Contumacy is a stubborn refusal to obey authority or, particularly in law, the wilful contempt of the order or summons of a court (see contempt of court). The term is derived from the Latin word contumacia, meaning firmness or stubbornness.
In English ecclesiastical law, it was contempt of the authority of an ecclesiastical court and was dealt with by the issue of a writ from the Court of Chancery at the instance of the judge of the ecclesiastical court. This writ took the place of the de excommunicato capiendo in 1813, by an act of George III; see excommunication.
In the U.S., while not expressly mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, the courts have long asserted an inherent power of judges to punish such refusal, which in this context is known as contempt of court. The U.S. Supreme Court recognized federal courts' inherent power to imprison a person for contumacy in United States v. Hudson & Goodwin without a reference to a definition of contumacy in common or statutory law.
The original meaning of the word was quite different and indicated the period of time in which a Public Office of the Republic of Venezia could not be reoccupied by the same person, his family members or his relatives up to the third degree.
This served to the Serenissima to prevent someone from obtaining personal advantages or for his family through public offices.
- Driscoll, James H. (1908). Catholic Encyclopedia. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company. . In Herbermann, Charles (ed.).