origin of ‘an Englishman’s home is his castle’

 

 

MEANING

 

An Englishman’s home is his castle: An English person’s home is a place where they may do as they please and from which they may exclude anyone they choose.

 

ORIGIN

 

This phrase was coined in an anachronic fashion by the English historian Edward Augustus Freeman (1823-92) in The History of the Norman Conquest of England (volume 2 – Oxford, 1868). He wrote, about Edward the Confessor (circa 1003-66):

(1870 edition)
To the French favourites of Eadward [sic] the name, the speech, the laws of England were things on which their ignorant pride looked down with utter contempt. They had no sympathy with that great fabric of English liberty, which gave to every freeman his place in the commonwealth, and even to the slave held out the prospect of freedom. Gentlemen of the school of Richard the Good, taught to despise all beneath them as beings of an inferior nature, could not understand the spirit of a land where the Churl had his rights before the Law, where he could still raise his applauding voice in the Assemblies of the nation, and where men already felt as keenly as we feel now that an Englishman’s house is his castle. Everything in short which had already made England free and glorious, everything which it is now our pride and happiness to have preserved down to our own times, was looked on by the foreign counsellors of Eadward as a mark of manifest inferiority and barbarism.

The phrase is an edulcoration of a notion embedded in case law; in The Law-Dictionary (volume 1 – London, 1835), Thomas Edlyne Tomlins (1762-1841) and Thomas Colpitts Granger (died 1852) explained:

The dwelling-house of every man is as his castle; therefore, if thieves come to a man’s house to rob or kill him, and the owner or his servant kill the thieves in defending him and his house, that is not felony, nor shall he forfeit any thing.

The legal notion of the fortress-like security of the English home dates from the 16th century. In Les Plees del Coron (The Pleas of the Crown – London, 1567), the judge and legal writer William Stanford (1509-58) wrote that it is lawful to kill a burglar in defending one’s house or oneself, because:

My house is to me as my castle, from which the law does not compel me to flee.
     Anglo-Norman text:
Ma measō ē a moy : cōe mō castel, hors de quel, le ley ne moy arta a fuer.

(This sentence is mistranslated in Kate Louise Roberts’ 1922 revised and enlarged edition of The Cyclopedia of Practical Quotations, originally compiled by Jehiel Keeler Hoyt (1820-95): “My house is to me as my castle, since the law has not the art to destroy it.”)

But the earliest occurrence of the legal maxim a man’s house is his castle seems to date from 1505, in a ruling made by the King’s Bench:

John Fineux, Chief Justice. If one is in his house, and he hears that such a one wants to come to his house to beat him, he can well make an assembly of folk among his friends and neighbours to assist him, and to aid in safeguard of his person; but if one is threatened that if he comes to such a market, or into such a place, he will be beaten there, in this case he cannot make an assembly of folk to assist him to go there in safeguard of his person, because he does not need to go there, and he can have a remedy [against one who threatens him] by surety of the peace; but the house of one is to him his castle and his defence, and where he properly ought to remain, etc.
And all the Justices agreed that a servant can beat one in defence of his master.
Thomas Tremayle, Justice, said that a servant can slay one in saving the life of his master, if he [the master] cannot otherwise escape.
     Anglo-Norman text:
Nota p̱ Fineux Chief Just’. Si ō soit in s̄ mais̄, & il oyent q̄ un tiel veut ven̄ a s̄ mais̄ de luy batr̄, il puit bn̄ fair̄ assēble dès gēz de ses amis & voisins d̄ luy assist’, & aid̄ in saufgard̄ d̄ s̄ p̱sō : mes si on fuit menace q̄ si il viēt a tiel m̄che, ou in tiel lieu, il ser̄ bat̄ la ; in cē cas il ne puit fair̄ assembl’ d̄ gens d̄ luy assist’ d̄ aller la in saufgard̄ d̄ sa p̱sō, p̄ c̄ q̄ il ne besōgn de aller la, & il puit aṽ remedy p̱ surete de paix : mes la mais̄ d̄ un ē a luy s̄ castel & sa defence, & ou il proprem̄t doit demeur̄, &c.
Et Touts les Just. agreer̄, que servāt puit bat̄ un̄ in defenc̄ d̄ s̄ Maist’.
Trem̃ Just’ dit, q̄ servāt puit occire un in sauvāt la vie s̄ Maist’, si il ne puit aut̄m̄t escap̱.

one man's home is his castle - King's Bench - 1505

image: Boston University School of Law

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