initials

Initials Don't identify yourself!

DON’T! Mark the ballot anywhere except inside the designated area

Don't mark outside ballot box!

DON’T! Mark the ballot with “a long cross, each line thereof being partly in the square allowed for one candidate and partly in that of the other”. Even though this was “allowed as a good vote for the candidate in whose square the intersection of the cross appeared”, it’s best to keep in mind: Precise is nice.

Don't use an ambiguous mark!

YOU PROBABLY SHOULDN’T! Mark the ballot with a symbol other than a cross or “X”. Although Elections Canada states that a ballot clearly “marked with a symbol other than a cross” is still valid and cannot be discounted, there are probably better opportunities to exercise your creativity during the election (Note: I am firmly opposed to the vandalism of political lawn-signs and in no way endorse such activity).

Such aberrant markings include:

A “single stroke”

A single stroke

A “straight stroke in addition to the cross”

Stroke and cross

A “mark like an imperfect letter P in addition to the cross”

Cross and Imperfect P

A “star instead of a cross”


And last, a “peculiarly formed cross”

Peculiar cross

And finally…

DO! Mark the ballot with clean, exact, unambiguous “X”

The perfect vote

The main takeaway: when casting your vote, let simplicity reign. Don’t forget to take a look at the actual, current legislation governing valid ballots at Election Canada.

Skip over the ocean and forward 120 years and you’ll find a ballot that looks something like this (courtesy of Elections Canada):

Sample Ballot

And once cast, it should look something like this:

Sample Ballot voted

I’ve always thought Cabot an underrated explorer – although I must say I am quite taken with Mlle. De Verchères since looking her up five minutes ago.

Don’t forget to check out the previous Election Special, written for the 2014 Ontario election, for even more great tips on how to exercise your Canadian democratic right.

Happy Voting! Election day is October 19, 2015. Visit the Elections Canada homepage for more information.

A Brush with History: Where were you when Louis Riel was tried?

Deeds are not accomplished in a few days, or in a few hours. A century is only a spoke in the wheel of everlasting time – Louis Riel

Two years ago, on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, news agencies across the continent were in a flurry publishing memorial articles entitled, “Where were you when JFK was shot?” The phrase has become a commonplace that speaks to the individual experience of a shared national event. On the fateful day when the presidential motorcade passed through Dallas, only a small handful were actually where JFK was, as compared to the millions who learned of the event via radio or television. But no matter how far removed from the situation, each and every contemporary has their own story that places the unforgettable event in the context of their own lives. I was not alive for Kennedy’s term as President, but I can answer different “Where were you when…?” questions in my own way.

I remember returning from recess on the second day of Grade 6 to have my teacher address my class: two planes had just crashed into the World Trade Center in New York, a suspected terrorist attack. I was eleven years old and entirely failed to grasp the significance of the situation, but I could tell from the comportment of the adults around me that something big had happened. After school, I turned on the news for the first time in my life. Ten years later, late on May 2, 2011, I remember sitting in a quiet bar with my friends from university. We had just finished the final exams of our final year, and we’d all be splitting up the very next day to head for home. As we chatted and casually watched sports highlights, one of my friends received a text and asked the bartender to change the channel. President Obama was addressing his nation to let them know that Osama bin Laden was dead. I had an eerie sense of my personal life aligning with the “everlasting wheel of time” to simultaneously mark the end of two eras, one personal, the other global. My presence in that bar with my friends in front of the television is of no relevance to posterity, but I will never forget what I witnessed and what I learned there. Individual experience is important only individually.


These days, the answer to “Where were you when…?” is usually where your eyes first locked on a screen of a television, computer, or smartphone. Before the invention of these technologies, the answer might be where you first heard it via the radio. Before that? It might very well be where you heard cry of the corner paperboy. A book I chanced upon recently in our Special Collections, A Review of the Authorities as to the Repression of Riot or Rebellion, with Special Reference to Criminal or Civil Liability (London, 1868), demonstrates how one Archdeacon Dixon of Guelph, Ontario, answers in his own way “Where were you when…?” and finds an intersection of his life with the epic of national history.

The Archdeacon’s book bears two inscriptions.

Archdeacon's Inscription

The first reads, “Archdeacon Dixon, Rector of Guelph, May 1884”. The second inscription, in what looks to be the same hand as the first, though with lighter ink and smaller letters, reads “This book was lent by me to Christopher Robinson, my old college friend, to take with him to the trial of Riel, he being crown prosecutor, May 1884. A.D.”


Louis Riel (1844-1885)

The Trial of Louis Riel (one hundred thirty years ago to the day as of this writing) was a cause célèbre in the young Dominion of Canada, and to see why the Archdeacon Dixon would want to mark his book’s involvement isn’t difficult. After all, Dixon’s dear friend, Christopher Robinson, prosecuted a man who was controversial in his day and who wound up among the most divisive figures in Canadian history. Riel was, depending on who you ask, a folk hero or seditious traitor, and already nationally known for his role in the Red River Rebellion and the killing of Thomas Scott in 1869. He fled to the States, and resurfaced in Canada in 1884 to lead the North-West Rebellion in 1885, for which he was eventually tried and executed later that same year. I imagine that to see a man so prominent in the cultural psyche answer for his deeds years after committing them would resonate for Dixon much in the same way bin Laden’s death resonates for me. As I have my story, the Archdeacon has his, and his book was a part of it; while he left little for later generations to remember him by, he had his brush with history, and that is enough. Can you picture him entertaining guests, taking this book from the shelf and telling his tale? How he might trump up his involvement with the trial so as to seem of greater importance?

Next to an autograph of John A. MacDonald (also accompanied by a note detailing the books historical provenance), this is probably the most fascinating inscription I’ve chanced upon in my short time here at Osgoode, not only for its slight historical connection, but for the Archdeacon’s motivations in writing it. This is what I love about inscriptions, that they are often so personal and intimate, of real importance to the writer but to no one else.

Once I finished musing, I realized something didn’t add up, and that something was the second inscription’s date of May 1884. We can tell, ex post facto, that this date must be an error, since Riel’s trial transpired in July 1885. The Archdeacon could not have written the inscription in 1884 since the information contained within it (i.e. the fact of Riel’s trial; Christopher Robinson’s appointment as crown prosecutor in the case) is contingent upon the events of 1885. By the same logic, since Dixon necessarily wrote the inscription at a point after Riel’s trial in 1885, we must conclude that the date of 1884 was written in error. I think it is likely that the Archdeacon signed only his name in May 1884 as a simple mark of ownership when lending the book to Robinson, and was simply muddled when wrote the later inscription and copied the same date upon the book’s return to him.

Unfortunately, if Robinson employed the book during his preparation for the trial, he did not leave us any markings by which we could trace how he used it. I’d like to add, however, that though he deprived later generations of what would be a remarkable (if minute) insight to the case, Robinson earns top marks for observing proper book-borrower’s protocol, returning the pristine volume to Archdeacon Dixon in the same condition in which it was first lent. Christopher Robinson: a prosecutor and a gentleman. Take note, readers of today — if you find yourself amidst history in-the-making, pull out your pen and mark the occasion, and do so in a book if one is handy.


A Canadian Pirate, and Other Notable Trials

We at the library would like to offer heartfelt congratulations to Osgoode’s Class of ’55, who recently celebrated their 60th Anniversary reunion! Helmed by Mr Morley Wolfe, the Class of ’55 took this occasion to offer the library a sum collected at their get-together, to be dedicated to collection development. This donation allowed the library to purchase a rare piece of Canadiana, an eight-page pamphlet detailing the trial of a pirate, “a Canadian by birth”, published in Philadelphia in 1800: The Confession of Joseph Baker, A Canadian by Birth, Who, For Murder & Piracy on the High Seas on Board the Schooner Eliza […] Was Tried On the 25th of April, 1800. As far as we can determine, ours is the only copy in Canada.

Our bookseller, from whom we acquired the pamphlet, summarized the already brief account thus:

Baker, whose real name was Boulanger, with La Croix (alias for Peterson) and La Roche (alias for Berrouse or Brous) killed the mate and supercargo on the schooner Eliza, but only wounded Captain Wheland. They agreed to let him live so he could navigate the ship ‘to the Spanish Main.’ Seizing a chance when two of the culprits were below deck, Wheland locked them in the cabin, and with an ax, drove the third into a rigging. He reached St. Kitts fourteen days later, and his three prisoners were brought back to Philadelphia in the U.S. sloop of war Ganges. Baker states that he was born at Trois-Rivieres, Quebec, in 1779, and came to New York City in 1799, where he joined with La Roche (Brous) and La Croix (Peterson), probably “a Dane or Swede,” according to Captain Wheland, whose Narrative of the Horrid Murder & Piracy was also published by Folwell at the same time as Baker’s Confession. Wheland’s account is detailed and graphic; Baker’s is even more so. Baker claimed to be a reluctant pirate who was forced into action by La Roche. As he tells it, Baker was ordered by La Roche and La Croix, who had also capitulated to La Roche, to “take the captain’s sword, and if he was a-sleep, to run it through his body, and if I did not do it, they would kill me: I went down but I could not find it in my heart to kill the captain, but struck him on the hand with a hatchet; he then jumped up and made a catch at me, and I then struck him on the head. Immediately I ran up on deck: Brous then attempted to kill me, because I had not killed the captain …” In his Narrative Wheland draws no distinction between Baker and the others that might reduce his culpability. Nor did the court. All were sentenced to hang. The confession is dated May 8th, 1800, one day before Baker and two accomplices were to be executed.

Reading Baker’s confession, I cannot help but be touched by his affirmations of innocence and reluctant participation in the crime. Apparently I’d make a terrible judge. The pamphlet is available online through the Library of Congress here, but if you have a connection through York, you can find higher quality scans through HeinOnline and Early American imprints, Series I, Evans (1639-1800). If Baker’s confession is of interest to you, the Library of Congress maintains an excellent collection of piracy trials, most of which are available online here.

Mr Wolfe, pleased to hear about the purchase facilitated by his class’s generous donation, was kind enough to stop by the library to see our new pamphlet first-hand.


While visiting, Mr Wolfe also took some time to admire another donation of which he was a major part – that of his Notable Trials Library. These book club editions, with their decorated, quarter-leather custom bindings and gilt edges agleam, add distinction to any shelf. These editions are reprints of classic works of trial literature, covering everything from the trial of Socrates right up to the Cold War era’s most contentious courtroom battles. Each book features a short introductory essay by celebrated American lawyer Alan M. Dershowitz that contextualizes the trial and explains just why it is “notable”. From historic precedents to the attendant media frenzies, reverberations from these trials ring throughout the legal landscape still. Dershowitz himself is, among other things, a noted criminal lawyer. He is perhaps best remembered in this capacity for representing Claus von Bülow for the attempted murder of his wife, Sunny von Bülow, recounted in Dershowitz’s own Reversal of Fortune: Inside the von Bülow Case (which is, of course, one of the volumes in this collection). A list of Mr. Wolfe’s trial library can be viewed here.

A sincere thank you to Mr. Wolfe and the rest of the Class of ’55 for their donations to our collections! We’re always on the lookout for Legal Canadiana and were happy to be able to add this curious account of a Canadian pirate to our trial holdings.

The Jarvis-Irving Collection

Samuel Jarvis, 1792-1857

Samuel Jarvis, 1792-1857

In several separate purchases over the past year, the Osgoode Library has managed to acquire a collection of law books, the Jarvis-Irving Collection, comprising 32 titles (67 volumes) that belonged to Samuel Peters Jarvis (1792-1857), a lawyer and prominent Toronto citizen and member of the Family Compact in Upper Canada.

Jarvis was born in Newark (now Niagara-on-the-Lake) in 1792, when it was the capital of the colony of Upper Canada. His father, William Jarvis, enjoyed the patronage of Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe, who granted him the offices of provincial secretary and registrar. Samuel Jarvis was educated at Reverend  John Strachan‘s Grammar School in Cornwall, after which he took up legal studies in the office of Attorney General William Firth. His articles were interrupted by the War of 1812, in which he saw considerable action, including service with Major-General Sir Isaac Brock at the capture of Detroit and at the Battle of Queenston Heights. He was called to Bar in 1815.

Though from an established family and well-positioned for success, Jarvis’s fiery temperament and impetuous nature initially thwarted his chances at preferment. In 1817, he killed John Ridout, son of Surveyor General Thomas Ridout, in a duel, though he was later exonerated. In 1826, with a group of other Tory young bloods, he invaded and ransacked the offices of William Lyon Mackenzie, an offence for which he was heavily fined. Despite these blots on his character, Jarvis was appointed deputy provincial secretary and registrar by Lieutenant Governor Sir Peregrine Maitland in 1827, and subsequently Chief Superintendent of Indian Affairs by Lieutenant Governor Sir Francis Bond Head in 1837. Jarvis did not prove a great success in either of these roles. After several investigations into mismanagement, the office of Chief Superintendent was abolished in in 1845 and Jarvis, in disgrace, retired to private life. Faced with financial problems, he subdivided and sold off most of the 100-acre park east of Yonge Street in Toronto that he had inherited from his father. In 1847, Hazelburn, the house he had built there 23 years earlier, was torn town to make way for for the street which still bears Jarvis’s name. Jarvis died in 1857.

This collection is called the Jarvis-Irving Collection, as it was subsequently passed on to Jarvis’s daughter-in-law’s brother, Sir Aemilius Irving (1823-1913), the longest-serving Treasurer of the Law Society of Upper Canada. We are extremely proud of this collection, as it is rare to be able to rebuild such a substantial collection of law books from so early a period in our national and legal history.

In the News: An Octocentenary of Note: Magna Carta Turns 800


“JOHN, by the grace of God King of England, Lord of Ireland, Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, and Count of Anjou, to his archbishops, bishops, abbots, earls, barons, justices, foresters, sheriffs, stewards, servants, and to all his officials and loyal subjects, Greeting.”

In 2015, such an aureate introduction won’t even fit in a tweet. But in 1215, a full eight centuries past, politicians and leaders were not constrained by 140-character limits when they wanted to make a proclamation. King John knew he had ample space on his luxuriously vacant vellum for a loquacious lead-in, and by Jove, he was going to use it.

As John Allemang’s recent (Feb 2) excellent spread in The Globe and Mail reminds us, this year we are celebrating the 800th anniversary of the truly remarkable Magna Carta. In his thoughtful piece, Allemang roundly considers arguments from both Magna Carta’s devotees and detractors, noting that, for all the praise given it for establishing the rule of law and basic tenets of human rights, “sometimes, it is just a self-interested legal document that attempts to settle a bunch of long-simmering quarrels between one very powerful man and a few almost-as-powerful men.” However you choose to view the Magna Carta at 800, for Allemang, its “statement of principle is good enough: Don’t let the bullies push you around.” But enough with the sound-bites; please, read on at The Globe and MailPart I and Part II.

As everyone should know, the Magna Carta — also known as the Great Charter — was signed by King John in the presence of his barons at the field of Runnymede near Windsor on June 15, 1215. There are four extant copies of the Magna Carta: two at the British Library and one each at Salisbury and Lincoln cathedrals. During this octocentenary year, all four copies will be on display at the British Library, which is also hosting an exhibition, “Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy”, from March to September this year. If you find you’re too busy with law school to take a trip to England (an understandable excuse), you can view the exhibition online.

Also as part of this year’s celebrations, a copies of the Magna Carta will be sent on tour around the world. A copy of the Magna Carta from Durham Catheral — a “reissue” from 1216, accompanied by Durham’s 1225 copy of the companion Charter of the Forest — will be on exhibit in Canada from June through December, making stops in four Canadian cities (Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg and Edmonton). Toronto’s Fort York, will be host from October 4 to November 7, 2015. For more information, visit the Magna Carta 800 Canada website.

Coat of Arms of Osgoode Hall Law School

Coat of Arms of Osgoode Hall Law School

The Magna Carta is also features on the coat of arms of Osgoode Hall Law School. On the left side of the shield is portrayed a Doric column surmounted by a crouching beaver. Around the column is a white scroll with the words “Magna Carta Angliae” (Great Charter of England). The beaver, of course, represents Canada. The column and scroll indicate that law, the rule of law and civil rights, descending from Magna Carta, are a pillar of Canadian society. These symbols — the pillar, the beaver and the scroll — are taken directly from the Seal of the Law Society of Upper Canada in Osgoode Hall, the School’s home until 1969.

If you’d like to learn a little more about the Great Charter, a quick search through our holdings reveals numbers of texts and commentaries regarding the eminent document. Our collection includes Blackstone’s famous treatise of 1759.

A Bounty of Bookplates

The Osgoode Library has purchased a modest collection of twenty-eight bookplates of various Canadian legal personages. These bookplates are of interest for biographical, bibliographical and professional reasons, and are also sure to be of interest to Game of Thrones fans for their assortment of family sigils and words, or in heraldic parlance, charges and mottoes.

A handful of our newly acquired bookplates.

bookplate, also known as an ex-librīs (from the Latin for “from the books of…”), is usually a small label pasted into a book, often on the inside front cover, to indicate ownership. Bookplates can be decorative or plain. Simple typographical bookplates are often termed “booklabels”. Typically, though, they bear a namemottodevicecoat-of-armscrestbadge, or any motif that relates to and identifies the owner of the book. Many collectors and other bibliomanes commission an artist to design a bookplate for their personal use. The name of the owner is usually preceded by an inscription such as “From the books of . . .” or “From the library of . . .”, or the Latin, “Ex libris . . .”

When attempting to determine the provenance of a book, a researcher’s best friend is the humble bookplate. No handwriting to decipher, no ambiguous ink marks, and no mysterious initials – bookplates are a comparatively clear and exact indicator of previous ownership (unless some sneaky individual inserts another person’s bookplate in a book never owned by that person – who could commit such an atrocity?).

Very often, especially before the 20th century, bookplates took the form of an individual’s coat of arms, which is wonderful, because — in theory at least — no family’s arms should be the same as any other’s, and even within the same immediate family arms are distinguished from person to person by marks of cadency. If the family plays by the rules of the appropriate heraldic authority (in our case, the Canadian Heraldic Authority), then the coat of arms should point directly to a particular individual, or at the very least, a particular family. Coats of arms are described with a specific heraldic argot, and since each is — again, theoretically — unique, each description should be unique too. If you know one of the name, coat of arms, or the description of the coat of arms, you can usually logically infer the rest of the information with the appropriate resources. What’s more, many arms and crests also feature mottos (think “Winter is coming”), which not only sound heroic, but are also an important piece of information. In sum, armorial bookplates can be as exact and even more meaningful than a clearly printed name and date, and they are much more delightful to behold.

While bookplates are certainly useful to researchers, many of them are also quite stately little works of art. Here are a few choice examples from our new collection, with well-researched descriptions courtesy of our dealer Warren Baker.

Abbott, Sir John Joseph Caldwell (1821-1893). Crest. 8.8 x 6.2 cm. Gagnon Supp.2649. Harrod & Ayearst, p. 18; Masson Coll. Vol. I, #3.

Sir John Joseph Caldwell Abbott Abbott was widely viewed as the most successful lawyer in Canada for many years, as measured by professional income (and when St James Street in Montreal had not yet been surpassed by Toronto’s Bay Street). He began lecturing in commercial and criminal law at McGill in 1853, and in 1855 he became a professor and dean of its Faculty of Law, where Sir Wilfrid Laurier, future prime minister of Canada, was among his students. He continued in this position until 1880. Upon his retirement, McGill named him emeritus professor, and in 1881 appointed him to its Board of Governors. Abbott succeeded Sir John A MacDonald as Prime Minister of Canada on MacDonald’s death in office in 1891, but held the office for only a year due to his ill health. He was our fist Canada-born prime minister. The plate was engraved by Francis Adams, Montreal engraver and lithographer, active from 1853-57. [Motto: Devant si je puis, or Forward if I can]

BaldwinDr William Warren (1775-1844).  Armorial. 11.6 x 7.2 cm. Gagnon I, 4759; Harrod & Ayearst, pp. 22 & 23; Masson Collection Vol. II, #229.

According to Harrod & Ayearst, this bookplate refers to the father of Robert Baldwin. He arrived in Upper Canada from Ireland in 1799, settling first in Durham County, where he was appointed a lieutenant-colonel in the Durham militia and a justice of the peace before the family resettled in York (not Toronto). He was called to the Bar in 1803 and appointed a district court judge in 1809. He became a bencher of the Law Society of Upper Canada in 1807 and served several terms as Treasurer. He was elected MP for Norfolk in 1838. His home in York (Toronto) was called Spadina House from the Indian word spadina, which means a sudden rise of ground such as that upon which the house was built. [Motto: Nec timide nec temere, or Neither rashly nor timidly]

Robinson, John Beverley, Sir (1791-1863). Armorial mantling. 9.7 x 7.7 cm. Gagnon 4945. Harrod & Ayearst, p. 122; Masson Coll. Vol. XI, #1803.

John Beverley Robinson was born in Lower Canada, son of a Virginia loyalist. The family moved to Kingston, Upper Canada, in 1792. In 1799 he was enrolled in the school in York recently opened by John Strachan, and he lived in the the Strachan household until 1807. At age 16, he left to enter the study of law D’Arcy Boulton. Robinson served in the War of 1812 as a militia officer under Sir Isaac Brock, and was appointed acting Attorney General of the province. From 1818-1829, Robinson was the Attorney General of Upper Canada, and, in 1829, he was appointed Chief Justice, Speaker of the Legislative Council, and President of the Executive Council of Upper Canada. As a judge he has had few equals in the history of Canadian judicature. [Motto: Propere et provide, or Quickly and cautiously]

Cartwright, John S., QC (1804-1845)Engraved armorial. 10.6 x 6.7 cm. Gagnon I, 4796 who gives J. R. Cartwright; Harrod& Ayearst, p. 43, who assign his death date to 1860; Masson Collection Vol. III, #439.

John Solomon Cartwright was born in Kingston, Upper Canada, the son of Richard Cartwright and Magdalen Secord (the sister of Laura Secord). He studied law in York, UC (now Toronto) in the law office of John Beverley Robinson (whose bookplate is shown above) and was called to the Bar in 1825. He went to London to pursue further legal studies at Lincoln’s Inn, but by the autumn of 1830 had returned to Kingston, where he resumed his law practice. His seriousness about his profession is shown by the large sum he was spending on legal books. In England he had probably laid out £250 for a “law library”. In 1834 he was appointed a judge of the Midland District Court; he was elected a bencher of the Law Society of Upper Canada in 1835 and in 1838 he was made a QC. He became the first president of the Commercial Bank of Kingston in 1831. He was elected to the Legislative Assembly of Upper Canada in 1836 and to the Legislative Assembly of United Canada in 1841. He opposed the Union of 1840 and turned down the solicitor-generalship from Sir Charles Bagot in 1842. He died at Kingston. His great-grandson, John Robert Cartwright (1895-1979), a graduate of Osgoode Hall Law School, was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, 1967-1970.

If you’re interested in learning more about bookplates, head to the ultimate resource at the Bookplate Society.

The Lawes Resolution of Women’s Rights, or The Woman’s Lawyer (1632)

The Balfour Halevy Special Collections has acquired an exciting new item, The Lawes Resolution of Women’s Rights, also known as The Woman’s Lawyer. Why is this exciting? The Woman’s Lawyer is the earliest work in English devoted to laws relating exclusively to women. Some particular topics include the age of consent, dower, hermaphrodites, polygamy, wooing, partition, chattels, divorce, descent, seisin, treason, felonies and rape. This 1632 text was authored anonymously, but is commonly attributed to either Thomas Edgar or Sir John Doderidge, an important legal figure during the reign of James I.

Though the title refers to “women’s rights”, its meaning is foreign to us who today think of suffrage, the fight for equality, and modern feminism when we hear the phrase. This book early on references the “especiall bane” suffered by women for Eve’s transgression in Eden, and takes this same sin as the reason “that Women have no voyse in Parliament, They make no Lawes, they consent to none, they abrogate none.” Here, women’s rights refers only to the rights of women in all their limitations, and is not a treatise for their advancement.

Nevertheless, the specific attention to the place of women in the law might be a step in the right direction, albeit a small one. Indeed, the work makes no judgment as to the correctness or morality of the laws contained therein, but only claims to collect them so that “profitable and usefull Learning […] be well knowne”. The editor laments the difficulty the law poses to the common person, and praises the author, who has made “this scattered part of Learning, in the great Volumes of the Common-Law-Bookes, and there darkly described, to be one entyre body, and more ready, and clearer to the view of the Reader”. The Norton Anthology generously describes how the work would “help women understand how the law impinged on them”, so this book may have, in compiling legislation related to women, simply highlighted the astounding injustice afforded them in the period. Bravo, anonymous author!

In addition to finding this book in our special collections, you can find an excellent digitized edition of the text via the London School of Economics library or, if you can dispense with page scans, a searchable text is available via the University of Michigan.