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John Balliol, King of Scots from 1292 to 1296, depicted in the Forman Armorial (1562) with his crown and sceptre symbolically broken and with an empty coat of arms. Balliol and Robert Bruce, 5th Lord of Annandale, were rivals for the Scottish crown. They referred the dispute to Edward I of England, and in the process swore fealty to him and recognized him as the lord of the Kingdom of Scotland. Although the matter was resolved in Balliol's favour, the fact that he had acknowledged Edward I's title to Scotland meant he could be sued in England. According to the Dictionary of National Biography (1885), Balliol was “summoned in a suit at the instance of Macduff, earl of Fife, to appear before the judges at Westminster, and declining to attend he was condemned for contumacy in October 1293, and it was ordered that three of his castles should be seized to enforce the judgment”.[1] Balliol abdicated following the Wars of Scottish Independence.


From Latin contumācia, from contumāx (refusing to appear in a court of law in disobedience of a summons; insolent, obstinate, stiff-necked).



contumacy (countable and uncountable, plural contumacies)

  1. (chiefly Christianity and law) Disobedience, resistance to authority.
    • 1641, William Prynne, “The Prologve”, in The Antipathie of the English Lordly Prelacie, both to Regall Monarchy, and Civil Unity: or, An Historicall Collection of the Severall Execrable Treasons, Conspiracies, Rebellions, Seditions, State-schismes, Contumacies, Antimonarchicall Practices, & Oppressions of our English, British, French, Scottish, and Irish Lardly Prelates, against our Kingdomes, Lawes, Liberties; and of the Severall Warres, and Civil Dissentions Occasioned by Them, in or against our Realm, in Former and Latter Ages. [...] The First Part, volume I, London: Printed by authority for Michael Sparke, senior, OCLC 78234411, page 1:
      [T]heſe Muſhrome Lords (Spirituall onely in Title, but wholly Temporall in reality), firſt ſprouted up by inſenſible degrees in the Church of Christ; ſo it is moſt infallibly convinced of notorious falſehood, by the multitude of thoſe moſt execrable Treaſons, Treacheries, Conſpiracies, Rebellions, Contumacies, Inſurrections, Seditions, and Anti-Monarchiall practiſes of Lordly Prelates, againſt their Soveraignes, in all ages ſince they grew rich and potent, in all Kingdomes and Churches where they have been admitted; []
    • 1726, John Ayliffe, “Of Contumacy, and the Several Kinds thereof”, in Parergon Juris Canonici Anglicani: or, A Commentary, by Way of Supplement to the Canons and Constitutions of the Church of England. Not only from the Books of the Canon and Civil Law, but likewise from the Statute and Common Law of this Realm. [...], London: Printed for the author, by D. Leach, and sold by John Walthoe in the Middle Temple Cloysters, James and John Knapton in St Paul's Churchyard, Richard Standfast in Westminster-Hall, William and John Innys at the West End of St Paul's, Francis Clay and Daniel Brown without Temple Bar, London, and Simon Martin, bookseller in Leicester, OCLC 642720569, page 196:
      Persons Judicially cited, are ſometimes wont, by a Non-Appearance in Court, to contemn the Judges Authority; and thereby to render themſelves contumacious: wherefore, I will conſider theſe Perſons under the following heads. [] 2dly, Examine how many Species or Kinds of Contumacy there are. [] The Plaintiff on the Return of a Peremptory Citation ought not to accuſe the Contumacy of the Perſon ſummon'd, otherwiſe he ſhall not be adjudged contumacious.
    • 1839, Broadway Tabernacle Anti-slavery Society, Proceedings of the Session of Broadway Tabernacle, Against Lewis Tappan: With the Action of the Presbytery and General Assembly, New York, N.Y.: [S. W. Benedict]; for sale at No. 43 Nassau Street, OCLC 438046459, page 25:
      When an accused person, or a witness, refuses to obey a citation, he shall be cited a second time; and if he still continue to refuse, he shall be excluded from the communion of the church for contumacy, until he repent.
    • 1839, John Donne; Henry Alford, “Sermon LXVI. Preached at St. Paul's, January 29, 1625. Psalm lxiii. 7.”, in The Works of John Donne, D.D., Dean of Saint Paul's, 1621–1631. With a Memoir of His Life. [...] In Six Volumes, volume III, London: John W. Parker, West Strand, OCLC 63920915, page 164:
      I know how distasteful to God, contumacy, and contempt, and disobedience to order and authority is; and I know, (and all men, that choose not ignorance, may know) that our excommunications (though calumniators impute them to small things, because, many times, the first complaint is of some small matter) never issue but upon contumacies, contempts, disobediences to the church. But they are real contumacies, not interpretative, apparent contumacies, not presumptive, that excommunicate a man in heaven; and much circumspection is required, and (I am far from doubting it) exercised in those cases upon earth; []
    • 1913, [Jean Paul Hippolyte Emmanuel] A[dhémar] Esmein; John Simpson, transl., A History of Continental Criminal Procedure: With Special Reference to France (The Continental Legal History Series; V), Boston, Mass.: Little, Brown and Company, OCLC 865632, page 73:
      The old law came to recognize a procedure of contumacy, which constitutes a point of departure for our legal system so far as that relates to the doctrine of default, although the procedure has completely changed its aspect in the course of its successive transformations. [] As in the Germanic practice, the procedure by contumacy resulted, not in a condemnation for the act struck at by the prosecution, but in the outlawry of the person guilty of contumacy. Every safeguard given by the law was withdrawn from the person who refused to submit to the law.
    • 1998, Peter M. J. Stravinskas, editor, Our Sunday Visitor's Catholic Encyclopedia, rev. edition, Huntington, Ind.: Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, →ISBN, page 278:
      Contumacy · Generally speaking, contumacy is the deliberate disregard for legitimate authority. In canon law, contumacy is discussed in two matters. First, a party to an ecclesiastical case or controversy, though usually the respondent, who willfully and without reason refuses to appear before an ecclesiastical court, or who otherwise withholds necessary cooperation from the court, can be declared absent, that is, contumacious, and thereupon forfeits all or some of his or her rights before the tribunal []. The second and rather more common use of contumacy occurs in the matter of ecclesiastical penalties. In this sense, one who, after a warning, refuses to desist from delictual behaviour is considered contumacious, and thereby renders himself liable to censure [].

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  1. ^ Leslie Stephen, editor (1885), “Baliol, John de”, in Dictionary of National Biography, volume III, London: Smith, Elder, & Co., OCLC 2763972, page 68.