Going out in credit

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Thieves Stealing Bodies From Graveyard


It is a long established principle of English law that there is no property in a corpse. As church lawyers in the middle ages used to say in that scholarly way of theirs (with a solemn nudge and a wink), a dead person – a cadaver – is cara data vermibus: flesh given to worms.

It wasn’t until 1804, though, that the practice of arresting a corpse against a debt was made illegal.

One luminary arrested post mortem johndryden03was the poet, playwright and critic John Dryden (right).

Richard Brinsley220px-Richard_Brinsley_Sheridan_1751_-_1816 Sheridan (left), dead, was nabbed by a creditor who refused to give him back until a debt was paid (it was, but not by Sheridan, obviously).

The corpse of Sir Bernard Taylor (minor aristo and nobody) was arrested for debt actually on its/his way to its/his funeral.

Well you can’t do that now. Today, a dead person’s fecklessness in life is not the problem of that person’s family and friends. Outstanding debts can be claimed from their estate, if there’s anything left, but relatives are not lumbered with a duty to make up the shortfall.

Except, of course, their funeral expenses. When people fail to put something aside for their funeral (if they could have, of course) they in effect run up a debt which others do have to settle — if they feel honour bound.


Sheridan’s death mask




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