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though the judicial robes of the present day bear a close resemblance to the vestments worn by that king's judges, the costume of the bench has undergone many variations since the twentieth year of his reign.
In the eleventh year of Richard II. a distinction was made between the costumes of the chiefs of the King's Bench and Common Pleas and their assistant justices; and at the same time the Chief Baron’s inferiority to the Chief Justices was marked by costume.
Henry VI.'s Chief Justice of the King's Bench, Sir John Fortescue, in his delightful treatise 'De Laudibus Legum Angliae,' describes the ceremony attending the creation of a justice, and minutely sets forth the chief items of judicial costume in the Bench and Common Pleas during his time. “Howbeit," runs Robert Mulcaster's rendering of the 'De Laudibus,” the habite of his rayment, hee shall from time to time forwarde, in some pointes change, but not in all the ensignments thereof. For beeing serjeaunt at lawe, hee was clothed in a long robe priestlyke, with a furred cape about his shoulders, and thereupon a hoode with two labels such as Doctours of the Lawes use to weare in certayne universityes, with the above described quoyfe. But being once made a justice, in steede of his hoode, hee shall weare a cloake cloased upon his righte shoulder, all the other ornaments of a serjeant still remayning; sauing that a justyce shall weare no partye coloured vesture as a serjeant may. And his cape is furred with none other than menever, whereas the serjeant's cape is ever furred with whyte lambe.”
Judicial costume varied with the fashion of the day or the whim of the sovereign in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Subsequent generations saw the introduction of other changes; and in the time of Charles I. questions relating to the attire of the common law judges were involved in so much doubt, and surrounded
with so many contradictory precedents and traditions, that the judges resolved to simplify matters by conference and unanimous action. The result of their deliberation was a decree, dated June 6, 1635, to which Sir John Bramston, Chief of the King's Bench, Sir John Finch, Chief of the Common Pleas, Sir Humphrey Davenport, Chief of the Exchequer, and all the minor judges of the three courts, gave subscription.
HE changes effected in judicial costume during the
Commonwealth, like the reformation introduced at the same period into the language of the law, were all reversed in 1660, when Charles II.'s judges resumed the attire and usages of their predecessors in the first Charles's reign. When he had satisfied himself that monarchical principles were sure of an enduring triumph, and that their victory would conduce to his own advantage, great was young Samuel Pepys's delight at seeing the ancient customs of the lawyers restored, one after another. In October, 1660, he had the pleasure of seeing " the Lord Chancellor and all the judges riding on horseback, and going to Westminster Hall, it being the first day of term. In the February of 1663-4 his eyes were gladdened by the revival of another old practice. “ 28th (Lord's Day). Up, and walked to St. Paul's," he writes, “and, by chance, it was an extraordinary day for the Readers of Inns of the Court and all the Students to come to church, it being an old ceremony not used these twenty-five years, upon the first Sunday in Lent. Abundance there was of
students, more than there was room to seat but upon forns, and the church mighty full. One Hawkins preached, an Oxford man, a good sermon upon these words, ‘But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable.'” Hawkins was no doubt a humorist, and smiled in the sleeve of his Oxford gown as he told the law-students that peace characterized the highest sort of wisdom.
But, notwithstanding their zeal in reviving old customs, the lawyers of the Restoration introduced certain novelties into legal life. From Paris they imported the wig which still remains one of the distinctive adornments of the English barrister; and from the same centre of civilization they introduced certain refinements of cookery, which had been hitherto unknown in the taverns of Fleet Street and the Strand. In the earlier part of the 'merry monarch's reign, the eating-house most popular with young barristers and law-students was kept by a French cook named Chattelin, who, besides entertaining his customers with delicate fare and choice wine, enriched our language with the word 'cutlet ’-in his day spelt costelet.
In the seventeenth century, until wigs were generally adopted, the common law judges, like their precursors for several past generations, wore in court velvet caps, coifs, and cornered caps. Pictures preserve to us the appearance of justices, with their heads covered by one or two of these articles of dress, the moustache in many instances adorning the lip, and a well-trimmed beard giving point to the judicial chin. The more common head-dress was the coif and coif-cap, of which it is necessary to say a few words.
The coif was a covering for the head, made of white lawn or silk, and common law judges wore it as a sign that they were members of the learned brotherhood of
sergeants. Speaking of the sergeants, Fortescue, in his 'De Laudibus,' says—“Wherefore to this state and degree hath no man beene hitherto admitted, except he hath first continued by the space of sixteene years in the said generall studie of the law, and in token or signe, that all justices are thus graduat, every one of them alwaies, while he sitteth in the Kinge's Courts, weareth a white quoyfe of silke ; which is the principal and chiefe insignment of habite, wherewith serjeants-at-lawe in their creation are decked. And neither the justice, nor yet the serjeaunt, shall ever put off the quoyfe, no not in the kinge's presence, though he bee in talke with his majestie's high
At times it was no easy matter to take the coif from the head ; for the white drapery was fixed to its place with strings, which in the case of one notorious rascal were not untied without difficulty. In Henry III.'s reign, when William de Bussy was charged in open court with corruption and dishonesty, he claimed the benefit of clerical orders, and endeavored to remove his coif in order that he might display his tonsure ; but before he could effect his purpose, an officer of the court seized him by the throat and dragged him off to prison. “Voluit," says Matthew Paris, "ligamenta coifæ suæ solvere, ut, palam monstraret se tonsuram habere clericalem ; sed non est permissus. Satelles vero eum arripiens, non per coifæ ligamina sed per guttur eum apprehendens, traxit ad carcerem.” From which occurrence Spelman drew the untenable, and indeed, ridiculous inference, that the coif was introduced as a veil, beneath which ecclesiastics who wished to practice as judges or counsel in the secular courts, might conceal the personal mark of their order.
The coif-cap is still worn in undiminished proportions by judges when they pass sentence of death, and is generally known as the 'black cap.' In old time the justice,
on making ready to pronounce the awful words which consigned a fellow-creature to a horrible death, was wont to draw up the flat, square, dark cap, that sometimes hung at the nape of his neck or the upper part of his shoulder. Having covered the whiteness of his coif, and partially concealed his forehead and brows with the sable cloth, he proceeded to utter the dread sentence with solemn composure and firmness. At present the black cap is assumed to strike terror into the hearts of the vulgar ; formerly it was pulled over the eyes, to hide the emotion of the judge.
Shorn of their original size, the coif and the coif-cap may still be seen in the wigs worn by sergeants at the present day. The black blot which marks the crown of a sergeant's wig is generally spoken of as his coif, but this designation is erroneous. The black blot is the coif-cap; and those who wish to see the veritable coif must take a near view of the wig, when they will see that between the black silk and the horsehair there lies a circular piece of white lawn, which is the vestige of that pure raiment so reverentially mentioned by Fortescue. On the general adoption of wigs, the sergeants, like the rest of the bar, followed in the wake of fashion : but at first they wore their old coifs and caps over their false hair. Finding this plan cumbersome, they gradually diminished the size of the ancient covering, until the cojf and cap became the absurd thing which resembles a bald place covered with court-plaster quite as much as the rest of the wig resembles human hair.
Whilst the common law judges of the seventeenth century, before the introduction of wigs, wore the undiminished coif and coif-cap, the Lord Chancellor, like the Speaker of the House of Commons, wore a hat. Lord Keeper Williams, the last clerical holder of the seals, used to wear in the Court of Chancery a round, conical