Select Page

The language of the law. Part Latin, part Greek, part law French, even part Anglo-Saxon. And all confusing.

It’s road trip time again for The Legal Genealogist.

Tomorrow, it’s the 2019 Spring Seminar of the Virginia Genealogical Society in Richmond (registration information can be found here) and so today is a full busy day.

So we’ll keep the lights on here with another installment of legal alphabet soup.

2019 letter I

And since I’m in Virginia, today’s installment word is interregnum.

Yes, interregnum.

It’s defined as an “interval between reigns. The period which elapses between the death of a sovereign and the election of another. The vacancy which occurs when there is no government.”1

Now generally speaking the word is used to describe the period in English history “between the reigns of Charles I and Charles II during which parliament’s Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector established a republican government known as the Commonwealth of England.”2 It was important in Virginia because, during those years, 1649-1660, the colony “enjoyed greater freedom in self-government than it had before.”3

But that’s not the only use of the word in Virginia.

It’s also used to describe the interim government of Virginia by Virginians between the dissolution of the colonial House of Burgesses by the royal governor Lord Dunmore in 1774 and the first meeting of the new legislature after the adoption of the first Virginia Constitution in June 1776.

Now you won’t find the word interregnum used that way in the official histories of Virginia on, say, the Commonwealth of Virginia website. Virginia itself refers to that period as The Convention Period.4

But one particularly relevant source does use just that term. It’s in William Waller Hening’s authoritative 13-volume set of Virginia’s Statutes at Large.5

Hening ended volume 8, for the period 1764-1773, with the legislative session of 1773. At the top of the pages for that term is the heading: “MARCH 1773 — 13th GEORGE III,” meaning the 13th year of the reign of George III of England.6

He then picked up, in volume 9, with what happened “At a Convention of Delegates for the Counties and Corporations in the Colony of Virginia, held at Richmond town,” in July 1775.7

And at the top of the pages for that term is a very different heading. “JULY 1775–INTERREGNUM.”8 And then “DECEMBER 1775–INTERREGNUM.”9 And then “MAY 1776–INTERREGNUM.”10

And then it changes. There was a General Assembly begun and held “At the Capitol in the City of Williamsburg, on Monday the seventh day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and seventy six, and in the first year of the Commonwealth.”11 And the headings after that? “OCTOBER 1776–1st OF COMMONWEALTH.”12

Interregnum in Virginia.

Two of them, not just one.


Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “2019 alphabet soup: I is for…,” The Legal Genealogist ( : posted 12 Apr 2019).

  1. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 639, “interregnum.”
  2. “Why is Virginia called a commonwealth? What other states are commonwealths?”, Questions about Virginia, Library of Virginia ( : accessed 12 Apr 2019).
  3. Anne Forsythe, compiler, History and Facts on Virginia, PDF at 5, 2017-2018 Bluebook, Commonwealth of Virginia ( : accessed 12 Apr 2019).
  4. See ibid. at 8.
  5. These 13 volumes are cited collectively as William Waller Hening, The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, from the first session of the Legislature in the year 1619, 13 vols. (Richmond, Philadelphia, and New York, 1809-1823). For short, they’re referred to as Hening’s Statutes at Large.
  6. Hening, The Statutes at Large…, (Richmond: p.p., 1821), 8: 672.
  7. Hening, The Statutes at Large…, (Richmond: p.p., 1821), 9: 9.
  8. See ibid., 9: 11.
  9. See ibid., 9: 77.
  10. See ibid., 9: 111.
  11. Ibid., 9: 153.
  12. See ibid., 9: 155.
Print Friendly, PDF & Email