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Defamation in Milton Ernest

Words used in haste might be repented at leisure. Today we have high profile court cases involving celebrities slandering or libelling one another, or claiming slander or libel by a newspaper or magazine. In the past people who felt themselves so injured had recourse to the Archdeaconry court. This case from Milton Ernest from 1795 is of a very common type.

Thomas Stewart of Milton Ernest, yeoman was cited to appear at the archdeaconry court on Thursday 30th April 1795 "there to answer Ann Barnet, the wife of William Barnet of Milton Ernest aforesaid in a certain case of Defamation or Slander" [ABCP382]. The citation [ABCP383] read: "The said Thomas Stewart did in the months of March and April last past [1794] within the parish of Milton Ernest…in an angry reproachful and invidious manner several times, at least once before summary & credible witnesses defame the said Ann Barnett who was and is a person of good reputation and character and charged the said Ann Barnett to have committed the crime of Adultery/fornication or incontinency … to wit, you, thou or she meaning and intending the said Ann Barnett are, art, was or is a Strumpet and a common Strumpet with other defamatory Words and the Party proponent doth alledge [sic] and propound every thing in this Article contained jointly and severally".

The case duly went to court on 20th May 1796. The proceedings [ABCP384] are recorded thus: "Stewart … appearing in Court acknowledged that he made use of the defamatory words charged therein but now did own that the same were used hastily & in passion and that he had no foundation whatsoever for them, that he is sorry for his offence & requests that the party complaining will accept this submission and reclamation and promiseth not to offend again in like manner and this submission being accepted by Ann Barrett the Judge admonished Stewart and dismissed him paying all the costs incurred".