An Englishman’s home is his castle
Contrary to the impression that some of friends from overseas, not every Englishman or woman, for that matter, lives in a castle or even a stately home. The castle in this phrase is used more in a figurative sense, to denote a place of refuge, in which the owner, alas in the less enlightened times, was predominantly the male could do pretty much what they wanted. In modern times, quite what you can do in the security of your own home is being increasingly prescribed but in earlier times you had pretty much carte blanche to do what you wanted.
This legal precept dates back to at least 1505, the phrase making an appearance in a ruling handed down by the King’s Bench; “the house of one is to him his castle and his defence, and where he properly ought to remain”. The judge and legal commentator, William Stanford, went one better in his The Pleas of the Crown, published in 1567, where he states that it is legal to kill a burglar either in self-defence or to protect your property; “my house is to me as my castle, from which the law does not compel me to flee”. This point, following the conviction of Tony Martin in 2000 for killing a burglar is somewhat moot these days.
This point, a great source of comfort to householders up and down the land, was soon repeated outside of the court room. Richard Mulcaster, the headmaster of Merchant Taylor’s School in London, in his treatise, Positions, which are necessarie for the training up of children which saw the light of day in 1581, noted that the householder “is the appointer of his owne circumstance, and his house is his castle”, a point echoed in the same year by Henri Estienne in his The Stage of Popish Toyes; “youre house is youre Castell”.
The legal profession also threw their weight behind the concept, Sir Edward Coke, in his influential The Institutes of the Laws of England published in 1628, wrote that “for a man’s house is his castle, and each man’s home is his safest refuge”. More than two centuries later, the concept still held good, Thomas Tomlins and Thomas Granger, compilers of the Law Dictionary, published in 1835, wrote “the dwelling-house of every man is as his castle; therefore, if thieves come to a man’s house or rob or kill him, and the owner of his servant kill the thieves in defending him and his house, that is not felony, nor shall he forfeit any thing”.
The inviolable right of the Englishman to refuse entry to anyone he wanted was eloquently expressed by Pitt the Elder in 1763; “the poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the crown. It may be frail – its roof may shake – the wind may blow through it – the storm may enter – the rain may enter – but the King of England cannot enter”.
The principle crossed the pond, although the reference to an Englishman was left at the dockside. Joel Chandler Harris wrote in 1800, “exalt the citizen. As the State is the unit of government, he is the unit of the State. Teach him that his home is his castle, and his sovereignty rests beneath his hat”.
Despite some nibbling around the edges, the concept still stands strong today.
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