All right. I didn't get round to posting anything yesterday for various intensely technical reasons involving gin and smiles. So today's post will have to be on the old rule of a year and a day.
A year and a day used to be terribly important in murder cases. If you stab me and I die five minutes later that's definitely murder. However, what if you stab me and I die a month later? Or six months? Or fifty years? At what point does it merely become a long term injury that may aggravate, but cannot be said to have caused, my final coil-shuffling?
Until 1996, there was a nice simple rule: a year and a day. If your victim dies before then, it's murder: after that it's just bad manners.
Anyway, this takes me back to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the opening scene of which occurs:
While New Year was so yep [young] that it was new comen,
That day double on the dais was the douth [food] served...
When in walks a huge green knight who challenges the assembled knights to a game. Any one who is brave enough can come and strike him once with a sword on condition that, in a year and a day (presumably January 2nd), the green knight can do the same to his assailant. Here's the relevant stanza (spelling slightly modernised):
"Nay, frayst I no fight, in faith I thee tell;
It are about on this bench but beardless childer;
If I were hasped in arms on a high steed,
Here no man me to match, for mights so weak.
Forthy I crave in this court a Chistmas gomen [game],
For it is Yule and New Year, and here are yep [youngsters] many.
If any so hardy in this house holds himselven,
Be so bold in his blood, brayn [mad] in his head,
That dare stiffly strike a stroke for an other,
I shall give him of my gift this giserne [battle-axe] rich,
This axe, that is heavy enough, to handle as him likes,
And I shall bide the first bur [blow], as bare as I sit.
If any freke be so fell to fond [test] that I tell,
Leap lightly me to, and lach [grab] this weapon;
I quit-claim it for ever, keep it as his own.
And I shall stand him a stroke, stiff on this flet [floor],
Else thou will dight me the doom to deal him another, barlay.
And yet give him respite
A twelvemonth and a day;
Now hie, and let see tite [quickly]
Dare any herein ought say."
Gawain takes up the challenge, and, without wishing to give too much away, has a bad January 2nd. An oddity of all this is that the father of a friend of mine still used to say "barlay" in the playground in Cheshire in the 1950s.
Bloody January again