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Insolvency Law

Expert guidance on all aspects of corporate and personal insolvency

20 SEP 2011

Debtors and Clothes

Clothes and debtors have had a long history. In Scotland, insolvents were forced to wear an outfit consisting of a yellow and brown bonnet and tights whilst sat in the public square for two hours from 10am after adjudication of their bankruptcy.[1] In France, insolvents were forced to wear a green hat.[2] In Rotterdam and Leyden, debtors were not forced to wear distinguishing garments, indeed the opposite was true. They were forced to undertake public penance in their “undermost garments.” The debtor would undertake this before the Town House for a prescribed period of days for one hour a day from 11:30am until 12.30pm.[3] In Spain, insolvents were made to wear an iron collar “one finger thick.”[4] For criminal law offences in England, Sheppard advocated a similar approach, namely, the wearing of paper collars stating the nature of the offence.[5]


[1] See: Riesenfeld, SA. The Evolution of Modern Bankruptcy Law: A Comparison of the Recent Bankruptcy Acts of Italy and the United States [1947] vol.31, no.5, pp.401-455, p.441, citing Acts of Sederunt, 26 February 1665, 23 January, 1673, 18 July, 1688, 1 Acts of Sederunt, 58, 78, 161.  Oppenheimer reminds us (p.127) that a Spartan treatment for cowardice would involve similar stigmatizing approaches. A Spartan coward would be forced to clothe themselves in rags, remain unshaven and be thrashed.

[2] ibid, citing Wessels. History of Roman-Dutch Law, 1908, p.665.

[3] Riesenfeld, ibid, citing Ordinance of July 30, 1501; Leyden; 1519, Rotterdam, cited by Van Leeuwen, Comm. On Roman Dutch Law (transl. by Kotze 1923) vol.2, p.334.

[4] Riesenfeld, ibid, citing Law of 1490, Nueva Recopilacio, Book 5, Title 15, Law 6. Drinker-Bowen observes that during a whipping of a miscreant, “the Spanish fashion [was to] let hot bacon be dripped on him with every lash!” (p.442).

[5] Matthews, NL. Williams Sheppard, Cromwell’s Law Reformer. CUP, Cambridge, 1984, p.172.


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