The Law Of Breach Of Promise

A dressing table with a photo frame with hearts and text 'Happy Anniversary'

If a couple makes it to the altar, chances are they are going to be together long enough to send one another anniversary cards. And because we design and sell greeting cards, never miss an opportunity to put one in front of your audience. Click the image to go to the product page for the card.

But then not every romantic entanglement results in marriage. Sometimes it is by mutual agreement. Sometimes though, the parties actually got engaged, with an engagement ring and all the trimmings. And then what happens if one of them decides to back off?

In England nowadays, the idea being sued in court for breach of promise seems quaint. And if someone jilts a fiancé, it is put down to that mystery of the human heart. After all, most people today would say, love cannot be shackled by obligation – at least not until marriage. So it may come as a surprise to learn how recently the right to sue for breach of promise was taken off the statute books in England.

Before we get to that, you may be even more suprised to learn the origin of the word ‘jilt’. The word is first recorded in the late 1600s, when it meant to cheat, or trick, or deceive, especially after holding out hopes. But what of the person who is a jilt? Again in the 1600s, a jilt was a loose, unchaste woman who gave hope to and then dashed the hopes of the poor man.

Then over the years the word ‘jilt’ came to mean a person, especially a woman, who capriciously rejects a lover. Today, the word still means rejecting someone, perhaps suddenly, but it has lost its meaning of deceiving a person. Nowadays it just means to give someone the push without a big discussion and mutual teary sadness. Not super nice, but nothing beyond that.

The Role Of The Church In Breach Of Promise

With all of that, you might have thought that suing for breach of promise was going strong in the Middle Ages. After all, that was when a man could ‘plight his troth’, which meant to vow the truth of his intention to marry. And ‘vow’ is a strong word, is it not? In fact in the Middle Ages the only legal remedy available to someone who had been jilted was that if they had given a gift in contemplation of marriage, they could sue for the return of the gift.

Beyond that, breaking a promise to marry someone was a purely ecclesiastical matter. And there were no financial consequences for breaking that promise.

The Church could, however, ‘admonish’ someone who broke his or her promise to marry. When communities were much closer knit and everyone knew everyone’s business, that was a meaningful penalty. Nowadays, ho would even have the temerity to admonish someone for breaking off an engagement?

The Common Law Courts Step In

Be that as it may, the influence of the Church waned with the dissolution of the monasteries. And with it the right to sue for breach of promise of marriage evolved in the common law courts.

It evolved an inch at a time, with the courts trying at all times to avoid any hasty, sweeping principles. English law does not want principles that can trip up judges and the courts at a later date. As they evolved, breach of promise cases were treated like any other contract. A promise to marry was just like a contract to buy or sell cotton or potatoes. If one party failed to honour their promise, the other could sue for damages. And the measure was the loss of the benefit that would have come from the contract.

That came with a downside. A merchant was not obliged to disclose the faults in his goods. So in the same way, the parties to an engagement did not have to disclose their faults. If one of the parties was hard of hearing, or penniless, there was no obligation to tell the other party.

Breach Of Promise In The 1800s

In the fifty years up to 1900 there were approximately one thousand breach of promise actions that ended with a trial with judgement and damages awarded by a jury. More cases were started but settled before they got to court. And until 1869 the court heard evidence from anyone and everyone except the parties themselves. That was because until the law was changed in 1869, parties to a breach of promise action were prohibited from giving evidence in court. Why was that? Perhaps because the hearts of the parties were involved and so they could not give cold, hard evidence.

Breach Of Promise In Popular Entertainment

That did not stop the newspapers from printing the details of the evidence given by other witnesses. And breach of promise cases were a prime source of public entertainment. They were so popular that several melodramas and comedies were written on the subject. And the centrepiece was ‘the trial’. Charles Dickens wrote in The Pickwick Papers about poor Mr Pickwick being sued for breach of promise by his housekeeper. Poor, misunderstood Mr Pickwick who got himself into trouble by accident.

In the breach of promise cases that came to trial, the defendants were nearly always men. And their lawyers usually described the women plaintiffs as scheming, avaricious gold-diggers, at least that is how they were reported.

The lawyers for the plaintiff women presented a different truth. Women had very little economic independence. They could not work in many of the professions; they could not vote or be called for jury service. A woman who trusted a man and became engaged to him lost all chance of security if he jilted her. Her chance of finding a secure future was more or less ruined by now being cast-off.

Sex Before Marriage

a postcard showing a policeman presenting a summons for breach of promise

Into this mix came the fact that in more than a quarter of the cases that came before the courts the parties had been intimate. And that presented the all-male juries with a dilemma. Injured womanhood didn’t sit easily with the idea of a real flesh and blood woman having sex with the man who jilted her. So the woman was portrayed as having been seduced by a dishonourable man. And the jury found for the woman in the vast majority of cases.

Then history changed everything. Two World Wars changed the face of the country forever. Women had twice been recruited for essential war work while the men were fighting in the war. And by the 1950s the number of cases was reduced to a trickle, and by the time the Law Commission reported, breach of promise was effectively obsolete.

The Abolition of The Law Of Breach Of Promise

In 1965, Parliament asked the Law Commission to report on things that ought to be changed in English law. The Law Commission’s First Programme singled out “miscellaneous matters involving anomalies, obsolescent principles or archaic procedures. They looked at those that seemed to rest on social assumptions which are no longer valid.”

In 1966 they started to circulate ideas and canvass opinions. They sought opinions from lawyers, judges, the Catholic Marriage Advisory Council, and the Fawcett Society. The Law Commission published the results of their enquiries, and broadly, the lawyers wanted to keep the law on the statute books and the other groups did not.

[ The Fawcett Society campaigns for equality between women and men in the UK on pay, pensions, poverty, justice and politics. ]

The law abolishing it was passed in parliament in 1970 and became law in 1971, as the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1970 – a short Act of seven paragraphs and one schedule.

The Act, however, preserved certain rights over property, and those rights continue to this day. If you think this situation might affect you, ask a lawyer.

References on Breach of Promise

The Law Commission Report Vol 26 October 14, 1969
‘Promises Broken: Courtship, Class, and Gender in Victorian England’ G.S. Frost Virginia Press 1995
Postcard images: Printed in Germany for the English market in the 1930s

A bunch of pink tulips set against lush green leaves - Pink On Green - and text 'Happy Anniversary'


For those souls who marry and live to celebrate years of married life, the succeeding anniversaries are milestones. And we are an e-commerce site selling products as well as writing what we hope are interesting posts. So if you are looking for an anniversary card – take a look at the ones on our Anniversary page, or indeed take a look at this one here of pink tulips.

And if you are wondering what wonderful things you can say to your loved one on your anniversary, perhaps this snippet will give you something to mention.

The word anniversary dates from around the year 1200. It referred to the annual return, especially of the day of a person’s death or a saint’s martyrdom. It came from the Medieval Latin word anniversarium. But there is an Old English word mynddag, meaning mind-day’ that seems much more romantic.

What An 11oz Mug Weighs

In the great scheme of things, knowing how much an 11oz mug weighs is completely unimportant. But as life is made up of small pleasures, then a mug that is a pleasure to lift to one’s lips is important. So when we decided to sell mugs we knew it was important that we used a mug that wasn’t too heavy. We also knew that we were going to work with a company that would print our designs.

11oz mug with printed flower design

Not to go overboard with how responsible we are as a company, but without standards there’s nothing to be satisfied with. And we definitely feel responsible for passing on a product that people will enjoy using.

Our first step was to weigh all the mugs we ourselves own, and we have a lot. That gave us a baseline, and then we just needed to find a reliable printer that used mugs that were light enough.

That turned out to be a bigger exercise than you can imagine, because surprisingly, some printers don’t know how much their mugs weigh.

Before we even get to that, you have to wonder why manufacturers make heavy mugs. The answer is as you would expect, money. Heavy mugs are cheaper to manufacture because they are made with a less expensive clay. The downside is that have to be thicker – and therefore heavier – because the clay is not as strong.

What Is An 11oz Mug

When catalogues list 11oz mugs, they are not describing the weight of the mug. They are talking about the amount of liquid that the mug will hold. An 11oz mug is popular, and of course, it holds 11oz of liquid, which is equivalent to 312ml of liquid.

The weight of the mug itself varies from one manufacturer to another, and not every online shop tells you the weight of the mugs they sell. They may have never weighed the mugs. As I said, even printers themselves sometimes do not know how much their mugs weigh. I know that’s so because I did the rounds, looking at the spec sheets and if necessary asking printers how much their mugs weigh. And sometimes they didn’t know, and said they would have to get someone on the shop floor to weigh a mug and get back to me.

At the end of that exercise and based on an acceptable weight, and the quality of the printing, we chose our printer. We chose a printer in the UK so that even with print on demand, we could ensure a pretty fast turnaround. And then we ordered three mugs with different designs for ourselves, so that we could be sure of the quality of the product.

The mugs we sell – the mugs our printer uses – weigh 327g. Some mugs we enquired about weigh a third more than that. And that is why it is important to know what an 11oz mug weighs, even in the grand scheme of things.

Don’t hold me to these weights, but this is what I discovered when looking at other companies:
Giftflow 327g
Printful 354g
CustomCat 450g
Gelato 346g

Inside A Beehive

As surely everyone knows, honeybees are vital to the pollination of many crops. The fact that they are under threat worldwide makes them important to study, apart from pure interest in how bees behave.

I remember being interested in honeybees and then slowly realising why they were the focus of so much attention in the USA. It is, if you were not already aware, because many fruit and nut trees are originally from the Old World. Therefore, they have not had millennia and more to develop along with their own pollinators. So honeybees from the Old World are imported to do the job. That is, they continue to be imported because they still have to be to replenish losses due to colony collapse disorder and the stress of being pollinators on an industrial scale.

I Wanted to Photograph Inside A Beehive

Yes, I wanted to take some photographs of bees. So when we were living in Leeds we went to see a demonstration of beekeeping. I saw the beekeeper lifting the frames from inside a beehive and examine them. But I didn’t understand the ‘why’ of what I was looking at.

Then a couple of weeks later I saw a display at the apiary of the Leeds Beekeepers Association. From seeing the display, the reason for the design of modern beehives became clear.

A traditional straw beehive was known as a skep. It is the kind of beehive that was used for centuries in England. And it continued in use until well into the 1800s. You probably recognise the shape, which is found on the labels of jars of honey. It is also used as the design for little pottery honey pots. An actual skep is made of a rope of straw. It is tied into a shape to mimic the shape of a natural hive. That’s the kind of hive than bees might look for in a hollow in a tree or between rocks.

The design varies a little. Some skeps have the entrance at the top while others have them at the bottom. But they all share one characteristic. That characteristic is that the beekeeper has to destroy the hive to get the honey out.

The Bee Space Inside A Beehive

Then, as I mentioned in an earlier article on Bumblebees and Honeybees, in the 1850s the Reverend L. L. Langstroth noticed that bees will not bring the surfaces of two combs closer together than a ‘bee space’. That’s about the width of a finger. And that piece of knowledge is what determines the interior arrangement of modern hives. They use sheets of beeswax stretched on wooden frames. The frames are hung inside the outer case of the hive with a bee space between them. A bee space is also left around the edges of the frames. That’s so that the bees can move freely inside the hive.

To encourage the bees to start building combs as quickly as possible, the sheets are impressed with a honeycomb shape. The bees could bridge the space between the frames if they wanted to. But they generally don’t want to because they want access to the cells. So the design suits the bees and the beekeeper alike.

Accessing The Frames Inside A Beehive

Honeybee on a piece of comb

Beekeepers use a hive tool, which is a flat bar of metal with a hook at one end. They use it to lever out the frames from the hive so they can inspect them. If it is time to collect the honey, then the beekeeper will use the tool to scrape honey off the combs. That includes scraping honey off the edges of the frame. That’s because even with the bee space design, the bees may still extend the combs beyond the end of the frame. And the beekeeper then has to scrape that off.

If the beekeepers didn’t scrape off the excess, they wouldn’t be able to fit the frame back in the hive.

Here is a bee sitting on a piece of comb that the beekeeper had scraped off a frame.

Bee Chains

bees chaining hanging from the hive

One other fact of honeybee behaviour is that honeybees like the dark. So when a beekeeper lifts out a frame to examine it, the bees tend to migrate to the darkest part on the frame. And the darkest part is at the bottom. And they may hang on and form what is known as a bee chain.

I actually missed the point when the chain was at its longest, which was about twice the length in this photograph. Photographing honeybees proved more difficult than I imagined.

The reason is that bees move constantly inside a hive. They have four wings, with each pair on either side hooked together when the bee is at rest. And when they are out foraging for nectar and pollen, their wings are buzz constantly, and very fast. In the hive they are constantly fanning the honey to drive off moisture before they cap the cells with wax. They are also part of the ecosystem inside a beehive that keeps the temperature at an optimum level.

With the advances in digital cameras that allow us to photograph at very high sensor sensitivities, I would find it much easier to photograph them today than ten years ago when I took these photos.

By the way, this is a follow-up article to Honeybees and Bumblebees: Which Pollinates The Most.

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