Journal article

'I also am a Barolong": Re Bethell and Shaping of Marriage Law and Conflict of Laws Doctrine

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Publication Details

Author list: Barratt A

Publisher: UNISA Southern African Society of Legal Historians c/o School

Publication year: 2019

Journal: Fundamina: a Journal of Legal History

Volume number: 25

Issue number: 1

Start page: 1

End page: 25

Total number of pages: 25

ISSN: 1021-545X



Re Bethell was a judgement of the Chancery Division in London, decided in February 1888. The case considered the validity of the marriage between an English aristocrat and a Rolong woman concluded in terms of Rolong customary law. The judgement was enormously influential as the catalyst case that secured the “legal definition of marriage” as “the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others”. The article looks in detail at the historical context of the Bethell case and argues that the ruling was influenced by a desire to protect the Bethell family’s standing and reputation. The case can also be understood as a building block in the formation and consolidation of what would become the British Empire. Law was an important constituent element in the formation of Empire. Law was used to identify and legitimate colonial authority. Law created boundaries, both political and cultural. The article examines the Bethell case as an example of these dynamics.


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Last updated on 2020-21-04 at 11:05