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Travel obligations and internet issues are going to be interfering with daily posts for at least some of the next 10 days to two weeks. So nobody will go into withdrawal, however, The Legal Genealogist offers…

The term of the day:


Which, as I’m sure you suspected, has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with owls.

owlIn English law, owling was “the offense of transporting wool or sheep out of the kingdom; so called from its being usually carried on in the night.”1

It was a felony as a crime against the public trade, “forbidden by the common law and more particularly by statute.”2

The issue was trying to keep the quality of English wool higher than anywhere else, which meant in particular keeping English sheep in England. Spiriting the beasties out of the country, particularly by sea, was considered a very serious offense indeed.

The penalties varied over time. But in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, the statute provided that, for the first offense of transporting live sheep, the penalty would be “forfeiture of goods, and imprisonment for a year, and that, at the end of the year, the left hand shall be cut off in some public market, and shall be there nailed up in the openest place.”

The second offense carried the death penalty.3

Whoo hoo.


Image: Open Clip Art Library, user johnny automatic

  1. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 861, “owling.”
  2. St. George Tucker, ed., Blackstone’s Commentaries (Philadelphia, Birch and Small: 1803), 4:154; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 10 Oct 2013).
  3. Ibid.
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