Monday, January 31, 2011

Judge Thumb

Many of us have heard/used the phrase, "rule of thumb."  Some may even know the phrase's notorious origin.  It is yet another phrase, still used today, that we can thank 18th century England for.

Sir Francis Buller at the age of 32 was the youngest justice ever appointed to the King's Bench, a mere six years after he was called to the bar.  You may think this would mean his actions as a  judge to be just and good but that wasn't necessarily the case.  He was known to be bull-headed and impulsive in his judgments.  Justice Buller was most known for his stance on domestic abuse.  Supposedly, he believe there should be a "rule of thumb," that is, a husband could beat his wife, as long as it was with a stick no longer than his thumb.  This rule was never adopted legally.  As silly as the rule sounds now, it sounded just as foolish in 1782.  James Gillray especially thought so and dubbed Justice Buller, "Judge Thumb," making him quite the laughing stock of the justice system.

Ironically, Buller was one of the judges which presided over Mary Eleanor Bowes' extreme case of domestic abuse.  However, Mary's horrid husband, Andrew Stoney's abuse shocked even Judge Thumb who was disgusted by Stoney's actions and threw him into prison.  So although he was a bit medieval in his ideas on domestic felicity, Buller wasn't a complete misogynist!

6 comments:

Lauren said...

Well now, the sheer fact that he could put a limit on the size of the instrument of the beating shows his more 'human' side! Oh that Judge Thumb, thoughtful yet reasonable in his lawmaking.

Anonymous said...

Jurisprudence should have tested the size of the instrument on a suitable subject say for instance, Judge Thumb. R

Anonymous said...

I've always been under the impression that said origin was an urban legend. See:

http://tinyurl.com/62tfd6

or

http://tinyurl.com/45kqfgz

nightsmusic said...

Wait. Couldn't be any longer or any wider because if it couldn't be any longer, his hand would enclose the stick unless the idea was that as long as he held the stick in his fist, he could pummel his wife with it. Maybe it's me but unless held that way, I don't see how a man could beat anything with a stick only as long as his thumb.

But that's probably just me. :o)

rob's uncle said...

'Buller suffered as a result of an unfortunate remark attributed to him, that a husband could punish his wife with impunity provided that the rod or stick he used was no thicker than his thumb.

Foss claimed that, despite a searching investigation, ‘no substantial evidence has been found that he ever expressed so ungallant an opinion’ (Foss, Judges, 8.252); none the less, James Gillray published a caricature on 27 November 1783 of Buller as ‘Judge Thumb’, carrying two bundles of ‘thumbsticks’—‘for family correction: warranted lawful!’' [DNB]

MarySimonsen said...

Of course, the very idea sounds barbaric, but it wasn't too long ago that beating children with belts or switches was looked upon as good parenting so as not to "spoil the child." Very interesting.