Shadwell v Shadwell – Case Summary

Lancelot Shadwell v Cayley Shadwell

Court of Common Pleas

Citations: (1860) 9 Common Bench Reports (New Series) 159; 142 ER 62; [1860] EWHC CP J88.


An uncle promised the claimant that he would pay him £150 a year when the claimant married his niece. The uncle stated that he would continue to pay until he died, or until the claimant’s earnings exceeded 600 guineas. When he made this promise, the claimant was already engaged to the niece. Thirteen years after the couple married, the uncle failed stopped making the payments.

The claimant sued. By then, the uncle had died, so the defendant was the representative of the uncle’s estate. The defendant argued that the agreement was not legally binding because the claimant provided no consideration. This was because he was already bound to marry the woman.

  1. Had the claimant provided consideration for the promise to pay £150?

The Court held in favour of the claimant. The promise to pay £150 influenced the claimant’s decision to marry. It was a change in position which benefited the uncle. It was therefore good consideration.

This Case is Authority For…

An obligation already owed to a third-party can be used as consideration. This is an exception to the rule that existing obligations cannot be relied on as consideration.


In the modern era, an agreement binding a person to marry would be void for public policy reasons.

Byles J dissented. He argued that consideration must be requested by the other party or done in exchange for their promise. In this case, the uncle had not requested that the claimant marry his daughter. The claimant’s decision to marry was not made in exchange for the promise to pay. He therefore concluded that it was not good consideration.