oa Fundamina : A Journal of Legal History - The face that did not fit : race, appearance, and exclusion from the bar in eighteenth-century Scotland



In a recently published paper, I discussed the controversial admission to the Faculty of Advocates (the Scots bar) of two men, one of whom, John Wright, had been a shoemaker, the other, Robert Forsyth, was the son of a shoemaker. I pointed out that these admissions, in 1783 and 1792 respectively, helped to explain the perplexed attitude of John Wilde, the Professor of civil law in Edinburgh in the 1790s, to the possibility that the jurist Alfenus Varus may have been a shoemaker. I argued that part of the significance of this episode arose from the extent to which members of the Faculty had hitherto identified with the Roman jurists and had founded a large part of their claim for status on their learning in Roman law. The advocates' collective self-perception and notion of themselves as essentially noble had thus been grounded, at least in part, in their academic education. Problems, however, had now arisen with this vision, as the development both of law teaching in the Scottish universities and of the practice of private teaching had placed an education in Civil (ie Roman) law within the possible range of aims of a relatively wider group of individuals.


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