Friday, 3 July 2015

“The case is altered,” quoth Plowden; Edmund Plowden (1518-1585), Temple Church, EC4


Edmund Plowden was a lawyer, legal scholar and author of a famous collection of legal commentaries. He was born in Shropshire and studied law at Cambridge, the Middle Temple and Oxford but was also admitted to practice chirurgery and physic. Under Queen Mary he was appointed as one of the Council of the Marches and became MP for Wallingford, Reading and Wootton Bassett.  Plowden remained a life-long Catholic which hampered his career on the accession of Elizabeth. At one time the Queen was supposed to have offered him the Lord Chancellorship on condition that he swore allegiance to the Church of England but this he refused to do.  Despite being a known recusant (the sheriff and magistrates of Berkshire required him to give a bond for good behaviour and appear before the privy council for refusing to attend divine service) and a defender of persecuted Catholics (he was one of the three defenders of Bishop Bonner) he was allowed to continue writing and practicing law. He died in 1585. His memorial is a splendid example of Tudor funerary art.



“The case is altered,” quoth Plowden was a 17th century English proverb. According to John Ray’s “Compleat Collection of English Proverbs” (1737) the occasion of the expression was either when a neighbour of Plowden’s asked his opinion on what remedy there was in law against someone who let his hogs trespass on his grounds.  Plowden told him he might have a good remedy but when the neighbour confessed that the hogs in question belonged to Plowden himself he responded “Nay then neighbour (quoth he) the case is altered.” Or says Ray, it arose during a court case when Plowden was defending a gentlemen against the charge of attending a mass. The gentlemen had been entrapped by malicious neighbours who dressed up a layman in priest’s vestments solely with the intention of denouncing him to the authorities.  Cross examining the supposed priest “saith Plowden to him, art thou a priest  then? The fellow replied, no. Why then Gentlemen (quoth he) the case is altered: No priest, no mass.”