December 7, 2011

WHY DO JUDGES WEAR BLACK ROBES? AND WHY IS A DRUNKARD CALLED A "LUSH"?



In England, before 1694, the most popular colors for judge’s robes were green, scarlet (red) and violet - apparently, you had a choice! In 1694, Queen Mary II of England (pictured below) died and was buried in Westminster Abbey in London.


Queen Mary II of England, 1690.


At her funeral, all the judges in attendance wore their official judicial robes - but wore them in the color black as a symbol of mourning for their deceased monarch. The mourning period for the passing of Queen Mary was extended over several years and most, if not all, judges continued to wear black robes. By the time the mourning period had ended the wearing of black robes had been established as the norm for judges in the courtroom. 

United States Supreme Court justices in
their traditional black robes.


The practice spread to the Americas and, to this day, U.S. judges wear black robes in their courtrooms. This story brings to mind all those photographs of the Supreme Court Justices I have seen in history textbooks, newspapers and magazines.


Dr. Thomas Lushington.

 Dr. Thomas Lushington, was an English clergyman/chaplain who was widely and famously known to like his liquor and indulged himself deeply and frequently in this singular vice. He lived from 1590 to 1661, a long life for that time in history and, it can be speculated, it was a result of his penchant for drink. Water was not safe to drink and often resulted in disease and/or death (cholera and typhoid were common). In 1750, a newly established club of hard drinking men in London borrowed the clergyman’s legendary name and called themselves “The City of Lushington.” They hung out at the "Harp Tavern" near Drury Lane which was the heart of the theatre district in the city. 

The Theatre Royal in the Drury
Lane theatre district of London.

The Harp Tavern still exists in London.


   By the 1800s this drinking club had provided the English language with a new term. First, the slang term “lush” appearing in approximately 1790, referring to beer or drink. By the late 19th century the word “lush” came to mean, simply, a drunkard. Today the word is commonly used to indicate someone who overindulges in alcoholic drink of any kind. When the name of a person is the origin of a word in the English language, that word is called an “eponym.” Thank you Dr. Thomas Lushington for this addition to our language, although I wonder if your descendants appreciate the notoriety it may have brought them.



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