First Catch Your Toad: Medieval Attitudes to Ordeal and Battle

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Type Article
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)50-61
Number of pages12
JournalCambrian Law Review
Volume2
Publication statusPublished - 1980
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Abstract

The toad of the title appears in the diary of the Reverand Francis Kilvert in an entry dated February 1st 1871. The tale is one of an alleged theft and the process undertaken to unmask the perpetrator. It is an exemplar of instances that show the survival of an ancient belief in the possibility of determination of criminal responsibility by an appeal to the supernatural. It was a belief which had, centuries earlier, formed the basis of English criminal procedure. This articlle attempts to assemble evidence as to the way in which the irrational methods of proof were regarded at a time when they played such an important role in English jurisprudence. The story is one of increasing scepticism against the background of conservatism and sense of tradition which characterizes lawyers of all ages. We must not judge too harshly the legal system of a time which saw the intervention of God as natural - God was no more remote nor more unlikely to exist than was the king. on the other hand it is not necessary to view the astutest medieval lawyers as unthinking slaves to superstition. If this has been shown then a purpose has been served.

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