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Shadwell v Shadwell [1860] 9 CB (NS) 748, 142 ER 62

By Oxbridge Law TeamUpdated 04/01/2024 06:58

Judgement for the case Shadwell v Shadwell


  • If the offer of the annuity was meant to encourage the marriage, and if the claimant's assertion that they married in reliance on the offer is a statement that the offer played a role in motivating the marriage, then this is the consideration outlined in the claim. This consideration seems to be evident from the letter itself when read in the context of the surrounding circumstances. (Erle, C.J.)

  • However, it was also of the opinion that the “letter is no more than a letter of kindness, creating no legal obligation.” (Byles, J.)


  • The testator entered into an agreement with the plaintiff before the plaintiff's marriage to Ellen Nicholl. The agreement, outlined in a letter from the testator to the plaintiff, promised the plaintiff a yearly payment of £150 until the plaintiff's annual income from his profession as a Chancery barrister reached 600 guineas.

  • The plaintiff fulfilled all necessary conditions to be entitled to receive eighteen of these yearly payments. The testator made payments for twelve of the eighteen sums, and part of the thirteenth sum, but defaulted on the remaining payments for the thirteenth year and the last five years.

  • The plaintiff is claiming £1,000 in compensation for the unpaid sums.


  • This case illustrates the concept that consideration for a promise does not have to involve something new or different; it can include doing what one is already legally bound to do if the promisee obtains an additional benefit from it. The decision in Shadwell v Shadwell has since become a fundamental precedent in contract law, shaping the understanding of consideration and the enforceability of promises involving pre-existing duties.


  • Defendant found out about Plaintiff (his nephew) contracting to marry X and promised to pay him some money each year.

  • When Defendant died and the money owed, Plaintiff sued his executors to get the money.

  • The question arose as to whether there was consideration in return for the promise of money, and the CA said that the marriage proposed was consideration and not merely a condition for getting the money.

  • The court said that since the uncle wanted the marriage to go ahead, the marriage must have conferred a benefit on him and therefore Plaintiff had provided consideration. They also said that the uncle was bound because he had induced the marriage, which implied a legal request in return for payment.

Byles J (dissenting)

  • There is no consideration and this was a letter of kindness, not legal relations.

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1,511 total pages
747 purchased

Contract law notes fully updated for recent exams at Oxford and Cambrid...