Prest, Great Litigation Slump

The next LLHS will be given by Professor Wilfrid Prest (University of Adelaide) on 17 May 2023 at 6PM at the Institute for Advanced Legal Studies. Professor Prest will speak on The Great Litigation Slump, 1689-1760: Character, Causes, Consequences. His talk will be followed by a drinks reception at IALS. Further information, and the (free) registration for the event can be found at:

Could you please let Professor MacMillan know, by the 5th of May, if you would like to join us for supper after the drinks reception? I will book a restaurant for those interested in dining (please note that this is at our own expense) and carrying on our conversations over supper.


For further details, contact:

Professor Catharine MacMillan

The Dickson Poon School of Law

King’s College London


London WC2R 2LS

tel: +44 (0) 20 7848-5930  

Book Collecting Prize

David Laing Book Collecting Prize: For the most enthusiastic student collector


The David Laing Book Collecting Prize, held annually, aims to encourage collecting by recognising a collection formed by a matriculated student.  Students are invited to submit an essay about their collection, to be in with a chance of winning a £500 prize.

The prize is offered in honour of David Laing (1793 -1878), the distinguished antiquarian, collector and librarian who bequeathed his important collection of manuscripts and other materials to the University of Edinburgh in 1878.

The prize is supported by the Friends financially, and a member of the Friends sits on the judging panel – Dr Murray Simpson kindly fills that role.


Celebrating Women in Legal History

Selden’s Sister invites abstracts for the Symposium, “Celebrating Women in Legal History: The Lives and Legacies of Early Women Legal Historians,” The University of Liverpool School of Law and Social Justice, 1st September 2023.

This one-day hybrid symposium aims to celebrate the contributions of women to early legal historical scholarship, to commemorate the achievements of under-appreciated figures in legal history, and to assess their contributions in light of present understandings of the discipline. We particularly encourage papers that engage with the work of nineteenth and twentieth-century researchers.

Papers might consider (but are not restricted to):
The work of particular women, or groups of women, whose research significantly impacted legal, constitutional, or administrative history.
Current research projects that make extensive use of the work of one or multiple early women legal historians.
Biographical accounts of women who undertook legal historical research in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Historiographical accounts of areas of legal history that have been significantly developed by women scholars.
Accounts of other contributions made by women to early legal historical scholarship, for example as patrons, librarians, editors, or typists.
Fictional or artistic accounts of women in legal history
Abstracts are welcomed from scholars of all genders, disciplines, and career stages. Delegates will be able to present their papers in-person or online. There is a limited amount of funding for travel within the UK and accommodation expenses, priority for which will be given to postgraduate and early-career scholars.

Please submit any queries and abstracts of no more than 300 words to by Friday 21st April 2023.

Selden’s Sister are a collaborative body of legal historians across multiple UKHE institutions. We seek to champion the work of contemporary female legal historians, and highlight past contributions of women to legal history.

Somerset v. Stewart (1772): Conference Philadelphia

This year (2022) saw the 250th anniversary of the famous decision by Lord Mansfield in the case of Somerset v. Stewart. It is always worth remembering that Somerset visited Edinburgh and knew Stewart’s relatives in Scotland’s capital. Indeed, Stewart himself is buried in Greyfriars’ Kirkyard.

The anniversary of Mansfield’s decision has passed surprisingly unnoticed, except for an important conference in Philadelphia, held under the auspices of the American Philosophical Society. It was entitled: “Somerset v Steuart @ 250: Facts, Interpretations, and Legacies”. The programme was as follows:

Wednesday, November 30

Virtual Discussion: Somerset v Steuart @ 250: Facts, Interpretations, and Legacies

1:00-2:00pm ET [Zoom webinar]

Alan Taylor (University of Virginia)
Christopher Brown (Columbia University)
Holly Brewer (University of Maryland, College Park) Manisha Sinha (University of Connecticut)

Moderated by David Waldstreicher (Graduate Center, CUNY)


Thursday, December 1

Benjamin Franklin Hall 427 Chestnut St.

8:30-9:00 a.m.: Light breakfast

9:00–9:15 a.m.: Welcome, Patrick Spero, Librarian and Director, Library and Museum, American Philosophical Society


9:15 – 10:30 a.m.: Opening Discussion

The Somerset Case: A Historiographical Overview”

Dana Rabin (University of Illinois)

“Lord Mansfield and the Uses of Historical Myth: An Historiography of the Somerset Case in the 20th century”
Harvey R. Neptune (Temple University)

Discussant: Matthew Mason (Brigham Young University)

10:30-11:00 a.m.: Coffee Break


1:00 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.: Session 1: Constitutions

“The same indispensable duty operates throughout”: War, Captivity, and the ‘Domestication’ of
Slavery in Somerset v. Steuart”

John Blanton (City College of New York)

“The Lawyers’ Somerset”

Daniel Hulsebosch (New York University)

“”But only positive law:” Somerset and the Nature of Discretion”

Matthew Crow (Hobart and William Smith Colleges)

Discussant: Michael Meranze (University of California Los Angeles)


12:15 – 1:00 p.m.: Lunch

1:00 – 2:00 p.m.: Session 2: Boston

Somerset, the Bible, & the End of Hereditary Slavery in Massachusetts”

Nicholas Wood (Spring Hill College)

“Somerset in Boston”

Grant Stanton (University of Pennsylvania)

Discussant: Kathleen Brown (University of Pennsylvania)


2:15 – 3:15 p.m.: Session 3: News

“Before Somerset: How British Slaves Shared News of Emancipation and Rebellion in the Eighteenth Century”

Justin Pope (Missouri University of Science and Technology)

“Somerset v. Steuart: Who Knew What, When, and How?”

Helena Yoo Roth (Graduate Center, CUNY)

Discussant: Asheesh Kapur Siddique (University of Massachusetts, Amherst)

3:15-3:30 p.m.: Break


3:30 – 4:45 p.m.: Session 4: Fugitives

“Property in Mobile People: Captivity, Forced Migrations, and Enslavement in the Eighteenth

Century British Empire”

Scott Heerman (University of Miami)

“From slavery to servitude to freedom: the gradual end of slavery in England in the wake of the Somerset decision”

Simon Newman (University of Wisconsin)

“ Jacob Duryee, the Somerset Case, the Book of Negroes, and the British Evacuation of New York City in 1783”

Marcus Daniel (University of Hawai’i at Manoa)

Discussant: Richard Blackett (Vanderbilt University)


Friday, December 2

Benjamin Franklin Hall 427 Chestnut St.

9:15 – 10:30 a.m.: Session 5: Actors/Biography

“Somerset v. Steuart  as an American Case: Reconstructing James Somerset’s Colonial Networks”

Kirsten Sword (Indiana University, Bloomington)

“The ‘Portrait of Dido Elizabeth Belle and Lady Elizabeth Murray’ in the Wake of Somerset v. Steuart””

Jennifer Germann (Ithaca College)

“Mansfieldism: How the Mason-Dixon Line Contributed to the Somerset Decision”

Henry Buehner (Jefferson University)

Discussant: Rachel Shelden (Penn State University)


10:30 – 10:45 a.m.: Coffee Break

10:45 – 12:00 p.m.: Session 6: Proslavery

“Somerset and the Birth of Racial Capitalism in the West Indies”

Trevor Burnard (University of Hull)

“”Free White Persons”: Slaveholder Citizenship Politics in the Early United States”

Paddy Riley (Reed College)

“‘A Law Totally different from that Which Exists in Virginia’: The Somerset Decision’s Effects on British and and Virginian Abolition Debates”

Adam Thomas (Western Carolina University)

Discussant: Paul Finkelman (Gustavus Adolphus College)


12:00 – 1:00 p.m.: Lunch
1:00 p.m – 2:00 p.m.: Session 7: Antislavery

“Subjection, Protection, and Sovereignty: Another Somerset Principle in American Abolitionism”

Evan Turiano (Queens College, CUNY)

“”Somerset’ by Inches: Fugitives form Slavery, Enslaved Travelers, and etc steady Accumulation of Free Soil”
Jordan Grant (American University)

Discussant: Sarah Barringer Gordon (University of Pennsylvania) 2:00 – 2:15 p.m.: Break

2:15 – 3:00 p.m. Wrap-up/Final Thoughts

Graduation, 25 November 2022: Research in Legal History

The Centre is always delighted when its research students graduate. On 22 November, Mr Brandon Clydesdale, currently studying of the degree of Ph.D., graduated with the degree of LL.M. by Research with a thesis entitled “President Montesquieu, Hon. Charles Yorke, and Sir John Dalrymple: legal science, feudal law, and law reform in the age of Enlightenment.” Mr Clydesdale’s doctoral research builds on this work.

“Actors, lives and networks: biographies in the global circulation of knowledge” QMUL May 2023

Call for Papers





Queen Mary, University of London 11th & 12th May 2023

Scholarship that retraces the lives of transnational historical actors has flourished in recent years. It usually finds that when actors moved internationally, their ideas moved too. Shaped by new experiences, individuals often pushed intellectual, political, and legal debates in new directions. Those who did not travel spread knowledge overseas via letter writing, building activist networks, and so on. Individuals’ life stories thus offer a way of understanding how, when, and why new ideas developed around the world, as well as their impact on others.

This workshop will contribute to the growing interest in studying highly mobile and influential global actors by bringing together a diverse array of papers and case studies in order to generate a collective discussion about theoretical and methodological questions which arise in related research, such as:

Who, or which actors, can be classified as suitable subjects in the mobile history of ideas, political history, and legal history?
What mechanisms were used by individuals to disseminate new ideas internationally?
What are the challenges faced by recounting the life of an individual moving between contexts, such as the local and the transnational, the metropolitan and the imperial?

How can scholars recount a biography that weaves together (potentially very different) national histories, contexts, and social or political processes?


A wide variety of topics are welcome; they include, but are not limited to:

the lives of individuals who influenced intellectual, political, and legal debates without necessarily being professional philosophers, statesmen, or lawyers;
actors travelling within and across nations and empires;
the circulation of knowledge produced by transnational life experiences;

‘unexceptional’ lives and their historical relevance;
family networks, social lives, and socialisation;
lives of members of collective bodies such as commissions, lobbies, and associations;
biographies of women that engaged with philosophy, politics, and the law;
non-European actors including representatives of conquered, colonized, and enslaved peoples who influenced and/or resisted political and legal processes.


Please submit a 250 word abstract along with a 1-page CV to by 15 December 2022.

Researchers at all stages of their career are welcome, especially those who have not engaged with biography or life writing and those at the early points of their career.


The workshop is organised by Victoria Barnes, Matilde Cazzola, and Atlanta Rae Neudorf.


Dicey 100 + : Some Scottish Material

Albert Venn Dicy died at his home in Oxford on 7 April, 1922. Born in 1835, he had suffered from muscular weakness, apparently due to problems with his birth, but he had a long and active life, in the course of which, from 1882, he had held the Vinerian Chair of English Law at Oxford for twenty-seven years. His father was a newspaper proprietor, and his mother, with the revealing surname “Stephen”, was from the Victorian “intellectual aristocracy”.

The recent Dicey 100+ conference held at Oxford, should produce a multi-authored volume to be published next year.

Dicey was a prolific author. His law books are well known. Indeed, his work on Conflict of Laws is still being edited, updated, and used. Your blogger remembers it well, in its iteration of Dicey and Morris, from when he studied Private International Law in the mid-1970s. Though this is often regarded by legal scholars as his best work, he is generally much better known for his work on Constitutional Law, which derived from lectures at Oxford, Lectures Introductory to the Law of the Constitution (1886), usually referred to as Law of the Constitution. He set out an attractive Whiggish (in a good sense) account of constitutional law and development, in which he developed powerful ideas that are still crucial to British constitutional thinking, such as those of the rule of law and parliamentary sovereignty.

As well as such works, he wrote very extensively on political issues in magazines, pamphlets, and books. He was notably worried about Irish Home Rule, and frequently wrote  on it from a strongly unionist perspective. He was intellectually always engaged, and his correspondence reveals an extraordinary energy and, indeed, one might even say obsession. He was keen to ensure the general dissemination of his political ideas. Thus, he wanted his thoughts on Home Rule to be available to the general public in simplified versions in station book shops. He wished to have an impact on public opinion. Much of this can be traced through his correspondence with the publishers, John Murray, held in the National Library of Scotland, as well as in his correspondence with A. D. Elliott in the same repository. 

One obvious effect of his physical weakness, which is all too evident to those who work on his papers, is his appalling handwriting. A letter to the publisher John Murray, for example, evidently caused the recipient huge problems, and he started to decipher it painfully in pencil, trying laboriously to work out its meaning. Fortunately, Dicey frequently used an amanuensis, and some of his later letters are typed; were it otherwise, those who study him would often be sorely perplexed.

One cannot say that Dicey is a witty and amusing correspondent, or, at least he certainly is not in the correspondence I have seen. He was no David Hume. There are nonetheless occasional flashes of humour in letters to correspondents with whom he felt comfortable, such as the youthful Arthur Berriedale Keith, whom he always addressed informally as “Dear Keith” or “My Dear Keith”. Perhaps, of course, the difference in ages was significant here. Thus, when he started to write to the publisher John Murray IV, he was addressed as “Dear Murray”, while his father (John Murray III) had always been formally addressed by Dicey as “Dear Mr Murray”.

There survives in Edinburgh an extensive set of notebooks that study shows relate to the preparation of the edition of Conflict of Laws edited with Keith in 1922. Keith went on to edit two further editions. These are not formally included in the collection of Arthur Berriedale Keith papers in the University Library in Edinburgh, but were presumably gifted to the Library by Keith or his heirs. Further examination is necessary, but it looks like material that Dicey sent to Keith. Some of the notebooks have the  inscription “A.V. Dicey All Souls” on a fly leaf or the reverse of the front board; one has pasted to the reverse of the front board a book plate bearing Dicey’s name and coat of arms. The note books are miscellaneous in nature, but many contain organized lists of relevant cases. There are sometimes observations or brief accounts of the cases, with occasional notes from secondary works. one notebook contains a detailed analysis of Story’s work. Some note books have dated entries, and it is possible to see Dicey working through material creating a kind of specialised common-place book. Questions are posed and discussed. The material has been dictated by Dicey to an amanuensis, who has, for example, at one stage understood “incidents” as “incidence”. Pasted into one notebook is the corrected proof of a note by Dicey for Pollock’s L.Q.R. Some of the collections of cases start to include cuttings of reports from newspapers and journals; Keith obviously continued to use these for subsequent editions, as some of the cuttings are from after Dicey’s death. One volume, in a spring-back binder, contains the manuscript index of cases of the third edition. The binder is a prudent re-use; pasted on it front board his a typed (deleted) note stating it contains “Lectures on the Relation Between Law and Public Opinion”. As Dicey was working with Keith, he was also working with Robert S. Rait, Professor of Scottish History and literature in Glasgow, on their joint volume, Thoughts on the Union between England and Scotland (1920). Some typed pages from this book have been reused, with the typing scored through and new text on the back.

Rait eventually became Principal of the University of Glasgow. In that University’s special collections are to be found a MS Lecture “Is History a guide in Politics?” attributed to Dicey, as well as a miscellaneous set of correspondence, most donated by Rait’s widow. It is, as the catalogue states, an “artificial” collection. It is nonetheless very interesting, and contains much reflecting Dicey’s intellectual interests, though some letters are more personal.  Many of the most interesting are written from Cambridge by his distinguished cousin, John Venn. But it is interesting to note lighter matters such as his acceptance of a gift of a cake, and his trip to a music hall with his nephew Edgar Bonham Carter.



London Legal History Seminar, 7 Dec. 2022: Francis Goldsmid

A London Legal History Seminar

Jewish Emancipation in Nineteenth Century Britain : Francis Goldsmid

A talk by Dr Andrew Watson, Sheffield Hallam University

Wednesday 7th December, 6pm
In-Person at UCL’s Faculty of Law

About the course

Francis Goldsmid was the first professing Jewish barrister in 1833 and the first to be appointed as a Queen’s Counsel a quarter of a century later. His early life, education, Call to the Bar and time as a barrister is described. Civil and political disabilities faced by Jews in Nineteenth Century Britain are explained: Francis Goldsmid’s important role in their ultimate removal is set out. His career as a Liberal Member of Parliament, during the 1860s and 1870s, is considered, particularly his stances on significant reforms of English law and procedure and his concern for the human rights of his co-religionists and others abroad. Goldsmid’s contribution to religious reform and his generous support, financial and otherwise, to causes and campaigns is recounted.

About the speaker

Andrew Watson is a Senior Research Fellow at Sheffield Hallam University and has written recently about the historical depiction of Jewish people in art and the history of Jews in Argentina. He is researching the history of the Barristers’ Cab Rule, changes in court advocacy through the centuries and legal education in Nineteenth Century Britain.

About London Legal History Seminars

The London Legal History Seminar is a long-running inter-collegiate seminar series at the University of London, devoted to promoting recent research in the field. The Seminar is run by Dr David Foster (UCL), Prof Mark Lunney (KCL), and Prof Catharine MacMillan (KCL). For more details on LLHS events, please contact Prof. MacMillan ( to be added to our email list.


Knight v. Wedderburn: “Enough of Him”

The Scottish case of Knight v. Wedderburn (1778) has in recent years gained some publicity. It is discussed in the Oxford Companion to Black British History (2007), while Joseph Knight has gained an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Of course, legal records are fascinating, but do not tell us all. It is an obvious deduction that there was much at stake emotionally in the litigation, as in the English case of Somerset v. Stewart. Enough detail is known, however, to allow for plausible imaginative recreations. Thus, James Robertson published his novel Joseph Knight in 2003, winning a Saltire Award.

A play by May Sumbwanyambe, based on the Knight story, premiered recently at the Pitlochry Theatre, before starting a tour with the National Theatre of Scotland. It is entitled “Enough of Him”. Excellently staged and directed, it focuses on the emotional connections and struggles of the main characters. It is ultimately very moving. The review in The Times on 24 October rightly described it as “[p]oignant and powerful”. The play is currently touring Scotland. The text is available, published by Methuen in its Drama series.

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