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Shortly after my arrival at the Harvard Law School in 1988, I came across ten mysterious black boxes tucked away in a dark corner of the Treasure Room stacks. After wiping off a considerable accumulation of dust, I cautiously opened one of the boxes. Inside was yet another mysterious package wrapped in yellowed newspaper. Like an excited child on Christmas morning, I peeled back the several layers of newspaper and uncovered, to my great delight, the wonderful collection of deeds which is at last being exhibited to the public for the first time.

The collection has an uncertain provenance. We know that the items were collected by the English antiquarian Frederick Arthur Crisp over many years and sold by him to A.T. Butler of the Royal College of Arms from whom they were purchased by the Harvard College Library in 1923. They were later transferred to the Law Library in 1925. Seymour De Ricci in his Census of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in the United States and Canada notes that Theodore F. T. Plucknett, Professor of Legal History at the Harvard Law School from 1923 to 1931, provided basic cataloging to the collection which was never presented in published form.

These materials are attractive on several levels. One does not need to know the language or read the sometimes cryptic writing to appreciate their primordial character. The exhibit aptly demonstrates the importance of the documents to understanding the story of this time, the place, and its people. The items tell us much about how classes of people survived in an agrarian monarchy, how the land provided their sustenance, how the family unit was composed, what place the church had in their lives, and what status women held.

I claim no special or specific knowledge of these items. I have been fortunate in leaving their care to the expertise of Carol Symes who has been meticulously cataloging the collection for their ultimate use by the research community. Her high level of scholarship is clearly demonstrated by the caliber of this exhibition and its catalog.

Thanks are extended to the Georges Lurcy Charitable & Educational Trust whose generous support made this exhibit possible. I am indebted to Professor Charles Donahue who contributed the introduction to this catalog. I am also indebted to David R. Warrington, Librarian for Special Collections, for his continued support of our work with these vital records; to Mala Conrad of the Harvard Map Collection; and especially to Ethan Thomas, Associate Director of Administrative Publications, for his artistic sense, good humor, and hard work.

This exhibition is dedicated to Samuel Thorne, Charles Stebbins Fairchild Professor of Legal History, Emeritus.

David de Lorenzo
Curator of Manuscripts and Archives
Harvard Law School Library
October 13, 1993

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Curator’s Preface

I have been spared the difficult task of composing an Introduction to this catalog by the kind offices of Professor Charles Donahue, whose knowledge of medieval English charters and of the law which gave them life far surpasses the modest familiarity which I have achieved through a year’s perusal of the materials in this collection. Yet it must not be supposed that he is in any way responsible for the errors and misjudgments which may lurk in the following pages–they are my own. Notwithstanding the originality of my mistakes, I must acknowledge the debts I owe: to the staff of Special Collections, whose interest in the project I received with joy and verbosity; and to Gregory Pass, my colleague and husband, who listened to a thousand questions and answered as many as seemed reasonable.

Carol Symes

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Introduction to the Exhibit Catalog

by Professor Charles Donahue, Jr.
Harvard Law School

Most of the documents in this exhibition are technically described as charters Our word charter is derived from Latin charta, which means simply a piece of reed-paper (papyrus). In northern Europe, where reed-paper was rare and parchment the normal medium for recording important writings (see Case II), the word charter came to mean, first, any single-sheet document, and, then, certain specific types of legal documents, such as royal grants (like Magna Carta) or agreements between individuals, frequently those involving the conveyance of land. It is in this last sense that the word is used in this exhibition.

The use of writing to record legal transactions is almost as old as writing itself. The same cuneiform syllabary that records the code of Hammurabi also records the most mundane of Mesopotamian legal transactions. As is the case with many other legal matters, the Romans made prodigious advances in recording legal transactions involving land. Even with the fall of the Roman Empire in the West, the art of committing ordinary land transactions to writing was never completely lost in the area around the Mediterranean. Italian charters from the period known as the dark ages show that surveyors and professional scribes (the ancestors of the modern notaries) were still practicing, and the fact that these charters were preserved shows that the concept of written muniments of title also survived.

Whether Roman practices with regard to land transactions survived in Northern Europe is a more controversial question. It has recently been argued that charters from as far north as modern Belgium from the seventh to the ninth centuries show traces of Roman conveyancing practices. In the case of England, however, we can be reasonably confident that all knowledge of Roman conveyancing practices was lost in the centuries that followed the Anglo-Saxon invasions (fifth and sixth centuries). When the Anglo-Saxons began to book land transactions in the seventh century, that practice represented a new beginning, although it may have been a beginning that was influenced by surviving Roman practices on the Continent.

The Normans who conquered England in the mid-eleventh century adopted many Anglo-Saxon governmental and legal practices, and there may be some continuity between the forms of the charters that we find after the Norman invasions and those that had been used immediately before the invasions. Practices with regard to land tenure, however, changed substantially in this period. The Anglo-Saxon Land book was not well adapted to the Anglo-Norman forms of feudal tenure. For these forms of tenure, the critical thing was what lord had seised what man of what land for what services. Thus, although the matter is controverted by specialists, it would seem that the Norman methods of recording land transactions in writing represent another new beginning, a beginning that was probably more influenced by practices in Normandy than by practices in England before the Conquest.

The Harvard Law School collection of charters contains examples close to this new beginning of English charter-writing. From this beginning we can trace in the same collection the development of the forms of land transaction right down to the present day. This exhibition begins with some of the earliest examples and follows the forms into the early modern period, when they display characteristics which, though different from those in use today, are recognizably the ancestors of those in use today. The question, then, is not how we get from the seventeenth century to the forms in use today, or at least to those in use in the nineteenth century–that story is relatively easily told. The question is how do we get from the strange and cryptic forms that we see in Case I to those of the seventeenth century?

If we pause for a moment at the first charter in Case I (No. 1, c. 1180), much about it should seem strange. William del Turp is granting about fifteen acres of land to Simon son of Robert. But the grant has already taken place; indeed, it may have taken place many years previously, when William granted the land to Simon’s father Robert. But even though William granted the land to Robert, he was still very much concerned with it. The grant was by way of subinfeudation (as almost all grants in this period were). William remained lord of the land. Simon was required to discharge The free external service (liberum forense servicium) for this amount of land. The precise meaning of the phrase Free external service is unclear. It probably refers to the services that William owed to his lord for the land. Not only did William remain lord of the land; he also remained vitally concerned about who was on the land. When Robert died, his son Simon ought to have inherited. Everyone would have agreed to that. But the inheritance does not take place automatically. Simon must do homage to William (something that is assumed and not stated in the charter), and the fact that William has accepted Simon as Robert’s heir is sufficiently important that a charter will be made memorializing the event. In all probability in this period, William will also seise Simon of the land, i.e., put him in physical possession of the land. It is this act, and not the charter, that gives Simon title.

The events described in the charter would have taken place in William’s court. William’s other tenants would have been present. (They may be among those named as witnesses, although we should be cautious about this statement until more work is done with the difficult place-names by which the witnesses are identified.) The seisin of Simon would have been noted by all in the village. If a dispute had arisen at a later date, the memory of the tenants and of the other villagers would have been just as important, if not more important, for proving what had happened. Many such transactions would not have been memorialized in writing at all.

Some of the transactions in Case I, however, are of a kind where it was particularly important that there be a written memorial. The lease of the land in charter No. 2 (12th c.), for example, is one such transaction. Here the service is not the customary one but the payment of a money rent. Memories are likely to be particularly defective when it comes to remembering a sum agreed to at the time and set without relation to custom. Similarly, the reservation of the easement (iter, a misuse, in this context, of a Roman technical term for a type of right of way) in Charter no. 3 is also particularly important to memorialize in writing. The seisin of the land has been transferred from Robert to Richard. The charter constitutes the only visible evidence of the reservation.

The thirteenth century sees parallel developments in the land law and in the writing of charters. We noted that in 1180 (No. 1) it was important to memorialize the fact that the lord of the land had accepted the tenant’s heir. In 1180, the central royal courts were already intervening in the affairs of the lords’ courts to ensure that lords performed their obligations to their tenants, including accepting the tenants’ heirs. By 1280, such intervention had become routine. The lords courts no longer had any discretion whether to accept the tenant’s heir or not. If the heir met the legal requirements of heirship, he (or she if there were no he) must be accepted. At the same time the services owed by free tenants increasingly came to be expressed in terms of money payments. Once established these money payments became fixed, and hence tended to decrease in value with inflation (a process that was sufficiently gradual in the Middle Ages that it was not consciously perceived). The process of subinfeudation led to ever longer chains of feudal tenures and had the tendency to deprive the original grantors of land of the incidents of tenure (still measured in kind) that were due the lord when the property passed from ancestor to heir. In 1290, the statute Quia Emptores abolished subinfeudation. Transfers from then on would take place by way of substitution, the new tenant moving in to take the place of the old tenant in the feudal hierarchy. Lords gave up their right to object to new tenants, but were made more secure in their possession of the feudal incidents.

These developments in the law and in the writing of charters are both illustrated by the first charter (No. 36, c. 1290) in Case III, which may be dated on the basis of its handwriting to the late thirteenth century. William Miller (or, perhaps, William the miller) is making a family property settlement, granting a house and adjacent land to his son Simon (perhaps on the occasion of his son’s marriage). William technically remains lord of the land. But the son is substituted in his place in all but name. The charter tells us that the son is to render the annual fixed money payment to the Chief lord of the land and to attend two courts held by the chief lord each year. The charter thus comes from the period just before the statute Quia emptores, or it comes from just after the statute when conveyancing practice had not yet caught up with the requirements of the statute. In further contrast to the charters of the twelfth century, the language of charter No. 36 is dry, precise and routine. It says everything that needs be said and nothing more. Charter-writing has become professionalized. This is the period, as one legal historian has somewhat inelegantly put it, of the Emergence of the flat-arsed conveyancer.

In the latter Middle Ages conveyancing took an odd turn, dictated by the practice of making feoffments to uses. We noted above that lords retained the right to substantial payments in kind when the land was transferred from ancestor to heir. Further, for a complicated series of reasons also related to lordship, it was not possible to devise (convey by will or testament) most types of English land (land in boroughs and cities being the major exception). The feoffment to uses, nicely illustrated in charter No. 31 (Case II, 1483) avoided the payment to the lord and permitted, in effect, the devise of land. Charter No. 31 begins as if it were a grant in fee simple to three men, John, Thomas and Robert. On the fold for the seal tag, however, in English, the grantor, probably in his own hand, says that Thomas and Robert are to Make estate to John and Margaret for their joint lives and then to the heirs of Margaret. John, Thomas and Robert are the feofees to uses. (The fact that the grantor attorns Thomas, i.e., transfers his services to the new grantees, suggests that Thomas was also a tenant of the land under a lease.) It is understood that John, Thomas and Robert will not have any beneficial interest in the land as a result of the grant. In all probability, the grantor will retain the beneficial interest in the land throughout his lifetime. Upon his death, Thomas and Robert will then convey their moieties to John and his wife Margaret (who is probably the grantor’s daughter) and to the heirs of Margaret (the grantor’s grandchildren, if all goes well). None of this is stated in the instrument with the precision with which we just stated it. The arrangement is not so much illegal as extra legal, although by 1483, it will be enforced in the chancellor’s court. (Charter No. 30 is a more complicated example of the same type of transaction.)

The last major development in conveyancing illustrated in these charters is best seen in the large instrument (No. 35, 1611) in Case II. In 1536, the statute of uses declared that the legal ownership of property must follow the beneficial. Hence, the grant in No. 31, if it had been executed after 1536, would have given the grantor the legal as well as the beneficial interest in the land, and his arrangements for his daughter and son-in-law would not have taken place. Rather, his heir (who may well have been someone other than his daughter) would have taken the land upon his death, and the lord of the land would have been entitled to the feudal incidents. The inconvenience of this result from the point of view of the grantor was mitigated by the fact that in 1540 parliament passed a statute allowing the devise of most English land. The consequences of the statute of uses, however, soon came to be exploited by conveyancers. Since the passage of the beneficial interest would bring the legal interest along with it, it became possible to transfer ownership of land without the accompanying livery of seisin. Note that in charter No. 31, the grantor is careful to appoint an attorney actually to transfer the seisin of the land to the three men. Otherwise they would not have had the legal interest, and the whole deal would have collapsed. After the statute of uses, a simple bargain and sale deed would effectively transfer the beneficial interest to the grantee, and by the statute the legal interest would follow automatically. Hence, livery of seisin was not longer necessary. The statute, then, marks, in some sense, the first time in which the charter itself conveys a freehold in the land, rather than simply memorializing something that has happened or will happen elsewhere. It was not until the statute of frauds in 1677, that a charter was required to transfer a freehold interest in land, although by this time very few people were still conveying land by means of livery of seisin.

This collection of documents, then, illustrates in a quite dramatic way the major changes that took place in English land law and conveyancing practice over the course of five centuries. It illustrates, however, much more than that. As Ms. Symes’ arrangement of the material shows, a group of documents like this tells us much about social life, about the history of families, about the relationship of town and countryside, about religion, and about a wide variety of concerns of the people of the time. As is, I hope, fitting for a introduction to an exhibition in a law school, we have focused here on the line of legal development. I must say in closing, however, that without the context into which Ms. Symes has put the documents, the legal development appears disembodied and mechanical. The legal development does have a life of its own, but that life makes little sense unless we put it into the context that our group of grantors and grantees give it.

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I. In Deed and Word (1100-1300)

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Notes on Measurements and Currency
Documents: 1 2 3 4 5 6-7 8-9 10 11 12 13-14 15 16 17-18

The administrative foundations of English government were laid under Henry I (1100-1135) and fortified during the reign of his grandson Henry II (1154-1189). Yet few charters survive from this era. Not surprisingly, one of the earliest documents in this collection can be dated to the last years of Henry II’s reign, and several more to the reigns of his sons Richard and John. The age of Henry III, however, saw the composition of the first systematic treatise on English law–that of Henry de Bracton (d. 1268)–and an increase in the practice of making charters. With the advent of Edward I and his quo warranto proceedings, which culminated in the 1278 Statute of Gloucester (6 Edward I), legislation provided a greater impetus for documentation: claims based on landholding had to be supported by proof in the form of sealed instruments, or deeds. A written record of the transfer of land was not required in England until the seventeenth century, but the value of possessing such a record became increasingly apparent throughout the later Middle Ages.

The documents in this case, therefore, were produced during a period of gradual change and are evidence of the primarily memorial function of early deeds. By the time the parchment was inscribed and sealed, the actual deed, the transferal itself, had already occurred. What had happened at the ceremonial “livery of seisin” was not recorded, nor was the date, nor the precise location of the land in question. As far as medieval people were concerned, details like these did not need to be written down. After all, everyone in the village knew whose land it was, what it was worth, and where it was located. The purpose of a charter was to remind the men of time to come that an important event had taken place–it was a keepsake and a letter to posterity.1

Note on Measurements and Currency2

8 bovates = 4 virgates = 2 carucates = 1 hide = 120 acres

From Domesday Book (1086) it appears that one hide of land would support one peasant family and was thus the basic agricultural unit of early medieval England, just as the peasant family was the basic unit of labor throughout the Middle Ages. But many scholars are inclined to think that the hide was a much smaller unit. Certainly few peasant families ever had access to as much as 140 acres; most subsisted on forty or so.

2 sulongs = 5 hides = 1 knight’s fee (c. 1200)

At the time of the making of Domesday Book, most fighting men supplied themselves with war gear from the proceeds of one to two hides of land. By the beginning of the thirteenth century, however, at least five hides were necessary to provide a full-fledged knight with livelihood and equipment, which by then included the newer, much heavier armor required for man and horse.

12 pence = 1 shilling; 20 shillings = 1 pound
a guinea is usually worth 21 shillings
a mark = 13s. 4d.

For much of the medieval period forty shillings was considered a very large amount of money, equivalent to the yearly income of a rather well-to-do landowner. Most peasants dealt only with the smaller denominations: rents are usually given in shillings and pence. By the end of the fourteenth century, however, inflation and population decrease (caused by famine and plague) forced wages up, resulting in the wider circulation of larger sums.


c. 1180
Edenbridge, Kent

Grant by William del Turp to Simon son of Robert of two bovates of land in Eden, stating that because Robert had held this land of William, Simon and his heirs hold it in fee of William and his heirs in exchange for The free external service of two bovates in Eden. The bovate was an ancient measure (see Note on Measurements) based on plowing-units of oxen. It is difficult to say what the services required of Simon actually were: they might have ranged from the plowing of lord William’s land to the discharging of services owed by lord William to his own lord (see Introduction).3 The witness list is headed by Ralph the priest, possibly the scribe, and includes (second from the end) the name of Walter brother of Simon.

Equestrian seal of the grantor, bearing the legend SIGILLVM WILLELMI DEL TVRP


12th century
Alresford, Essex

Grant by Geoffrey de Ferculis to Robert son of William, his free man (liber homo) of Alesford, of all the land which Walter son of Edwin held in the grantor’s will of Alesford, including exit for his beasts about that land into the common pasture. While No. 1 is a grant in exchange for service this grant represents a lease of the land with Robert making a downpayment of 2½ marks in addition to a yearly rent of 2s. 6d. The designation Free man is important: Robert may be paying rent for the land but he is not in any way “bound” to it. It is usually difficult to tell the difference between free and “unfree” (servile) men in medieval documents and specific references like this one are rare.4 The witness list includes the names of William the reeve (pr”positus), John the clerk of Nevenham and Everard his son (see No. 18), and three members of the de Ferculis family.


c. 1180
Wivenhoe, Essex

Grant by Robert de Spereburne to Sir Richard Bataille of all his sedge (yllira, or marsh) which he held of Geoffrey de Cokama, saving to Robert a route (iter) eight feet wide and coming from his house for riding, carting, and driving his beasts to the great road leading from “Cokama” (in Elmstead) to Wiveh’; to hold of the grantor at a yearly rent of 8d. pence saving the king’s service, to wit for a scutage of 20 shillings, halfpenny. The feudal arrangement between king and vassal had a military basis: the king provided his men with land and they in turn pledged their service as soldiers in wartime–or at least agreed to send their own knights to fight in the king’s army. But as this charter demonstrates, a landholder whose allotment of land required him to send, say, three knights for military service, might find it easier and more profitable to send only the monetary equivalent. The king would often raise money by levying a scutage based on the value of a military tenture. In this case, for a scutage of 20s. to the king, Sir Richard would be obliged to pay haypennny. Witnesses to the charter include Sir Thomas the chaplain (domine being a title of respect for priests as well as for knights in this period) at the head of the list and Nicholas the clerk at the foot.

Seal of Robert de Spereburne bearing the device: a bird with outstretched wings and neck extended, and the legend: S’.ROBERTI. DE.SP…BURNE


c. 1200
Brinklow, Warwickshire

Grant by Richard son of Ernisius to William Bacun and his heirs of that land which Herbert son of Jordan held and which Roger son of Herbert held, at a yearly rent of 12d. For this grant William has given one mark. A long witness list is headed by William de Brinkel’ and includes the names of Gerard Vintner, John Mercer, William Blundo the smith, Haldane Careter, Gilbert and Hugh the butchers, and Richard de Aula (see No. 6).

Compare the seal with that of Robert de Spereburne in No. 3: the device here is nearly identical. Legend: + SIGIL’ RICARDI FILII ERNISII


c. 1200
Bulby, Lincolnshire

Grant by William Benedict of Boleb’ to Henry son of Thomas de Huvartop of four selions of land in Bolebi which abut upon “Areweitsiche,” at a yearly rent of a halfpenny at Christmas. Christmas was often the time fixed for the payment of rents, perhaps because it was easier to wring money out of tenants at that convivial time of year. The sections of land referred to here were probably four strips for plowing in the common Welds around the village: these were very long and narrow, designed to make plowing easier, as the plowman would not have to negotiate a turn too often.5 This document may have been made by one of the witnesses, John the chaplain of Irnham, whose script has been described by one expert as “uncouth.”6

6 & 7.

c. 1200
Grants of Walter Deyville

A pair of grants by Walter de Daevill, lord of Stoke. The First is to Richard de Aula (witness to a grant in nearby Brinklow, No. 4) of a piece of arable land outside the town which William Marescall held and which he gave to Lettice daughter of Richard de Sutton, his granddaughter, at a rent of 12d. per year and for a downpayment of 11 marks. Here (as in No. 4), the history of the land’s tenure is cited not to prove a hereditary claim but simply to locate and identify it. Witnesses include Swain the parker (who also appears among the witnesses of No. 7) and Richard the goldsmith, perhaps an indicator that Coventry was already a town of some size and prosperity (see Case VIII). The second grant is to Walter son of Jerricus de Covintre of a croft in the nearby vill of Stoke, to hold of the grantor at a yearly rent of certain white gloves in Easter week. While the rent is symbolic rather than monetary it is by no means inconsiderable, as gloves were an important indicator of aristocratic status and as such could be expensive (see below, No. 8). The witness list includes the name of William Bacun, the beneficiary of No. 4.7

Armorial seals of Walter de Daevill, bearing the legend: SIGILL’ WALTERI DE DAEVILL’

8 & 9.

c. 1230 and c. 1250
William le Megre to Hugh de Vere

A grant and later quitclaim of William le Megre to Hugh de Ver, fourth earl of Oxford (d. 1263). The First document records that for his service and for 16 shillings which he has given in gersum (a fine for entry into possession a holding) William grants to Hugh the 28 pence yearly in the parish of Benetlegh Magna (Great Bentley, Essex) which Margaret de Glebregg was wont to pay to the grantor, along with all the tenement which Margaret held of him; for which the grantee is to pay yearly one pair of white gloves worth one halfpenny or one halfpenny at Easter. Principal witness is Sir Henry de Bellocampo “then seneschal of the lord earl” and several other knightly personages, possibly members of one or the other household. No. 9, probably dated some twenty years later, is in fact William’s promise to Earl Hugh that he has renounced all claim to a similar rent which Walter le Alemand (“the German”) was wont to pay to him for five acres in Great Bentley–land that Walter actually holds from Earl Hugh. William and Hugh seem to be engaged in exchanging the lordships of these lands, and have agreed that Margaret and Walter will remain and pay their rent to Hugh. The witness-list includes the names of more household knights and of retainers like Thomas Tailor, Philip Falconer, Master William Cook (either a very good cook or a university graduate), and William de Lammers, clerk.

Two seals of William le Megre bearing a floral device in high relief and the legend: S’WILELMIMEGRE


c. 1250
Baddesley, Warwickshire

Grant by Ralph de Bisege to Alan son of Alexander of one carucate (see Note on Measurements) of land in Badesleye for his homage and service and for 40 shillings in hand, namely that land which was given to Alexander de Rokinton with Ysabele the grantor’s aunt in free marriage; at a yearly rent of 2 shillings, to wit 12d. at St. Andrew and 12d. at St. Peter ad vincula. This is a good example of maritagium or a gift of land in marriage, usually (as in this charter) by the father of the bride as a provision for her future and that of her heirs. One can imagine that the grandfather of Ralph and Alan, who are cousins, gave a piece of land to his daughter Ysabele when she married Alexander. The bulk of the family property then passed to Ysabele’s brother, probably the father of Ralph who here is recognizing the claim of Alan to a certain portion of the family holding. The original grant to Ysabele and Alexander and the heirs of their body was “free”–that is, her father paid the annual rent. Now that Alan has come into his inheritance he must take over the business of homage and service.

Equestrian seal of Ralph de Biseche with the legend: +SIGILL’.RADULFI DE BISECHE


c. 1250
Trevilla, Cornwall

Grant by Robert de Bodenewel and John de Bodeston to Alexander lord of Pengerkyuc of their right in the water which runs between their lands of Bodeston and his land of Trewelli, to wit their moiety of that water and the mill-stream and mill-pond for the use of the mill of the said Alexander, with right of way through their land of Bodeston except over corn and unmown meadow, at a rent of 12d. a year, namely 6d. to each of them on St. Andrew’s Day. In Welsh, as perhaps in Cornish, tre is “hamlet” and felin “mill,”8 so the importance of the mill and its stream as laid out in this document is underscored by the place-name. As in Nos. 2 and 3, a grant of land or water would be useless without a right-of-way, here particularly if Alexander is planning on running his mill as a large commercial enterprise–a fact which seems confirmed by the grantors’ wise stipulation concerning possible damage to their property. The witness list is typically Cornish and features the name of Ralph “the palm-bearer” (palmiger’), a local celebrity who has been on pilgrimage to the Holy Land.


c. 1250
Elmstead, Essex

Grant by Philip de Hobruge to Richard Batayle of all the land which Robert son of Reginald held of the grantor in Elmested of the hide of Ribald, at a rent of 6 shillings a year and 12 pence for a scutage (see No. 3) of 20 shillings; for which the said Richard has given 12 marks. “Hide” here is used in a way familiar from Domesday Book (compiled at the behest of William the Conqueror in 1086)–which is interesting, as the thirteenth century saw, for the first time, the beginnings of the use of Domesday as a general reference work.9

Armorial seal of Philip de Hobregge bearing the legend: +SIGILL: PhILIPPI.D:hoBREGGE

13. & 14.

c. 1280
Quitclaim and “Bond”
Elmstead, Essex

Two contemporary documents recording transactions between Richard Coleman and Lucy his wife and John son of William de Frating. The first is a quitclaim by Richard and Lucy to John of IIs. of yearly rent in Elmested which they were wont to collect from various tenants. The second is their scriptum obligatorium or bond for the sum of £10, to be paid to John or his heirs before Richard and Lucy or their heirs can make any claim to a rent of 11s. a year in Elmested which they have quitclaimed to the said John. The Colemans are in debt to John and are designating the proceeds from their tenements in Elmstead as interest payments. This type of arrangement was designed to avoid the prohibition against usury. The land in question might be Lucy’s dower-land, from her first marriage to John.

Seals of Richard and Lucy Coleman, both vesica-shaped and bearing devices and legends: *S’.RICARDI.COLEMAN // +S’LUCIE QUE FVIT.VX IOHANNIS [“Seal of Lucy who was the wife of John”]


c. 1260
Bradley, Derbyshire

Grant by Humfrey de Bradeleg to GeoVrey son of William de Bradeleg as his right of half a hyde and half a virgate (see Note on Measurements) of land in Bradeleg, which the grantee’s father held, at a rent of 16s. per year, along with some pastureland; for which grant GeoVrey has given 2 marks to Humfrey and 6d. to William the latter’s son. Here, the heir of a former tenant pays an entry-fee to the landlord as well as to the landlord’s heir-apparent. This charter is a good example of the perils involved in locating places like “Bradley,” since there are two dozen villages and towns of that name in England. The witness list, however, gives the name of Walter son of Ralph of Edinover (Endsor), a village south of Bradley in Derbyshire.

Sealpendant on double strands of braided cord, green and beige, and bearing the device: a stag’s head with the legend: +SIGIL: HUM… [illegible]


1273 May 7
Eye, SuVolk

An indenture or chirograph (see Case II) witnessing an agreement between William Lefleyre of Berntham and Ralph de Blanchevill of Eys. William agrees to pay Ralph the sum of IId. yearly rent from one mill and the site thereof (fundum) and a meadow in the parish of Eys, properties which this charter says are described in another charter (not in the collection) whereby said Ralph enfeoVed the said William. Given at Ocle (Oakley) on the nones of May, 2 Edward [I]. This is the earliest dated document in the collection. As in No. 11 the importance of mills in an agricultural society is evident. The witness list is of interest, as it demonstrates that even at this early date, in England at least, almost everyone had some kind of surname–although these names were not necessarily hereditary, especially among the lower classes who had little need to be identified as members of a particular family or “house.”10 The variety of the names is also interesting, as some are place-names, some epithets derived from French (or Latin), some merely professional names or patronymics. They include: John Habday, John de Cakestrete, Benedict de Lampet, John Oliver, Simon Snylard, Nicholas Moyse, Thomas Cobering, Philip Lechild, John Snod, Adam de Scrubelond, Edmund de Camp, Adam le Stabler.

Seal of William LeXeyre (which shows that this half of the chirograph was kept by Ralph de Blanchevill) bearing device with the legend: SIGILL’ WILLI THUN…

17. & 18.

c. 1270 and 1297 August 16
Helston, Cornwall

A pair of grants featuring two priests, father and son, as landholders in Cornwall. The first is a grant by Richard son of Baldwin de Trewiados to Roger de Sancto Constantino, clerk, of half a Cornish acre of land with all his messuages, which formerly belonged to Nicholas the priest, a portionary in the church of St. Constantine; the grantee to pay a yearly rent of 2s. for all services save royal tallage. No. 18 shows Roger the clerk, son of Master Roger de Sancto Constantino, granting to Henry de Pengerset a messuage and a garden in the borough of Helleston; the document is dated the Friday after the Assumption of St. Mary, 25 Edward [I]–another early date. It is unclear whether or not the land in No. 17 represents the beneWce of the parish priest of Helleston, but it does seem to be the case that the charters refer to a father and son who are both in Orders. Although the Church had long since forbidden marriage to men in the priesthood, the practice was notoriously difficult to stamp out, especially in England.11 Evidence of clerical beneWces passed on from father to son can be found elsewhere.12

Seal of Roger son of Roger de Sancto Constantino, bearing the device: a figure (“St. Constantine”?) circumscribed by a cross and the legend: VIDET[?]…VE [broken]13

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II. The ABCs of Written Record

Go to Documents: 19-23 24 25-26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35

The documents in this case illustrate the ways in which transactions were recorded, along with the kinds of changes in the methods and materials of writing which took place over time. While Latin was the official written language of the courts and of learned society throughout the Middle Ages and beyond, French and English rapidly developed as languages of communication, particularly for men and women outside the Church. Moreover, continuing legal innovations demanded a higher level of participation in written culture from everyone in the kingdom, an expectation which gave rise to a bureaucratic revolution during the later Middle Ages.


William de la Pole and Robert de Nevill, 1350-1360

A group of five charters from Farnley in the West Riding of Yorkshire, detailing certain agreements made between William de la Pole, mayor of Kingston-upon-Hull and father of Michael de la Pole (the future Lord Chancellor of England and first earl of SuVolk) and his son-in-law Robert de Nevill, son of Sir Robert de Nevill of Hornby (of the Nevill barons of Raby, later earls of Westmorland), who married William’s youngest child Margaret. All of these charters are chirographs or “indentures” as they came to be called, since their jagged edges suggest a row of teeth. A chirograph was a useful way of recording agreements made between two people, for it provided each with a copy of the document and in addition acted as a safeguard against forgery or fraud. The text of the agreement was written out twice on a single piece of parchment and between the two the scribe usually put a row of letters: perhaps the word C H I R O G R A P H U M or, more commonly still, the alphabet. Nos. 19 and 23 appear to be alphabetical, while the two halves of Nos. 20 and 21 spell out the word I N D E N T U R A. The parchment would then be cut across with a knife. The half kept by the party of the first part was then sealed by the party of the second part, and vice versa. If a dispute over property arose in the courts, the parties concerned (or their heirs) would be required to produce evidence of their claim. If a chirograph had been drawn up, the two halves could be matched one with the other. It is very rare for both halves of a chirograph to be preserved in the same collection, so these are particularly valuable examples of the process of documentation at this time.

No. 19is undated, but it is obviously the first of the series, written around 1350. It is the only one written in Latin–the others are in French–and it records the grant by William de la Pole the elder, knight, to Robert son of Robert de Nevill of Hornby, knight, and Margaret his wife of the manor of Farnelay with all its members, appurtenances, free tenements, villein tenements, with the villeins themselves and all their chattels, to hold to them and the heirs of their bodies (that is, in tail) at a yearly rent of £20, payable at Whitsuntide and Martinmas. The explicit reference to a grant of free and villein tenements with their unfree tenants (villeins) and their chattels is noteworthy. Free tenements were held of a lord by free men, that is, men who were personally free and who paid rent or owed services for their land but whose land nonetheless belonged to them and could be sold or used for whatever purpose they chose. Unfree or villein tenements were the property of the lord–as were, technically, the villeins who worked the land and any goods or animals on the land. However, it was very often the case that no material diVerence could be discerned between “free” peasants working their own land in exchange for rent and “unfree” peasants working their lord’s land and owing to him the proceeds from it.14

Nos. 20 and 21, the two halves of a bipartite chirograph dated 14 February, 32 Edward III (1358), are witness to an agreement between Sir William and Sir Robert, to the effect that if the grantees pay the grantor 10 marks (£6.5.0) a year plus the money arising from the sale of woods at Farnelay and Collyngg “which they have promised to cut within the next four years” until a sum of 200 marks has been paid, the manor shall be discharged of the annual rent of £20.

No. 22 bears the same date as the chirograph above and repeats the offer made therein, with the stipulation that the monies may be paid either to Sir William or to his executors at Kingston-upon-Hull.

No. 23, another indented agreement between the two parties, dated 29 January, 35 Edward III (1361), rehearses the terms of the other four documents here with a further reWnement: that if Robert and Margaret pay Sir William £10 yearly for the first five years after the date of this deed and 20 marks in the sixth year, then the said manor of Farnelay shall be discharged and quit forever of the said rent.

Seals of the grantor and grantees. On Nos. 19 and 21 a seal bearing arms and the legend: *SIGILLVM.WILLELM… DE.BARLEGO. On No. 19 a seal bearing composite arms (?) and the legend: *S’.MARGARETE:…EVIL. On Nos. 20, 22, and 23 a seal bearing arms and the legend: SIGILLVMWI…MI DE…


1316 May 2
Letters of attorney
Wimpole, Cambridgeshire

Nos. 24 and 26 show the uses to which French was being put as a language of law and business. Warin de Bassiggebourne of Wynpole hereby appoints Ingram Berenger as his attorney to take the seisin of his manor at Cheldryngtone in Wiltshire by default of Henry de Nutshellyngge, grocer, of New Salisbury and Joan his wife. Here a lord is authorizing a trusted friend or vassal to re-assert his claim over a manor whose tenants have defaulted on their payment of rent or services. His residence near Cambridge is far away from the disputed holding in Wiltshire and this charter legally enables another man to act in his place.

25 & 26.

1309 and 1316
A pair of receipts

No. 25 is in Latin: William de Pykiring acknowledges receipt of payment from John de Maulenever of 8 marks due for tithes in Arkendale in Yorkshire. It bears a vesica-shaped seal showing Virgin and Child enthroned with the legend: WILLIIELMI [sic] …EDO.. LEC. No. 26 is the acknowledgement in French of William de Goldyngton, knight, of the receipt from Richard de Bovynton of Bockynge (in Essex) of 20 due on a bond made “in the court of the King.” With an armorial seal bearing the legend: *S’WIL…E GOLDRINGTON.

The demand for written records of transactions, the widespread use of writing, the growth of literacy in French and Latin, all contributed to an explosion in the numbers and kinds of documents being produced in England.


1405/6? September 29
Indented receipt on paper

Paper (made of rags) was a relatively new medium in England at the beginning of the fifteenth century. Pleasantly light and easy to write on, it required none of the elaborate preparation of animal-skin; but it was not as durable as parchment and was therefore not appropriate material for legal documents. It was, however, useful for less formal transactions, as demonstrated here by this indented receipt testifying that Richard Norman has delivered to Henry Godfrey, clerk of the household of Lord Ferrers of Chartley (in Staffordshire), over a period of two years, various household supplies in the quantities and prices specified. Sum total: £301.17.4.


1459 August 11
Paper draft of a grant
Staverton, Devon

A rare example of a draft made on paper. A proposed grant by Thomas Worth and Isabella his wife to John Wynard, esquire, of the manor of Wolveston in Cornwall with messuages in Staverton in Devon, and elsewhere, all of which lately belonged to Humfrey Devile. The Worth family, prominent landholders in the West Country, are featured in Cases VI and VII. As Nos. 108 and 111 in the latter case will show, Thomas and his son were still delaying in the making of this grant in 1477 and in 1501.


1435 March 20
Indented agreement in English
Leeds, Yorks.

The earliest English document in the collection concerns a marriage agreement and settlement between Perkyn Kay and John of Tymble, to the effect that Henry, son and heir of John, shall wed Janet, daughter of Perkyn, before the Michaelmas next and that John and Agnes his wife are to enfeoV Henry and Janet, in tail, of two burgages in Leeds before the feast of Pentecost next. With a provision that if Henry die without issue the property will revert to Janet and her heirs forever, Janet paying 10 marks. If Janet dies first, Perkyn is to have the premises until he has received £20 from Henry. Also, the said Perkyn is to pay John 24 marks in hand. In a single brief charter, therefore, provision is made not only for the couple’s future, but for the livelihood of Janet, should she become a widow.


1439 July 22
Indented will
Tenterden, Kent

Indenture being the will (voluntas, as opposed to testamentum) of Henry Esteghere of Tenterden, conWrming to Thomas Hamys, Robert Dunne, and Thomas Robyn of Tenterden aforesaid and Henry Coldynge of Benynden all his lands and tenements in the parishes of Halden, Wodcherche, and elsewhere in the county of Kent as in the deed more fully set out; and willing that if his wife Joan survive him she is to have all those tenements aforesaid and elsewhere in the county of Kent. After his death, Thomas Austyn, nephew of Joan, is to have the capital messuage and 40 acres of land in the tenure of the prior and convent of Christ Church, Canterbury. Furthermore, John, Thomas, William, and Isabelle, the children of Isabelle Browne his sister, are to have in equal shares 20 marks within four years after his death and that of Joan his wife, to be raised from his land in Botyrforthe, which contains 20 acres. Also that after their deaths, that when his godson (confilius) Henry Austyn attain the age of 20 years, he should have 40 acres called Smythisham and Gybbyston lying in the parish of Tenterden upon the denne of Igolden. Also, to John Locas the son of Joan his wife and his heirs 5 marks within two years after their deaths. Also, 6s. 8d. to his foeVees.

The indented form of the will suggests that it was designed to be produced by the feoffees after Henry’s death, when they would make their claim to the bequest. This is an example of “enfeoffment to uses,” which was a way of getting around the 1290 law against subinfeudation (Statute of Westminster III: Quia emptores, 18 Edward I). The property was owned or held by Henry and his family but it was worked or occupied by the feoVees.

Seal bearing a band of braided rushes (see No. 65).


1483 January 1
Grant (Latin) and Will (English)

The simplicity of this little “will” is a good contrast to the sizable settlements above and a good example, like No. 29, of a single charter used for multiple purposes. It records a grant by Thomas Staunton to John Wyllne, Thomas Peg, and Robert Barker of a messuage in Loughborough, Leicestershire and the appointment of Gerard Strechley as the grantor’s attorney to deliver seisin. At the bottom of the document, written in English, is the note: “I wille that Pegg & Robert Barker make a lauful astate to John Wilne & Margaret his wife of ye place & to ye heris of Margaret.” This is another “enfeoffment to uses” by the grantor (see Introduction).

The little seal of red wax, oval in shape, bearing the initial T, is an example of the seals with simple devices or initials (T, J, I, or R) which were mass-produced for the growing number of laymen who needed them for business transactions.15


1414 April 25
Sandwich, Kent

Grant by Simon Halle of Sandwich to Henry Cok, William Gayler, and Henry Helde of the same, of a tenement with its appurtenances in the parish of St. Mary at Pyllorygate, Sandwich, between the pillory-gate to the west, the tenement of Henry Dyrey to the east, the king’s highway to the south, and the seashore to the north. Note that while the text is Latin, the directions are in English, as are the names of places–with the debased usage regiam stratam instead of via regis. The existing charter has been written on “recycled” parchment. The making of a palimpsest was a common and thrifty practice: the original writing here has been erased with pumice but traces of it are visible near the bottom and quite clearly legible under ultraviolet light.

Seal of arms with counterseal (shown) bearing a cipher. Counterseals were yet another way of assuring the authenticity of a document or its seal.


1417 May 27
Letters of attorney
Gresham, Norfolk

Letters of attorney of William Molyns, knight, and John Stokken, appointing John Baxster of Honyng in the county of Norfolk and John Wortheley of Causton in the same county their attorneys jointly and severally to receive from Richard Wyot and Thomas Milreth full possession and seisin of the manor of Gresham with all its appurtenances. With the signature of the scribe in the lower right-hand corner: “R Lyndesay.” Not until the 16th century did signatures or signs manual come to have any legal force or significance (see No. 34).

Seal of arms with the legend: Sigillum+Willelmi+Molyns.


1548 September 26
Farnham St. Martin, SuVolk

Grant by Robert Holt of Bury St. Edmunds and John Holt of Cokfyld, gentlemen, to John Gryffyth, clerk, of one piece of arable containing approximately one acre lying in the parish of Farnham St. Martin; which acre of land lately belonged to Robert Barrett of Bury aforesaid, and Christopher Payton, esquire, and Thomas Badby, gentleman, were lately seised of it to the use of the grantors and of the heirs of Robert, of the gift of John Eyer, esquire, and of the said John Holt by charter dated 27 July 38 Henry VIII [1546]. With appointment of Thomas Andrew and John Boldero their attorneys to deliver seisin. A complicated arrangement, which shows the parties concerned making an effort to comply with the 1536 Statute of Uses (27 Henry VIII, c. 10), which ordered that all feoffees be seised and possessed of the lands in use.16 By this time, signatures as proof of the validity of the transaction have become commonplace. This charter is signed on the front by the grantors and endorsed with the names of witnesses to the livery of seisin and the signatures of the attorneys.

Seal of Robert Holt bearing the initial R. Seal of John Holt: a Wne intaglio(?) flanked by the initials I S R


1611 February 20
Indenture of sale
Packwood, Warwickshire

We have seen evidence of the growing variety and complexity of charters over time and this indenture is an example of the resulting format: so full of information and legal formulæ that the parchment conveying the property must be of enormous size–too large to be unfolded here. While the documents in Case I were symbols of an act or “deed,” those in this case have become the act. By the 17th century custom (if not law) dictated that not only seals but signatures must appear on every charter. Here, the signatures of the principals are corroborated by those of all the witnesses on the reverse. A “bargain and sale” of land, often from one family member to another, had become the way to provide for the next generation–but the reality of the transaction had not substantially changed from the days in which this would have been called “grant.”

One of the bordering properties described in this document is “a close now or late in the possession of William Shaxper.”

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III. Law & Society

Go to documents: 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47

The sheer numbers and kinds of documents which have survived from the later Middle Ages in England provide us with a great deal of information about the development of the practical law, legal innovations, and the changing–or unchanging–social conditions of the time. The charters in this case illustrate various aspects of English society from the 1290s to the 1590s.


probably after c. 1290
Riston, Yorkshire

A grant by William the miller of Riston to Simon his son, of a house with a courtyard adjacent in the vil of Riston which the grantor had of the gift of William son of Robert Bassat of Riston, lying next the messuage of Stephen the miller on the south side; the grantee rendering to the chief lord of that fee the services due and accustomed: 2s. a year and service at two courts in the year. The final clause of this charter could indicate that it was written after the year 1290 and Edward I’s statute Quia emptores, as it stipulates that “the customary services” are due to the chief lord, not to the grantor. But the conveyance still appears to be one of subinfeudation (rather than substitution) and that would suggest an earlier date. A change is in the air, and this charter totters on the brink of the new legislation.


c. 1300
Grant of an inheritance
Timberscombe, Somerset

Grant by Philip de Vinea, heir of Robert de Vinea his brother, to Simon de Ponte, son of William de Ponte and of Christina his sister, of all his inheritance in the fourth part of one fee of the manor of Tymbercombe and of three acres upon “Maghoc,” his grove of “la Vynge,” and the services of his free tenants, namely of the prior of Dunster, of Geoffrey le Fort, of William de Bytenore, of Gilbert Pyrus, of Simon de Ponte, and others. The actual appointment of an heir was not lawful–“for,” says Glanvill, “only God, not man, can make an heir.” However, “if [the donor] has not begotten an heir of his body è he can give to anyone he pleases part or all of his acquired land to hold heritably; and if the donee is seised in the donor’s life, no remoter heir can upset that gift.”17 As in No. 2 we see that it is important here for Philip to stipulate that the services due on the land are those of his free tenants; indeed, if they had been villeins their names might not have been mentioned at all. Notice that the “heir apparent,” Simon, is one of his uncle’s tenants and as such owes services to him.

Seal of white wax in a linen bag


1336 November 20
Pyleholte(?), Kent

Pledge by Adam de Aula of Pyleholte that he is obliged to defend against the lords of the fee and against all men John de Sandhurst, Katherine his wife, and William de Langele and Cristina his wife, with respect to one half acre of land which he sold to them by a charter of enfeoVment. This standard clause of warranty must have been left out of the original charter by mistake, so the omission had to be rectified by a supplementary charter.

Seal of faded red wax bearing a device: the Pelican in Her Piety. The Physiologus (a popular textbook of natural history) and medieval allegory taught that the pelican resembles Christ, for when her young chicks are hungry she pierces her own breast with her beak and lets them feed on her blood. This was a fairly common device–see the photographs of Commoners’ Seals.


1338 July 5
Grant and Livery of seisin
Wivenhoe, Essex

Grant by John de Suttone of Wyvenhoe, knight, to John de Suttone his eldest son of all his tenement called “Cokayne” in the vill of Elmestede, with its appurtenances and the services of tenants free and bond (tam liberorum quam nativorum); with annual rents from holdings in Great Benteleye, namely 3s. from the earl of Oxford, 11s. 6d. from Hugh de Roklonde, and 3s. 11d. from Richard Drawesword. Sewn to the face of the grant is a note to the effect that on the Monday following the Feast of the Translation of St. Thomas the Martyr, Elias le Herde, acting as the attorney of Sir John de Suttone, took livery of seisin of the tenement according to the form of the charter attached, all tenants free and bond doing fealty (fidelitas). The tenants are named, each according to his status. Also named are the witnesses to the ceremony, including Richard de Berghholte, “clerk of the familia of Sir John de Suttone.” Elias also notes that “On that day no court was held on account of the King [Edward III] being at Ipswich preparing to cross over to French territory.” 1338 was the second year of the Hundred Years’ War and it seems likely that lord John would be with the king on that day.

Seal bearing arms and a crescent moon with the legend: S” JOHAS:DE:SVTTONE:


1350 March 14
Notice and Exhortation
Draynes, Cornwall

Charter of Ralph de Bevyle addressed to all his tenants of the manors of Draynek and Credawel, requesting and exhorting them to be faithful henceforth to John son of Lawrence de Bevyle and the heirs of his body, to whom the said Ralph has granted their rents and services, which they were wont to do to him for the lands in those manors. The year 1350 marked the height of the Black Death in England: perhaps Ralph, left without heirs and himself in expectation of death, had this document drawn up. The charter granting these services to John does not survive in this collection.

Seal bearing a shield with an ox(?) and the legend: *S.RADVLPHI BEVR[?]VILE.


1366 November 3
Indenture of lease
Diss, Norfolk

Grant by Walter son of Walter, lord of Wodeham in Essex, to William Moundry of Disce of a messuage, eight acres of land, and a piece of pasture near Dukmelle in Disce, which lately belonged to Henry de Albotelee, for a term of 200 years from Michaelmas last past at a rent of 2s. 8d. a year and suit of court at Disce, the grantee to do repairs at his own cost. Given at Henham (in Suffolk). Woodham Walter in Essex was the chief holding of the Walter family, but it is obvious from this document that their lands were both extensive and scattered.

Armorial seal with the legend: Sigillu’ Walteri de Wh…


Grant and Appointment of attorneys
Barmford, SuVolk

Grant (dated January 9) by Richard Chamberleyn of Henleye and Robert Waleys of Ipswich to William Waltone of Ipswich and Alice his wife of a grange with a piece of land near Bramforde. Sewn to the face of the document is a note dated August 14 written by Thomas le Mayster of Ipswich and appointing William Ferers of Ipswich and Peter Flemyng of Bramford as attorneys to deliver seisin in all the lands in Bramford according to the form of the charter made by him on behalf of Richard Chaumberleyn and Robert Waleys. A glimpse of the lawyer-client relationship in its early stages.

Seals of the grantors, the one bearing arms and the legend: Sigillu’ Ricardi Ch….sleyn; the other, a device with the legend: SIGIL.ROBER.WALEYS


1398 November 11
Indenture of lease
Maidwell, Northants.

Lease by Simon at ye Est Ende and Isabel his wife, of Maydewell, to Henry Pye of the same, of a piece of pasture called “Gunnilisbowre” and a piece of arable containing six selions called Ryecroft, for the term of forty years. Rent: a rose at the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. The seal attached to the document was probably that of Simon’s father.

Seal of arms bearing the legend: S’ WILLI G’ BY AES’ BURGIS [?]


1420 July 13
Indenture of agreement
Eastry, Kent

Indenture witnessing that, whereas Stephen atte Halle of Haryndene in the parish of Eastry is seized of a rod of land at “le Drove” by virtue of a charter made by Thomas atte Cherche, the said Stephen grants that, as long as he, his heirs and assigns quietly and peaceably enjoy a rent of 9d. granted by the said Thomas, then the first-named charter shall be of no effect; but if they be distrained or ejected from the enjoyment of the said rent, the charter shall retain its full force. In other words, Thomas may continue to occupy or use the land so long as he pays rent for it. The owner of the seal may be the last witness, William atte Halle.

Seal bearing an anchor and the legend: S’WILGEL PETOR…[?]


1451 June 24
DronWeld, Derbyshire

Grant by John Clerke of “Somerless,” son and heir of Robert Clerk, to John Talbott, son and heir of the earl of Shrewsbury, John Barker of Dore, and John Hordryn, chaplain of the guild of St. Mary of Dronfeld, of all his lands in Wodsmythes and Woodthorpe in the fee of Ouston, with all their appurtenances. The charter is among the first in the collection to bear a numerical date, A. D. 1451, rather than the regnal year, 29 Henry VI. Could there be a political implication? Events of 1451 show Richard duke of York gaining new ground in his campaign for the English throne. Omitting Henry VI’s regnal year from charters would be an easy and effective way for Yorkists to undermine the King’s sovereignty and publicize their own intentions. Such propaganda could work both ways: when Charles II returned from exile in 1660 all writings were dated from the twelfth year of his reign–which for him began on 30 January 1649, the day of his father Charles I’s execution. During the Commonwealth, needless to say, regnal dates had been absent from all charters.


1533 November 30
Letters of attorney
Winfarthing, Norfolk

Letters of attorney of Thomas duke of Norfolk, Treasurer and Marshal of England, appointing Roger Aldred and John Joley his attorneys to deliver seisin of ten acres of land in Wynferthyng to Thomas Arundell, esquire, George Wyndham, clerk, Robert Holdych, esquire, Andrew Dudley, Robert Acton, and James Wylkyns, gentlemen. Signed “T Norfolk” in a bold hand.

Seal bearing the arms of Norfolk as Lord Marshal of England with the motto of the Order of the Garter: HONIT SOI’ QUI MAL Y P’NSE


1594 August 25
Grant (tripartit)
East Peckham, Kent

Indenture tripartite of a grant by Roger Twysden of the parish of Wye in the county of Kent to Alice Ongeleye, widow of Robert Ongeleye late of East Peckham, yeoman, of an annuity of £3.13.6 issuing out of certain land in East Peckham; to hold to Alice and her assigns for as long as she lives alone, chaste, and unmarried according to the custom (consuetudo) of gavelkind. Gavelkind was recorded in Domesday Book as a usage unique to Kent and it managed to survive, off and on, into the present century. It involved provision made for a widow which became void if, as often happened, the widow remarried. The mark of Alice appears at the bottom of the document.

Seal bearing a vine and the initials M B

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IV. Going to Law

Go to Documents: 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62

These charters illustrate the various ways in which medieval litigants sought justice, and the varieties of justice which were available to them–both in and out of court.


1386 November 30

Quitclaim by William Merton of London on behalf of himself and his heirs to Richard atte Lese, knight, of the county of Kent, of all actions real and personal which he ever had, has, or in the future might have, against the said Richard by reason of any agreement, transgression, debt, or any other thing from the beginning of the world to the day of the making of these presents.

Seal of arms with the legend: S’*WILLI’MIRTONI*


1278 March 19
Mendham, SuVolk

Charter of William son of Henry le Mouner of Medefend granting to Sir William de Huntingefend and his heirs a rent of 2d. a year, in return for the protection and counsel of the said Sir William and his heirs, in all reasonable causes and business. This charter is a reminder of one of the most important functions of the local lord: his giving of protection and meting out of justice. But it is also evidence of the pseudo-feudal relationships which were invoked during the latter half of the thirteenth century and beyond–part of a phenomenon known as “bastard feudalism.” For a man like William, whose rent is nominal and whose seal shows him to be of some standing, this sort of alliance with the gentry had social, as well as legal, benefits. For the lord it had numerous financial advantages, which often included valuable wardships. The name of William de Huntingefend, knight, heads the witness-list.

Seal bearing the device: a star, with the legend: +S’L.WILL[EL]MI LEMELNER


Indented(?) manor roll
Hanley, StaVordshire

This manor roll records the business transacted by William atte Hoke, lord of the manor of Hanley, in his court holden at Michaelmas in the years 13 and 14 Richard II. The jagged edges of the left-hand margin suggest that it may have be one half of a chirograph and that another copy of the proceedings was made and kept elsewhere.


1395 January 12
Manor of Mote, Sussex

Nos. 51 and 52 are two charters relating to the holdings of a large manor in Sussex and examples of the business transacted in a manor court. The first is a “grant” by Robert Erchynghame, Thomas Grene, chaplain, and John Chesham, feoVees (to uses) of Robert de Passele, knight, to Anne, widow of the said Robert, of all her late husband’s lands in Idenn, Playdenn, Pesemerche, Bekkele, Northihame, and Ywhurste, together with the advowson of the free chapel of Legh, for the term of her life; with remainder to the right heirs of Robert. It is really an acknowledgement by the feoffees that Ann is the true landholder and lord of the manor.


1399 October 26
Deed poll
Manor of Mote, Sussex

Acknowledgement by John Sergeaux, clerk, reciting that, whereas Ann, late the wife of Robert Passele, knight, holds the manor of Mote with its appurtenances in the parishes of Iden, Playden, Pessemersh, Bekle, Northyham, and Ywehurst in the county of Sussex for her life, and also certain lands in Rigge and Frenshcourt for her life, in dower, which premises, on the death of Ann, ought to revert to the said John as appears by a grant made to him by Robert son of Robert Passele, knight, the said John grants that the premises, on the death of Ann, shall remain to the said Robert son of Robert and Philippa his wife and their heirs forever. Given at the manor of Mote on 26 October, 1 Henry IV. See the seal of John de Passele in the display of Commoners’ Seals.


1403, 1525
A pair of rolls from Moulton, Cheshire

These two rolls from the manor of Moulton, very similar in appearance and content, demonstrate the extent to which the business of the manor courts continued without interruption for the whole of the Middle Ages.


1574 October 6
Copy of entry on a court roll

This document is the copy of a certain entry made on a hallmoot roll from the court of Sir Henry Berkeley, lord Mowbray, Seagrave, and Bruce, holden at his manor of “Sageis” near Berkeley in Gloucestershire. It records that during this session of the court, Juliana Lacye wife of Edward Lacye surrendered certain lands and messuages in Slymbrudge to her lord, which lands were re-granted to her, her husband, and William Knight, her son, for their lives and the life of the longest liver. The transcript of what was essentially an oral procedure could be found in the roll itself, while this copy would have been made for Juliana to take home with her, as proof of the transaction.

Signature and seal of Henry lord Berkeley.


1394 February 20
Leyton Roding, Essex

Charter witnessing the result of a cause by fine levied at Westminster on the morrow of the feast of St. Martin 17 Richard II [1393] before the court of the lord King, Robert Cherlton then Justice of the Court of Common Pleas, between John son of William Doreward of the county of Essex, deforciant, and Robert [Braybrooke], bishop of London, Aubrey de Veer, earl of Oxford, George Filbrigge, knight, Thomas Erpingham, knight, Thomas Croser, parson of the church of Bockyng, Thomas Coggeshale, Clement Spice, John Corbet, Robert Rikedon, John Bercamsted, chaplain, John Somer, Walter Bacun, John Cumpton, John Gungee, and John Rotere, querents–a veritable Who’s Who of the realm. In which cause the said John son of William acknowledged his manor of Ledyn Rothyng in the county of Essex to be the right of John Rotere and surrendered it in court to the said querents to hold to them, John Rotere, and his heirs forever. Afterwards, John Rotere by his deed dated November 17 Richard II [1393] enrolled in Chancery, quitclaimed to the said John Doreward, then occupying the manor, all his right therein; also, the remaining querents, by deed, released all their right in the said manor to the said John, then tenant at the will of the said remaining querents; these two releases being in the possession of the prior and convent of Christ Church, Canterbury, the said John acknowledging himself bound to the said convent in the sum of £100. This writing witnesses that, in virtue of these releases, John Doreward is tenant in fee simple of the said manor of Ledyn Rothyng.

Endorsed with a note of enrolment in dors of the Close Roll18 and bearing a seal of arms with the legend: Sigilluli:Iohis: Doreward


1414 August 5
Award and Judgement
Rothwell, Northants.

Chirograph witnessing the award and judgement made at Rothwell on the Tuesday after the feast of St. Peter ad vincula, 2 Henry V, by Robert Veer, esquire, and Laurence Dyne on behalf of John Seyton, esquire and by John Malory of Wynewyk, esquire, and John Malory of Welton, esquire, on behalf of Isabelle Hedon and likewise for William Danby, all being chosen to arbitrate concerning a special assize of novel disseisin between the said Isabelle and John Seyton and William Gybbes, clerk, of the manor of Draughton called “Hedons manor,” and also concerning all actions between the said Isabelle, John Seyton, and William Danby. The arbitrators arbitrate and adjudicate as follows: that William Danby is to release to John Seynton all his right in a yearly rent of 5 marks payable out of the aforesaid manor of Draughton for the life of the aforesaid Isabelle; and Isabelle is to release to the same John all her right in the said manor, except for the right which she has in a messuage and one acre of land on which she now lives and which is reserved to her for her life; the said releases to be made before the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Mary next to come; and that John Seyton grants to Isabelle an annuity of 6 marks for her life, the annuity payable in three equal parts. Finally, John Seyton is obliged, according to a certain scriptum obligatorium (or bond) of the Statute of Merchants (13 Edward I), to pay £10 in the mayor’s court (coram maiore) in the town of Northampton to Hugh Holt and William Berford or their executors (other parties Wned as listed).

Seals of the arbitrators: one fragment and two missing seals; remaining seal of arms bearing the legend: Sigillum:Laurentii: Dyne.


1562 October 18
Isle of Oxney, Kent

Award of Roger Manwood and William Lovelace, arbitrators in a controversy between William Hales, gentleman, of the one part and John Godfreye of Stone in the Isle of Oxney, yeoman, Edward Hyld of the same, husbandman, and Thomas Dunny of Wytsam, husbandman, of the other part; granting peaceful possession of a messuage and 4 acres of land in Stone to John, Edward, and Thomas aforesaid, for which they are to pay William Hales 10 pounds. Signed by the arbitrators.


1611 October 1
Indenture of agreement
Chart Sutton, Kent

Indenture of an agreement between John Spencer of Charte next Sutton Valence, gentleman, of the one part, and George Pattenden of Wateringburie, gentleman, and Thomas Barton of Canterburie of the other part; that the said John shall suffer the recovery by single voucher on a writ of entrie sur disseison in le post by the said George and Thomas before the end of Michaelmas term next, of all his lands in the parishes of Sutton Valence, Stapleherst, and Marsden in the county of Kent, except three acres of meadow called Lordes meadow in Charte aforesaid which he holds in lease from Sir Edward Moore, knight, deceased. The recovery to be suVered to the use of the said John, his heirs and assigns forever. An example of entail “by common recovery.” The form of the writ mentioned above dates from 1267 and the Statute of Marlborough c.29 (52 Henry III).


39 Elizabeth I, Michaelmas Term
Deposition of a witness

The obverse of this document records the terms of a mortgage made on 8 April 1560 by John Caysier, who agreed to pay an annuity of £4 per year to Michael Plane and his heirs; an agreement which was witnessed by John Reynold, William Johnson, and Martyn Drew. On the reverse of the deed (shown here) a note in English declares “that this deede was shewed forth unto Thomas Drew being examyned as a wytnesse on behalfe of Anthony Palmer and others, defendant against William Chetwyn, compleynant, which examination was taken in Michaelmas Term 1597 by Leonard Robertson examinatorem in cancellario.” It is not possible to say with any certainty what has brought this case into the equity court, but we might speculate that the heirs of Michael Plane are trying to foreclose on the grounds of non-payment. In that case, the court would require evidence from the witnesses to the mortgage–who, after 37 years, may not be available. Perhaps we can identify Thomas Drew as the son of Martyn Drew, one of the original witnesses.

Church Courts in England

Although the charters below are of later issue, they are indicative of the kinds of business dealt with by Church courts throughout the Middle Ages. By the middle of the thirteenth century the Church in England had a developed procedure and a bureaucracy for handling the huge amount of business that fell within its jurisdiction, much of which concerned testamentary cases (below), marriage, and offenses against Christian morality.


1500 January 31
Probate of a will
Diocese of York

Sentence of the court of the “peculiar” or exempt jurisdiction of the dean and chapter of York, declaring that the will annexed (here missing) was duly made and lawfully proved, and granting administration of the executors named therein.

Vesica-shaped seal bearing the device of a robed figure and the legend: SIGILLVM DECANATUS DE...[illegible]


Testament and Will
Consistory Court of Canterbury

The testament (in Latin) and will (in English) of Thomas Pette of the parish of Eastry in Kent, dated 26 February 1513. The Latin portion of the document concerns the division of his lands and possessions among his wife Christina and children Thomas, Robert, John, Juliana, Agnes, Margaret, and Thomasina, with a few other legacies. The English will (second paragraph) gives speciWc directions for the disposal of the testator’s real property. The sign manual of Thomas Pette appears at the bottom. The charter is endorsed on the reverse with a note of probate in the Consistory Court of Canterbury, dated 19 September. The Consistory was the court of the archbishop’s commissary-general for the diocese of Canterbury itself.

Seal of the Consistory Court of Canterbury, bearing the bust of St. Thomas the Martyr under a gothic canopy; below, two shields flanking a half-length figure with hands in a position of prayer.


1611 October 10
Acknowledgement of bequest

An acknowledgement by the bishop of Norwich [John Jegon], Robert Redmaine, LL.D, and Thomas Oxburgh, esquire, “two justices of the peace for the county of Norfolk,” of the receipt of £ 40 from the Right Honourable John, lord Stanhope, and Sir Michael Stanhope, one of the gentlemen of the king’ s privy chamber, the executors of Sir Edward Stanhope, D.C.L., Master in Chancery; the money being a bequest by the said Sir Edward for the relief of the poor of Terrington in Norfolk, with a declaration that they will cause it to be employed according to the desire of the testator. This document has nothing to do with Church courts, but shows the bishop of Norwich and J.P.s of the county acting in their capacities as receivers and distributors of charitable donations.

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V. Seals

Multiple seals: 63 64 65 66 67

Armorial seals: 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77

Royal seals: 78 79 80-81 82

Commoners’ seals:

Mottoes: (A B C)
Personalized Devices and Ciphers: (D E F G H I K)
Pious Devices: (L M N O P)
Pictorial Devices: (Q R S & T V X Y Z)

Multiple seals



Seals of Roger Pereres, rector of St. Michael’s in Crookedlane (missing), William Askham, Richard Radwell, and Henry Whitwell, citizens and “stokfisshmongers” of London. The diVering social positions of the three fishmongers are reflected in their seals: William’s a fine intaglio with a legend bearing his name; Richard’s a seal of arms with the legend: *Sigillum. RICARDI.DE.RADEWELLE; and Henry’s a simple, though well-produced, initial H.


Alondbury, Yorkshire

Seals of the grantees, Peter son of John Kay and his wife Alice, daughter of the grantor William Kytson. Peter’s seal shows St. Peter holding a large key and the legend: S’GILLVM.S.PETRI. Alice’s seal bears a “canceled” initial W–perhaps to distinguish as her own the seal belonging to her father, which she has borrowed for the occasion.


Sandwich, Kent

Seals of John Chaundler, clerk, and Stephen Gerard, “bocher,” remarkable for their rush-band garlands, which have survived for 550 years. Encircling a seal with rushes pressed into the wax appears to have been a practice unique to parts of Kent (as in No. 30). John’s seal shows a three-leaf clover.


Blyford, SuVolk

Letters of attorney originally bearing twelve seals, ten of which remain and demonstrate the range of devices in use during the fifteenth century. From left to right: an anchor (cracked); a finely-cut Xower and crescent moon with the legend Reg de Ro (Reynald Rous, esquire); a stricken stag (a very common device); a burning lamp (for Roger Lampit); a boar’s head (fragment); a highly-stylized Pelican in Her Piety; a seal of arms; a cock; a bird; and an initial T (the seal of Thomas Wutton).


Wivenhoe, Essex

A quitclaim by 23 knights, squires, and gentlemen of Essex of their right in various manors in Essex, which they had of the gift and feoffment of John de Vere, earl of Oxford. 23 signatures and 22 seals survive.

Armorial seals


c. 1250
Seal of James de Biseg of Baddesley, Warwickshire


Seal of Roger Corbet, knight (StaVordshire)


Seal of Henry Longchamp (Essex)


Seal of Nicholas de Stodham, knight (Essex)


Seal of Sir John de Rocheford, lord of Arley


Seals of Sir Thomas Mandeville and his wife (Essex)
Legends: *Sigillum:Thome:Maundeville, [Si]gillum: Anne…


Seal of Roger de Wolferstone (Essex)
Legend: Sigillii:Rogeri:Wolferstone::


Armorial Seals from Essex
Seals of Thomas Coggusale, Thomas Munchesy, Roger Wolferstone (see No. 74), and Ralph Chamberleyn


Seal of Sir John Clifton (Norfolk)
Legend: Sigillu’ Johannis Clyfton militis.


Seal Thomas Hunt (Northamptonshire)
Legend: S’ Thomas Hunte.

Royal seals


Great Seal of Edward I

A grant by Edward I “for the salvation of his soul and the souls of his ancestors and successors” to the master and brethren of the hospital of St. Giles, Norwich, “despite the recent provision against mortmain.” The conveyance of private lands to the Church (mortmain) was made illegal by Edward’s own 1279 Statute De viris religiosis (7 Edward I), on the grounds that property given to a religious community could not revert to the use of the Crown, since the community did not die or produce heirs. Double-sided fragment of the Great Seal, with the obverse (shown) depicting the king enthroned.


Great Seal of Henry IV

Letters patent issued to John Norys of Canterbury and others of that city, authorizing them to give in mortmain to the prior and convent of Christ Church, Canterbury three messuages, a toft, and 100 acres of land. This special dispensation from the same statute (see above, No. 78) carries the Great Seal of Henry IV pendant on green and yellow cord, with the reverse (shown) bearing the legend: HENRICUS:D[EI:GRATI]A:R[EX:ANGLIE:&:FRANC]IE:&:DOMINUS: HIBERNIE. Notice that the scribe has prepared a space in the upper left-hand corner of the charter, for the rubricator to add a very large initial H and a smaller initial R for “Rex”–but for some reason the work was not completed and only a tiny “h” marks the spot.


Seals of the Court of Common Pleas under Henry VIII

Two exemplifications under the seal of the Court of Common Pleas of Henry VIII from the 1530’s. The obverse shows the king enthroned with the legend: HENRICVS DEI GRACIA ANGLIE ET FRANCIE. The reverse bears arms with the legend: +SIGILLVM PRO BREVIBUS CORAM IVSTICIARIIS


Seal of the Court of Common Pleas under Elizabeth

A poor imprint of the same seal under Henry’s daughter Elizabeth I: obverse showing the queen enthroned.

Commoners’ Seals

These have been photographed to show detail. Most of them belonged to tradesmen, merchants, and yeoman farmers.


A. 1337
Armorial seal of John de Passele of Rye bearing the legend: PASSET.LE.PAR.PASSELE [“He will surpass it by Passele”]

B. 1397
A stag run to ground by a hound: * IE L’AY PRIS A MUN DEVIS [“I took it by my own devices”]

C. 1424
Armorial seal of John Werthe of Winchelsea, bearing the motto: *SI*IE*PUCE [“If I can”]

Personalized Devices and Ciphers

D. 1296/7
Seal of Richard de Knokebregge (Knotting in Bedfordshire?) bearing a star device with the legend: -RICARDI.DE CNOTBR

E. 1415
Seal of Thomas Barber of Ledbury, Herefordshire: a shield bearing a bell flanked by the initials T B

F. 1448
Seal of John Lightfoot of Great Dunmow in Essex; a lion with the legend: Joh Letpedum

G. 1458
Seal of John Smith of Bury St. Edmunds: a vice

H. 1459
Seal bearing a doubled-headed snake in the shape of an S

I. 1465
Seal of Thomas Bailiff of Wymondham, Norfolk: a watchdog labelled Balayf

K. 1551
Seal of Christopher Savery of Totnes in Devon, bearing a cipher composed of a cross with a forked base intertwined with the initials S C

Pious Devices

L. c. 1290
The head of a saint with the legend: *CAPVD SERVI+DEI
[“Head of a servant of God”]

M. 1378
Seal of John Haselden, vicar of Wrotham in Kent, showing a crowned figure kneeling to receive the blessing of Christ (with a fiery halo). Legend: S:IOhIS:DE:HAYELDS…

N. 1394
Seal of John Godewyn, parson of the church of Baconsthorpe, Norfolk: the figure of a saint with a kneeling suppliant, the legend forming the prayer SCE LAVRENCIE ORA PRO ME [“O St. Laurence, pray for me”]

O. 1471
Portion of a seal showing the Visitation of Mary and Elizabeth: the figure on the left (Elizabeth) has her hand raised in greeting.

P. 1472
The Pelican in Her Piety (cf. Case III, No. 38). A very fine example of the medieval Christian allegory par excellence: here, a legend reads Pur amour [“For love”]

Pictorial Devices

Q. 1394
A shield-shaped seal bearing a stylized eagle and LEGES

R. 1428
A squirrel eating a nut

S & T. 1437 and S. 1565
Two ancient gemstones or intaglios used as seals. The first shows the profile of a man with a pointed beard; it was used by John de Vere, twelfth earl of Oxford. The second, a woman’s head in proWle, belonged to George Soane of Edenbridge, Kent.

V. 1453
A leaf

X. 1439
A scallop shell

Y. 1449
A hare (and the initial e)

Z. 1595
A thistle

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VI & VII. The Washfield Saga: Land Tenure & Family History in Devon, 1275-1800

Go to Documents: 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 100 101 102 103 104 105 106 107 108 109 110 111 112 113 114 115

The documents contained in the next two cases illustrate the interconnected fortunes of three families and the lands they held and worked over a period of 500 years. Here, as always, the very survival of these records provides a clue to their use as evidentiary documents. Many were probably preserved by the landholders as mumiments of title, proving their claim to the land should a dispute arise in court. By the 1540s and 50s most of the charters which make up this dossier had fallen into the hands of a litigious country squire called Simon Worth, who brought a suit in the Court of Common Pleas to claim certain messuages in Devon as his lawful inheritance. To demonstrate his title to these lands he probably presented the court with dozens of ancient deeds, many of which are displayed here. They tell the story of three Devonshire families, each representing a particular stratum of society: the Abbot/Beauchamp family, lords of the manor of Washfield; the Worth family, local gentry-on-the-make who eventually gain control of the manorial lands; and the Hobikyn/Juyl family, descendants of an ambitious and unfree tenant of the Abbot patriarch, who conserve and fight for their small patrimony against the superior strength of the all-conquering Worth clan. An interesting feature of the lands’ history lies in the fact that the Abbot and Hobikyn lands are passed on by the females of the family for several generations.

The spelling of surnames has not been standardized in an effort to demonstrate the phonetic and orthographical changes they underwent over a long period of time. The lineage of persons whose names appear in capitals can be traced through the accompanying genealogical Chart.


c. 1270
Manumission of ROBERT son of Robert de Washfield

by WILLIAM, lord of Washfield, so that he be free to go wherever he will with his family and goods; for this manumission John de Alba Mara has given one mark. Witnessed in the Wnal instance by RICHARD DE LA WORTHE. Because villeins were legally unfree, everything they owned belonged to their lord; thus, a villein could not “buy” his freedom, since the money he gave could not, in the eyes of the law, belong to him in the first place.20 In this instance, therefore, John de Alba Mara acts as a kind of sponsor for ROBERT–but there is no reason to believe that the money did not belong to ROBERT. It was not unknown for men of servile origins, perhaps Xourishing under the beneWcent neglect of their landlords, to accumulate enough capital for such purposes. Some comparatively wealthy serfs or villeins might even choose to remain “unfree,” since it was cheaper.


1275 January 12

Grant of land in Washfield by Sir Warin de Sicca Villa to JOHN LE ABBE, lord of Washfield, which land the grantor held of RICHARD DE LA WORTHE. Witnessed by Sir John de Alba Mara in the second instance. By this charter the lords of Washfield are entitled to more of the land outside their demesne, but they hold it in fee from the Worths.

Seal bearing the legend: S.JOHANNIS LE ABE


c. 1290

Inspeximus by HENRY LE ABBE lord of Washfield of a charter of WILLIAM LE ABBE his grandfather (not extant in this collection), granting to ROBERT son of ROBERT DE WASHFIELD one furlong of his land in Washfield, which ROBERT father of the said ROBERT formerly held, he paying an annual rent of 5 shillings and being quit of multure (lord’s right to make his tenants grind at his mill); which grant the said HENRY ABBE conWrms to THOMAS DE WASHFIELD son of the aforesaid ROBERT HOBEKYN. The said THOMAS in return has quit-claimed to HENRY all his land lying east of the ditch stretching to the land of “la Worthe”. With a further grant by the said HENRY that THOMAS and his heirs shall have 6 acres of his land in Washfield. Witnessed in the Wnal instance by WILLIAM ABBE, clerk.

Seal bearing the legend S.HENRICI LE ABBOT.


c. 1290

Quitclaim by THOMAS DE WASHFIELD son and heir of ROBERT DE WASHFIELD to HENRY LE ABBE his lord, of his lands in the demesne of the manor of Washfield (as above), in place of which the said HENRY has given him 6H acres of his land in Washfield. Witnessed in the first instance by ALEXANDER DE LA WORTHE and Wnally by the above-named WILLIAM ABBE, probably the younger brother of HENRY.


1304 September 14

Grant by THOMAS HOBIKYN (a.k.a Thomas de Washfield) to HENRY called ABBE lord of Washfield and JOAN his wife of 6H acres of land in Washfield (the same as in the above charters), which he had in exchange for other lands (as above). Witnessed in the second instance by ALEXANDER DE LA WORTHE.

Note that Thomas, one generation removed from villeinage, has his own personalized seal: +S.TOME HOBEKIN


1334 September 9

Appointment by ADAM DE HOBIKYN son and heir of THOMAS HOBIKYN of an attorney to put Thomas de Banrigot in possession of all his land in the manor of Washfield.


1336 September 13

Grant (chirograph) by WALTER ABBOT lord of Washfield to ADAM HOBEKYN for his life of the grantor’s meadow called “Tounmede” in the demesne of Washfield at a yearly rent of 5 shillings. Witnessed in the first instance by RICHARD DE LA WORTHE.


1345 May 31

Quitclaim by John de Sicca Villa to WALTER ABBOT of Washfield of his right in all the lands in the manor of Washfield. Witnessed in the first instance by RICHARD DE LA WORTHE.


1362 January 14

Notification by ALICE who was the wife of John de Shokysdon to all her tenants of Washfield and Loghetorr’ that she has given her manors to her son HUGH.


1362 January 21

Grant by ALICE who was the wife of John de Shokysdon to HUGH BEAUCHAMP her son of her manors of Washfield and Loghetorre with the advowson of the church of Washfield.


1362 April 19

Grant by Hugh de Courtenay [tenth] earl of Devon and lord of Okampton to MAUDE who was the wife of RICHARD ATTE WORTHE of all the goods and chattels which the said RICHARD on another occasion gave to the grantor.


1363 July 12

Quitclaim to ADAM JOEL and CECILY his wife by Walter Corse, son of William atta Stanterne of his right in lands in Washfield which ADAM HOPKYN and ALICE his wife previously held there. Witnessed in the last instance by HUGH BEAUCHAMP lord of Washfield.


1384 May 9

Grant by HUGH BEAUCHAMP and JOAN his wife to WALTER BAKER and CECILY his wife of a meadow called “Tounemede” in Washfield for the life of the said CECILY, at a rent of 5 shillings. Witnessed by ROBERT WORTHE.


1393 April 4

Letters of attorney from JOAN was the wife of HUGH BEAUCHAMP to ROBERT her son to recover seisin of two portions of her land in Washfield called “Scrapynhals” and “Mylham.”


1393 April 23

Grant by HUMFREY BEAUCHAMP to ROBERT BEAUCHAMP (probably his younger brother) and others of lands in his manor of Washfield with “Milham” and “Scrapynghals” together with the advowson of the church of Washfield, and the manor of Luchetorre.


1403 September 29

Grant by HUMFREY BEAUCHAMP to WALTER BAKER and CECILY his wife for a term of nineteen years of a meadow in Washfield called “Tounmede” at an annual rent of one grain of wheat. Sewn to the face is a notification by Humfrey to the effect that he is renewing the original grant made nineteen years before.


1404 January 10

Receipt from HUMFREY BEAUCHAMP to WALTER BAKER and CECILY his wife for 5 shillings as one year’s rent for a messuage and forty acres of land in Washfield, which they hold of him for the term of nineteen years in right of CECILY.


1410 November 11

Grant by John Baker and others to WALTER BAKER and CECILY his wife of all the lands in Washfield which they had of the gift of CECILY, to wit those which descended to her by the death of ADAM HOBEKYNS her father; with successive remainders to ALEXANDER JUYLL (son of ADAM JOEL, CECILY’s first husband), to John Godwin and Gonilda, to ROBERT son of WALTER and CECILY, and to the right heirs of Washfield. Witnessed in the first instance by SIMON BERNEVILE.


1428 April 7

Quitclaim by SIMON BERNEVILE of Washfield to JOHN BERNEVILE his son of his right in all the messuages in Washfield and Loghetorr which he held for life or by the courtesy of England (for his life, through the right of his wife after her death) or at will as of the right of RICHARD DYLINGTON and MAUD his wife, and MURIEL late the grantor’s wife, or of ALICE BEAUCHAMP sometime the wife of HUMFREY BEAUCHAMP (and daughter of WALTER ABBOT lord of Washfield). In order to justify his right to the land, Simon must rehearse the history of his claim to it, which is his only through his wife. Witnessed in the first instance by THOMAS WORTHE, esquire, and by ALEXANDER JUYL. The interests of all three families have begun to coincide, in a process begun 150 years earlier with the manumission of Alexander’s maternal great-great-grandfather.


1429 September 28

Quitclaim by ALEXANDER JUYL to THOMAS WORTHE, esquire, of his right in all the messuages in Washfield which ought to descend to him from CECILY BAKER his mother, and conWrmation by him of two charters, i.e. the Inspeximus by HENRY ABBE lord of Washfield (No. 85) of a charter of WILLIAM ABBE his grandfather (cf. No. 83) to ROBERT son of ROBERT DE WASHFIELD; and the grant by CECILY BAKER, widow, to THOMAS WORTHE, esquire, of her messuages in Washfield (a charter not extant in this collection). Witnessed (among others) by John Juyl and William Juyl his brother21 and JOHN BERNEVILE.


1438 April 18

Grant by ROBERT DYLINGTON to THOMAS WORTHE, esquire (his cousin), of all his messuages in Washfield and the advowson of the church of Washfield, that is all those messuages which SIMON BERNEVILE, ALEXANDER JUYL, and others lately held of him. Witnessed by (among others) SIMON BERNEVILE and JOHN BERNEVILE.


1438 April 19

Surrender by SIMON BERNEVILE of Washfield of all his estate in Washfield which THOMAS WORTHE has of the gift of ROBERT DYLINGTON (as above, No. 103) and which SIMON holds for life of the demise of RICHARD DYLINGTON and MAUDE his wife (No. 101).


1439 June 22

Quitclaim by THOMAS son and heir of RICHARD DYLINGTON and MAUD his wife to THOMAS WORTHE of Worthe in the county of Devon, of his right in the lands and advowson of Washfield which THOMAS BEAUCHAMP, knight, lately granted to ROBERT DYLINGTON his brother and which THOMAS WORTHE had of the gift of the said ROBERT (No. 103). Witnessed by JOHN BERNEVILE, among others. By the end of the 1430’s, then, the properties which comprised the manor of Washfield, which had been divided among the daughters of Hugh Beauchamp, lord of Washfield, have been consolidated in the hands of Thomas Worthe, who has succeeded in buying out the interests of his Dylington and Bernevile cousins (see below, No. 107).


1459 September 29

EnfeoVment to uses by THOMAS WORTHE, esquire, the elder, to JOHN BERNEVILE his cousin (consanguines) of all his share in certain buildings in Washfield, and of a meadow called “Tounemede” all of which JOHN holds of THOMAS. Witnessed by JOHN HAWKE and ALEXANDER GYLLE (a.k.a Juyl).

Seal bearing the legend: SIGILLUM THOME WERTHE.


1465 January 28

Quitclaim by JOHN BERNEVILE son and heir of SIMON BERNEVILE and MURIEL his wife, daughter and one of the heirs of HUGH BEAUCHAMP and sister of HUMFREY BEAUCHAMP, to THOMAS WORTHE son and heir of THOMAS WORTHE, son and heir of MARGERY WORTHE, daughter and another heir of the said HUGH and sister of the aforewritten HUMFREY, of all his right in the messuages in Washfield and the advowson of the church there, in which THOMAS WORTHE the elder was formerly seised and THOMAS his son is now seised. Witnessed by JOHN HAWKENE.


1477 August 18

Declaration by Robert Spurway of Teverton, Devon, gentleman; that at the session of peers holden at Exeter after Michaelmas 37 Henry VI [1458] he endeavored to persuade THOMAS WORTHE to agree to an equal partition with John Wynard of the lands of Humfrey Bevile (a.k.a. Devile) in Wolston (or Wolveston or Wolneston) as yet undivided. “Whereto the said Thomas agreed for his tyme with that Isabelle his wife [that they] wold thereto consent, [if] and also that all deedis contayning the inheritances of his owne descente whych wer a little befor taken away by the said John might be first to him devised again, upon which desire of deedis and of other thyngs the co-partyners varied and departed in wrath in my presence and hearing.” The paper draft of the grant which should have settled this dispute appears in this exhibit as No. 28.22


1487 April 1

Grant by JOHN HAWKYN (the younger) to JOHN HAWKYN the grantor’s brother, among others, of the lands in Washfield which descended to him after the death of JOAN his mother, daughter of ALEXANDER JUYL. It was quite common in late medieval England for two or more children in the same family to have identical given names, since children were usually named after their godparents, rather than their parents. Given the relatively small pool of popular names, it was not unlikely that two successive godparents would be called “John.”23 It also happened that the desire to preserve a family name would prompt parents to christen two or more sons “John”–just in case.


1487 April 4

Declaration by JOHN HAWKYN, “franklyn,” that in the grant which he made on 1 April last of all his lands in Washfield, his intention was that the grantees shall suffer him to enjoy the lands during his life; and after his death they shall make an estate of all the lands to JOHN his son and heir and the heirs of his body.


1501 May 23

Certificate of John Brode, curate of Mynster in the county of Cornwall, the freeholders of which parish are suitors to Edward lord Hastings by reason of the honour of Botreaux Castle and Worthevale in the said parish, of which honour the manor of Wolston is held, that on the Sunday before Whitsunday THOMAS WORTHE of Worthe in Devon, esquire, “came and prayed me in my parish church to examine my parisshioners upon the name [of the said manor] to saie the trouth, Thay enswearing me with oon vois said Wolston & [that it was] not know[n]e by that name Wolneston by any of [them who] can remember and that thay alle praied me in ther behalf so to testiWe.” This certificate appears to relate to the same dispute described in Nos. 28 and 108, here being carried out by THOMAS WORTH II, who was building on an already extensive patrimony in neighboring Devonshire. It sheds light on the type of jury vote which was often employed to determine the ownership or tenurial history of a piece of land. If the deeds held by Thomas described his lands as lying in a place which no longer existed, as far as public opinion was concerned, he might lose his right to them through the misnomer. It is also a perfect example of how place-names might change over time: the pronunciations of the original “Wolneston” or “Wolviston” had become unrecognizable, since the locals thought of their manor as “Wolston” (and probably pronounced it “Wooston”).


1514 December 31

Grant by JOHN HAWKYN of lands in Washfield, and declaration that the intent of the grant is that his feoVees should be seised to his use during his life and after his death should secure 8s. 4d. a year to PERNELL wife of THOMAS HAWKYN his son and heir, with remainders to the heirs of THOMAS and PERNELL.


1545 November 26

Exemplification under the seal of the Court of Common Pleas of a recovery suffered in the Court at Westminster in Michaelmas term between SIMON WORTHE, esquire, by Thomas Hacche his attorney, petitioner, and PHILIP HAWKE, concerning land in Washfield in the county of Devon. Philip Hawke was thus the last descendant of the Robert Hobikyn, serf, to hold land in Washfield. Records of a court case from 1557 show Nicholas Hawke, Edmund Hawke, and Martin Burgis and Katherine his wife (née Hawke?) contesting the recovery by SIMON WORTHE, but to no avail. The Worth family continued to occupy its lands in Washfield, Devon and elsewhere until the nineteenth century. A few family mementoes are preserved in this collection.


1606 August 3

Inventory of the goods and chattels of HENRY WORTHE, esquire, who died this day. Net worth: £1033.13.4.


1800 March 26

Letter from Charles Worth to his nephew John Worth, esquire, of Worth House, Washfield, Devon.

Washfield Wednesday Noon
26 March 1800

My Dear Sir:

The time draws near for my departure, therefore I am to beg your Afsistance in conveying me in your Chair tomorrow to Twiston [sic]. I should wish if it perfectly suits you to leave Washfield about 5 o Clock to avoid the cool of the Evening.

Will thank you for any cuttings of Geraniums or anything that you think will be Gay for my Garden Pots, and an Honeysuckle.

Yesterday brought me the melancholy account of the death of my Deer Child Henry last Sunday.

I have known nothing but trouble these 5 Years but we must submit. My Love to Mrs. Worth & the Children.

I remain Your Affte. Uncle

Charles Worth

Inscribed: My poor Uncle Charles’s last Letter

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VIII. Town Life in Colchester, London, Sandwich & Coventry

Go to Documents: 116 117 118 119 120 121 122 123 124 125 126 127 128 129 130

Stadt luft macht frei, declares the adage: “Town air makes one free.” The notion of the comparative freedom of towns in the Middle Ages is both upheld and refuted by the charters in this case. For while the relative anonymity of an urban area, its changing landscape, and its good-natured promotion of ambition and industry could well prove the making of a man, the city–like the landlord–also had its own code of justice, its own courts, its own ways of remembering and documenting the deeds of its citizenry. We focus here on four representative towns: Colchester, a seaside borough in Essex with a developed shipping trade; London, which by the fourteenth century had largely developed the neighborhoods, characteristics, and governmental importance which distinguish it today; Sandwich, a growing fishing town on the English Channel with close ties to London and the Continent; and Coventry, by far the best-documented city in our collection and a very good example of urban life in the English Midlands.


1254 November 22
Indenture of agreement
Colchester, Essex

Memorandum of an agreement made between the abbot and convent of St. John’s, Colchester, of the one part, and Ralph son of the priest and Simon le Eskermisur, bailiffs of Colchester, and the burgesses (representatives named), of the other part, whereby Ralph, Simon, and the other named citizens have for themselves and for the commerce of Colchester granted to the abbot and convent and their successors that they may have free warren24 in their lands of “West Dunilaund.” They have granted also that the abbot and convent shall be quit of toll and all other customs: only if their men (i.e. lay brethren) engage in trade shall they be required to “do what is just” and pay the toll. Provision is also made for them to enclose as much as they will for a park in “Grenstede.” In return for which, the abbot and convent grant that the burgesses may hunt the hare, fox, and cat in the warren of West Dunilaunde, saving to the abbot and convent their park in Grenstede. It is added that if the dogs of the burgesses hunting the hare enter into the warren of the abbot and catch hare in the warren, provided that they draw off their dogs in due course they shall not be hindered. But if the men or dogs of either party do damage in the corn or any other damage, amendment shall be made to the injured party by a view of four men to be chosen from both sides. If the party that did the damage refuse to make amends, he shall not hunt until he do so.

This is a wonderful example of the tensions that often developed between town interests and Church interests, which in this instance seem to be on an entirely secular plane.

Seals of five of the burgesses (this is the abbey’s copy of the chirograph)


1341 October 1
Indenture of agreement
Colchester, Essex

Indenture witnessing an agreement made between Sir John de Sutton of Wivenhoe, knight, of the one part, and John de Fordham and William Buk, bailiffs of Colchester, and the commonalty of the same town, of the other part, in settlement of certain suits and disputes between them concerning lands near the harbor at Colchester. Whereby the said Sir John grants that the bailiffs and commonalty may henceforth have their part there for themselves and all other sailors and merchants, and may put in, load and unload, and build and repair ships in a place called “le Sole,” saving to the said John and his heirs the feeding and herbage in the said place for all manner of beasts at all times of the year. What may have been a long-standing but informal matter of dispute between the local lord and the burgesses of Colchester is finally settled in a more formal fashion, with the men of Colchester being granted the right to use a strip of beach; in return, Sir John reinforces his claim to the land and no doubt gleans considerable profit from the use of his land.

Seal of the borough of Colchester (broken); for the seal of Sir John de Sutton see No. 39.


1408 May 10
Colchester, Essex

Grant by John Lenew, William Priour, and John Taselere, weaver, to Godfrey Dalaver and Thomas Noblett of a tenement in Northstret’ in the suburbs of the vill of Colchester, which they had of the feoffment of John Beste, clerk, and which was formerly of Alice wife of Richard Drury, afterwards of Semann Clerk and John Balle of the gift and feoffment of the said Alice; to hold according to the liberty and custom of the borough of Colchester. Witnessed in the first instance by Thomas Fraunceys and John Pod, then bailiffs of Colchester.

Town properties changed hands rather more rapidly than lands in the country, but they were still subject to certain constraints: the phrase “liberty and custom” of the town masks an established set of obligations and restrictions, which would no doubt be enforced by the bailiffs of the city, whose presence at the writing of the charter was probably required by law.

Seals of the grantors: the third, that of John Taselere, bears the device of a weaver’s shuttle.


1345 July 9

Quitclaim by Robert Swote, citizen and Wshmonger (piscenarius), to John Lovelyn, citizen and “stokfisshmonger” of the same, and Mabel his wife, of all his right in that tenement with buildings on it which John and Mabel have of his gift. The tenement lies in Billyngesgate, in Thamystrete, in the parish of St. Mary-at-Hill, bounded by a lane called “Rope Lane” on the west side. John Hamond, then mayor of the city of London; Thomas Leggy and Geoffrey de Wychyngham, then sheriffs of the city; John de Causton, then alderman of that ward. Witnessed by Robert de Hakeneye, Richard de Lambethe, and Robert le Ropere. The system of municipal checks and balances was more complex in the sprawling city of London and its suburbs, as is plain from the dating clause which recites the names of the city office-holders. The importance of various London districts is underlined by the surnames given in the witness-list: Robert from Hackney in what is now North London, Richard of Lambeth across the River Thames, and Robert le Ropere, possibly an habitué of Roperestrete. Thamystrete ran the entire length of the city of London in the Middle Ages, following the course of the river Thames and that of the late third-century Roman wall. It bore various “localized” names, including “Fisshmongeresrowe” between Billingsgate and London Bridge (see map).25

Seal of arms bearing the legend: SIGILLV’ ROBT SWOTE


1457 August 28
Letters of attorney

Letters of attorney of Thomas Canynges, John Yonge, John Stodeley, and John Hole appointing Thomas Petwyn and Richard Jeny their attorneys to deliver seisin of a tenement with a garden adjacent in Mugwelstrete (corruption of “Monkswell”) in the parish of St. Olav’s Silver Street, London, within the ward of Frayndon (Farringdon) and bounded by land of the hospital of Blessed Mary without Bysshopesgate and the empty piece of land belonging to the Guild of Goldsmiths to the east and north, and the garden of the abbot and convent of Gerondon26 to the west. The precision with which fixed boundaries are given in the London charters allows the modern reader to make a rough geographical placement (see map).

Seals of the grantors.


1408 February 20
Sandwich, Kent

Grant by William Basket, citizen and skinner (pelliparius) of London to Alice Ryver, daughter of John Ryver of Sandwich, of a cottage formerly belonging to William Basket, taverner of Sandwich, in the lane called Peyntourslane in the parish of St. Mary, Sandwich. Witnessed in the first instance by Richard Benge, then mayor of Sandwich, and finally by James Scrivener, clerk. It appears from the deeds drawn up in Sandwich that the town employed a clerk from at least the late fourteenth century. Note that this charter was at some point in its history folded into thirds and punched through with an awl or other sharp instrument. Perhaps to provide for a string or leather thong on which to hang it?

Seal of William Basket bearing the device: a basket whose weave forms the letter W, and a cross.


1470 March 30
Sandwich, Kent

Quitclaim by John Grene to Thomas Boteler and Alice his wife of his right in a tenement in the parish of Blessed Mary the Virgin in Sandwich by the “Pylory Gate,” bounded by the king’s highway to the south and the seashore to the North. Witnessed by John Cole, then mayor of Sandwich, William Fenell, William Kenet, and John Aldy, “jurists,” and Walter Payntor, “clerk of the commune.” The signature of the clerk also appears on the document. The parish here is not the same as the St. Mary’s given above, being on the outskirts of town near the gallows. It is still called St. Mary-by-the-Pillory-Gate.

Seal bearing the device: a compass


1510 August 26
Sandwich, Kent

Quitclaim by Stephen Foster of Sandwich and Elizabeth his wife, daughter and heir of Richard Vertjuce, citizen and “stokfisshmonger” of London, deceased, to John Langley, esquire, of all their right in a messuage in the parish of St. Mary’s, between the king’s highway to the east and a certain lane called Sandwich Lane to the west. The late Richard Vertjuce undoubtedly made his fortune supplying the bountiful harvests of the Sandwich sea-coast to London Wsh-mongers, who appear to have been a very numerous group.


1349 August 29
Coventry, Warwickshire

Indenture of a lease by John de Langeleye and Alice, late the wife of Thomas de Colleshull, to John de Deneford for the term of his life of a messuage with store-houses (cellarii), a tavern (taberna), and cottages adjacent in the Little Park street of Coventry (see map) between two “shoppas” and a bakery. Rent: £4.13.4. Witnessed by Nicholas, then mayor of Coventry, and by Richard Frobern and William de Happesford, bailiffs of the town. Note the modern stamp of the civitas Coventriæ at the top of the document. At some point, probably during the nineteenth century, most of the documents in this collection relating to properties in Coventry seem to have found their way into a municipal archive (see also No. 127). How and why they were later put back into circulation is something of a mystery.

Sealsof the grantor and his wife, the one bearing arms with the legend: SIGILL’IOHANNIS DE LANGELE; the second bearing a device (a bore?) and the legend: S’ALISSIAE


1358 July 20
Coventry, Warwickshire

Indenture of a grant by Alice who was the wife of John Crumpe, in her widowhood, to Thomas Parkere of Coventry, of a messuage in Coventry, lying in “le Coulone” between the tenement of John Doner on one side of the road and the tenement belonging to the chapel of Coppeston, and extending along the aforesaid lane to the land of Richard Conere next “le Rede Dyche” (see map). Witnessed by William Boting, then mayor of Coventry, and Thomas de Shepeye and Henry Alcok, then bailiffs.27

Armorial seal of (the late) John Crumpe


1359 August 14
Coventry, Warwickshire

This near-contemporary charter is very similar to No. 125 and was undoubtedly drawn up by the same scribe, probably employed by the city in the capacity of town clerk. It records a grant by John Spenser of Wolvey to Richard Belers of Coventry, merchant, of a messuage with toft in Coventry, lying in Gosford Street “without the bridges” (extra pontes, or elsewhere extra portam), next to a tenement of the gild of the Blessed Mary of Coventry, bounded by the tenements of John de Arthyngworth, John le Marescal, and Roger Fosdyk, and by boundary-markers (metæ) already placed there (see map). Like Alice’s grant above, this one stipulates that services are due to the chief lords of the fee but has as principal witnesses the mayor and bailiVs of the city, who appear to have served only one-year terms (they are Henry Clerk, Sewall de Bulkynton, and Robert de Whatton). Note that the grantor of the messuage describes himself as being from Wolvey, which is just a few miles north of Coventry on what is still called Gosford Street (now the A46 to Hinckley).

Seal of arms with the legend: SIGILLVM.RIC…. VERVILE [?] It was not uncommon for a charter to be sealed by one of the witnesses or bystanders if the grantor did not possess a seal of his own.


1410 October 8
Coventry, Warwickshire

Grant by John Cokkes of Lilbourne, Richard Toft, vicar of the church of Newbold-on-Avon, and Richard Stoke, rector of the church of Shawell, to Thomas de Meryngton and Margerie his wife of a messuage situated in Much Park Street (in vico parci maioris), between the King’s highway on one side (= Earl Street?) and the ditch called “Rededych” on the other (see map); which they had of the gift and feoffment of the aforesaid Thomas. As in No. 125 the ditch appears as an important landmark.28 Witnessed by the mayor of Coventry, William Belgrave; the bailiffs, Nicholas Dodenhale and Peter de Weston and, in the last instance by John Ofchirch, clerk.

Seals of the grantors


1412 October 3
Coventry, Warwickshire

Acknowledgement by Brother Thomas Ferreby, monk and treasurer (thesaurius) of the cathedral and monastic church of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Coventry of the receipt, on behalf of the prior and convent of the said church, of the sum of £10 from the hands of William Belgrave, Master of the Guild of the Holy Trinity, Coventry. This sum is described as the amount due for the previous year, on account of an annuity owed to the said prior and convent by the vill of Covintr’. “In testimony of this matter I here set the seal which I use in this office.”

Vesica-shaped seal (broken) of the prior and convent of St. Mary’s, Coventry


1474 September 12
Judgment in arbitration

Letters of Robert Atterton, late mayor of the city of Coventry, Henry Boteler, recorder of the same city, William Stafford, Master of the Trinity Guild, and eleven other dignitaries of the city, testifying as to the terms of the award made by George Burneby, John Hathewyk, Thomas Cotes, and Robert Otur’, arbitrators in a dispute between the mayor and commonalty of Coventry, party of the first part, and William Briscowe, party of the second part; concerning a piece of land beside the new gate of Coventry, between the skinners’ butts and the water of Sherbourne and common of pasture (see map). The piece of land in question was claimed by the said William Briscowe in an action of trespass sued by him against the said mayor and commonalty, for entering into the said piece of land. In which action the said arbitrators empaneled made their award that the said William should utterly lose his aforesaid action, since the land was unlawfully enclosed by his father before him. Furthermore, they will recommend that certain actions brought by the said William against John Wilgrice in the court of the King’s Bench should be judged in the same manner, and to this effect they will send a report of the arbitration under seal to London. Normally cases involving property within the town walls would be heard in the mayor’s court (see No. 56), but since the mayor and city itself are the defendants in the case, a separate and presumably impartial panel was appointed. Here we have a charter which is rather more impressive in itself than the land whose use it awards: a piece of common land near the river where the skinner’s vats were located cannot have been too savory a place.

Seals of the witnesses to the award, six of which survive


1550 January 21
Bargain and Sale
Coventry, Warwicks.

This deed illustrates the changes that came about in the distribution of lands after Henry VIII’s initial dissolution of the monasteries, 1536-1540.29 Clement Throkmerton of Claverdon, esquire, in consideration of a certain sum of money, hereby bargains and sells to a consortium of seven merchants (four drapers, two mercers, and one goldsmith) the mansion or guild hall of Corpus Christi in the parish of the Holy Trinity, Coventry. He describes the property as situated in the West Orchard within the city which also belonged to the said Guild, all of which property he purchased of William Myldmay of Chelmsford, gentleman, and Thomas Mundes of Springfield in Essex, husbandman, by deed dated 25 June, 4 Edward VI (1550). The charter goes on to explain that Myldmay and Mundes obtained the premises by a “grant” of the lord King, whose Majesty acquired the holding through an Act of Parliament (1 Edward VI) for the dissolution of colleges, chantries, guilds, and fraternities. As a result of these royal measures, land speculators, merchants, and middlemen at all levels were busily lining their pockets–and thus ensuring a steady flow of revenue for the Crown. The guild figures in Nos. 128 and 129 as an important landholder and corporation in Coventry, and the dispersal of its members and liquidation of its capital must have caused great upheaval.

Signature and seal of Clement Throkmerton

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IX. The Deeds of Women

Go to Documents: 131 132 133 134 135 136 137 138 139 140 141 142

Many charters bear witness to the activities of medieval women, who often exercised to the full their admittedly limited legal rights as landholders, tenants, farmers, guardians of their children, and managers of large estates.


c. 1250
Grant of land for a dowry
nr. Truro, Cornwall?

Grant by Raheis de “Campus Ernulfi,” with the assent of Oliver her son and heir, to Robert son of Richard of her land in “Dranoch,” in free marriage (in libero maritagio) with Joan her daughter, the daughter of Henry de “Campus Ernulfi,” with the advowson of the church in Dranoch and the service of certain free men (named) and the service of one knight’s fee which William de Campeaus holds of her in Harwood. Witnessed in the last instance by the probable scribe, Eustace the clerk, parson of Stoke. Another example of maritagium (see No. 10), this time with the dowry portion arranged for by the bride’s mother, who may be giving her own dowry to make up the marriage-portion of her daughter.


c. 1260
Pinley, Warwickshire

Grant by Margaret Beleteste, widow of the late John Beleteste of Pynneley, to Richard her son of all her land in the vill of Pynneley or elsewhere, according to the boundary-markers placed there; he paying the rent due and accustomed to the lords of that fee, and to the grantor a rose at midsummer. In this little charter the customary rent of a rose at midsummer, usually stipulated in charters where subinfeudation to a near-relative is involved, has a rather sentimental odor about it.

Seal of the grantor, bearing a cross of palm branches with the legend: S’ MA’G’TE.FARHEN


c. 1280
Rosliston, Derbyshire

This charter of an heir still in his minority reverses the opening formula of No. 130: it is a grant by Richard Deubeney of Rostlauneston, “with the consent, assent, and good will” of Cecily his mother (and probable legal guardian), to Robert del Mareys of five acres of arable lying dispersed in a croft which his father formerly held. Rent: halfpenny. The consent of the grantor’s mother was a legal necessity, since if her name was not included she could make trouble in the courts by contesting it, perhaps on the grounds that the lands were part of her dower.


1288/9 February 2
Indenture of lease
Elmstead, Essex

Agreement made between John Hervy of Great Bentley and Pleasance his wife, widow (relicta) of Richard Fraunceys of Elmestede of the one part, and Eleanor Fraunceys of the other part, whereby the said John and Pleasance have let to farm to the same Eleanor all the lands, etcetera, which Pleasance holds as dower for her life in Elmestede, for a term of twelve years from the Purification of Blessed Mary Virgin, 17 Edward [I]. One would assume from the wording of this charter that Eleanor is the rather independently-minded daughter of Pleasance by her first marriage, but the next charter hints at other possible relationships (see No. 135).

Oval seal of Pleasance, bearing a cross of palm branches (compare No. 132) with the legend: +SYGNET [PLE]SAUNCE


1334 September 11
Elmstead, Essex

This grant by Eleanor, formerly the wife of Robert Fraunceys of Elmestede, indicates that she must have been the daughter-in-law or possibly even younger sister-in-law of Pleasance (see above, No. 134). Here she grants to John de Sutton, lord of Wivenhoe (see Nos. 39 and 117), and to Agatha his wife all her lands and homages in Elmstead, with one reversion: namely, a third part of the said tenement which Pleasance the wife of the late Richard Fraunceys held in dower after the death of Richard. It appears that more than forty years after the lease of Pleasance’s dower-lands to Eleanor, the latter is still associated with these lands and must disclaim any title to them.

Seal bearing the device: a dove? with legend [illegible]


1310 May 24
Gayton le Marsh, Lincolnshire

Grant by Peter son of Richard de Ormesby of South Gayton to Richard of Wyerin (Withern, Lincs.), clerk, of a selion of arable land in a place called “Halks” in the south marsh, bounded by the land which Hugh Wyloc the elder still holds of the lord of Totel and the land which Anya widow of Richard de Ormseby holds as dower (nomine dotis); to hold of the chief lord of the fee “for the customary service owed and by law required.” The said Anya appears to be the stepmother of Peter; the charter below (No. 137), probably drawn up by the same scribe, witnesses her grant of part of the land mentioned here.

Remnant of a seal sewn into a linen bag


c. 1310
Gayton le Marsh, Lincolnshire

Grant by Anya, widow of Richard de Ormesby, to Sara, daughter of Richard the clerk of Wyerin, and her assigns of one piece of pasture lying in the north marsh bounded by the land of Hugh Wylok and that of Alan West, in consideration of a certain sum of money.

Seal of Anya (?) and remnant of a hempen bag or cord


1329/30 March 3
Wolverston, Warwickshire

Grant by Lucy, daughter and heir of the late Richard Osmond of Wolfricheston, in her widowhood, to Nicholas Tryminel, knight, and Mabel his second wife and to John, son of the same Nicholas and Mabel “the second,” of her chief messuage, lands, moors, turbariæ (turf and “rights of digging turf”), heriots, etcetera in the vills of Wolverston and Marston which descended to her after the death of the said Richard her father, to hold to them and to the heirs of the body of John, with successive remainders to Thomas, brother of John, and the heirs of his body, and to the right heirs of Nicholas and Mabel. In all probability Lucy was the mother of Mabel and this grant was therefore intended to benefit her own grandsons. Nicholas, Mabel’s husband, must have had children from his first marriage, since Mabel is described as “the second wife” on two occasions, which was Lucy’s way of ensuring that her lands would not fall into the hands of anyone who was not her own kin.

Seal bearing the Lamb of God (lamb and Xag) with the legend: +ECCE AGNVS DEI


1332 May 8
Cornworthy, Devon

Another document from the dossier of the Washfield Saga. A quitclaim by Joan Mareys to Richard son and heir of Alexander de la Worthe of all her lands which she had of the gift and concession of the lady Emma Cirencester in Bere and Whitchurch, he paying to her a life annuity of 10s. at Michaelmas in the priory at West Cornaworth. Joan seems to be planning to enter the convent at Cornworthy, either as a choir nun or as a “paying guest.”

Seal bearing the device: a heart


1341 June 29
Knowlton, Kent

Quitclaim by Denise and Margery, daughters and heirs of John de Penfelde, to William de Langele of all their right in one acre of land which he purchased from their mother Joan (her dower-lands?). William de Langley may have had this document written up in French after Joan’s death to ensure that no confusion would arise as to the extent of her daughters; inheritance and his own earlier purchase–even though dower-lands were only a life-estate (and therefore not heritable).

Seal of John de Penfeld(?) bearing a star of David and the legend: S’IOhIS.F.THOME; seal bearing a Lamb and Flag and the legend: *ECCE AGNVS D.


1538 June 6
BroomWeld, Essex

Quitclaim by Alice Rolf, widow, to Edward Brocker, gentleman, of four crofts of land and pasture with their appurtenances in Bromesfyld in the county of Essex, which were formerly of George Buttelere and afterwards of Margaret Cooper, daughter and heir of the said George, and which Alice purchased of Margaret. Endorsed with a note of enrolment in dors of the Close Roll, 30 Henry VIII.

Seal of Edward Brocker: a castle Xanked by the initials E B


1580 February 6
Fincham, Norfolk

Indenture by William Bybon of Fyncham, gentleman, who in consideration of a marriage to be solemnized between himself and Elizabeth Drorye, daughter of Thomas Drorye, yeoman, and in order that she might have a competent jointure for the duration of her natural life, grants to Thomas Drorye and Edward Fyrmage, gentleman, all that his manor of Fariswell in Fyncham with all his messuages there, except the reversion of those held for her life by Lucy Marshall, widow; to hold to the use of the grantor and the said Elizabeth for their lives and the life of the longest liver.

Signatures and seals of “Thomas Druery” and “E Fyrmege.”

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X. The Church

Go to Documents: 143-146 143 144 145 146 147 149-151 149 150 151 152-153 152 153 154 155 156 157

It is almost unnecessary to devote a separate section of this exhibit to charters issued by or for religious groups in England, since the involvement of the Church in every segment of medieval society and every facet of medieval culture is apparent from our perusal of many of the documents in this collection as a whole. However, there are several items which very clearly demonstrate the coincidence of spiritual and worldly matters, and they are featured here. Most relate to monasteries (establishments of the regular clergy) which were prominent in the ecclesiastical and political landscape of the realm, exercising power of many kinds and often coming into conflict with the secular clergy (of the dioceses, which were presided over by bishops) and with secular government as well.


The Convent of Sempringham and Her Daughter Houses

The convent of Sempringham was founded c. 1131 by St. Gilbert of Sempringham, the son of a nobleman who renounced his place in secular society to take orders. He became aware of the need for a new religious order for women, one that would grant them a certain independence, but would afford them also the sacramental benefits of an attendant priesthood. The Order of the Gilbertines was established at roughly the same time and daughter houses of Sempringham multiplied rapidly.30 Gilbert remained a prominent if humble figure in England until his death in 1189.31


c. 1170
Charter of conWrmation by Robert de Langton

ConWrmation by Robert son of Robert de Langhetone, with the assent of his brother William, to God and St. Mary and the nuns of Sempringham and their brothers, clerical and lay, of all the donations of his father given in perpetual alms … namely, twenty acres of arable land in the territory of Bolebi (Bulby, Lincs.) with common pasture in the same vill, as much as belongs to his fief (boundaries described). This also confirms to them the entire donation of Ralph son of Spraclus and William his brother, namely seventeen acres of arable land in the Weld of “Hawerstorp” (= Huvertorp in No. 5) of the dower of the grantor’s mother with her consent and assent. A lengthy list of witnesses follows, beginning with the names of William and Ralph, clerks of Sempringham, and continuing down to Benedict de Lincollun “[serving-]man of the nuns of Bulint'” and to John and William and Swane, Geoffrey and William, servants of Master Gilbert (founder of the convent), with Ulf the stableman bringing up the rear. It is extremely probable that Ralph the clerk of the witness-list is the same Ralph the Sacristan who wrote The Book of Saint Gilbert (see No. 31).

Equestrian seal in high relief, bearing the legend: +SIGILLVM ROBERTI FILII ROBERTI DE LANGTVNA


c. 1260
Grant of convent land for use by Richard de Langton

Indented grant by Thomas the prior and by the convent of Sempringham to Richard son of Robert de Langeton of two bovates of arable with toft and croft and pasture, which Martin used to hold (tenere solebat), with all their appurtenances except for two tofts in the said two bovates lying in the territory of Boleby which Robert Tocke and Amfredys the smith once held; all of which the convent had as the donation of William son of Robert de Langetun. The grantee is to pay a rent of 12d. every Christmas. This appears to refer to a pious gift subsequent to that described in No. 143 above, made perhaps by William the brother of Robert named therein.

Seal of the grantee (this is the priory’s half of the chirograph) bearing a palm frond with three branches and the legend: SIGILLVM RICARDI DE LANGETVN


c. 1310
Bipartite grant of lands in Kirkby and Bulby, Lincs.

Charter confirming a perpetual exchange of lands between the prior and convent of Sempringham and John son of William de Kirkeby, whereby each party has enlarged its patrimony, to their mutual benefit. In return for a grant of seventeen selions of land in the territory of Kirkby (boundaries described), the prior and convent gain one cultura in Boleby, bounded by the lands of the said convent and of Richard de Cotis, containing seven acres in all. This donation John de Kirkby makes in perpetual alms, “as such can always be more freely and better given to or held by religious men” (sicut aliqua elemosina liberius vel melius dari vel teneri potest a viris religiosis)–perhaps a reference to Edward I’s statute de viris religiosis and the restrictions placed on their acquisition of new lands (see No. 78). This transaction was more or less illegal. Witnessed in the first instance by a crusading knight, Sir Gilbert “of the Holy Land” (de Sancto Lando).

Seal bearing the legend: +S’IOHIS CLERICI


1365 April 6
Confirmation of grant to the convent of Watton

Charter of Gerard de Grymseton, knight, confirming a grant to the prior and convent of Watton of all those lands which they already hold of him in “Kyblyngcotes” in pure and perpetual alms. Watton was a large and important daughter-house of Sempringham, founded around 1150 by St. Gilbert himself. It has been estimated that the church contained places for 140 women and 70 men.32

Armorial seal with crest, bearing the legend: S’GERARDI D’ GRIMSTON


1256 November 21
Dunkeswell Abbey, Devon

“This is a covenant made between Brother Thomas, abbot, and the convent of Dunkeswell of the one part and Richard de Lumene son of Richard de Lumene of the other part on the morrow of the Feast of St. Edmund King and Martyr in the forty-first year of King Henry son of King John.” In return for a yearly rent of one pound of cumin and 20s. in hand, Richard has granted to the abbot and convent a common pasture throughout the hills of Gydesham for 30 animals and 250 sheep, and has granted to the abbey’s villeins that they may have as many animals on the pastureland as they can winter in their byres. Sheep-farming has always been a thriving industry in the West Country but finding enough unenclosed land for the herd was (and is) a perpetual problem. Dunkeswell was a Cistercian abbey founded around 1201.


c. 1300
Confirmation of a grant to Kirkstall Abbey, Yorks.

John de Lughewylers hereby confirms to God and to the monks of Kirkenstall an annual rent of 12s. from his mill in Farnley, which rent the said monks had of the gift of Sir John de Wridelefford, with his body, according to his charter which the monks have from that time. Since the making of the original grant, and the burial of the late Sir John’s body in the abbey church, the mill in question has changed hands–but with the understanding that it loses a portion of its revenue to perpetual alms. Kirkstall, meaning literally “the site of a church,” became a Cistercian house after the original hermit settlers had been persuaded, around 1152, to place themselves under the protection and jurisdiction of Fountains Abbey.33

Armorial seal bearing the legend: SIGILL’IOhANIS DE LVNVILER


The Premonstratensian Abbey of Sulby, Northamptonshire

The Premonstratensians take their name from the abbey of Prémontré near Laon in France, founded by St. Norbert in 1120. Norbert sought to create an order which would combine the prayerful efficacy of monasticism with the sacramental and preaching mission of the later mendicant friars. Sulby was founded in 1155, perhaps the sixth house of “White Canons” in England.34


c. 1250
Grant of land to the abbot and convent

Grant by John son of Jordan de Navesby (Naseby, Northants.) to the Lord and Blessed Mary and to the abbot and convent of Sulby of seven butts of his land, i.e. the foreland and sidling (or arable portions) of his lands in Navesby, which lie bounded by the lands of the Sulby and those of Richard son of Jordan, the grantor’s brother. Witnessed in the first instance by Sir Peter rector of the church of Navesby and Richard son of Jordan.

Seal bearing a cross with the legend: SIGI… [effaced]


1482, December 28
Grant to the dean and chapter of Lincoln

Indenture by John abbot of the monastery of the Blessed Mary of Sulby of the order of Premonstratensians, with the convent of the same, to the dean and chapter of the cathedral church of St. Mary, Lincoln, of a yearly rent or annuity of 3s. 4d. The annuity is to be paid by the grantors by reason of the abbey’s appropriation of two of the cathedral’s parish churches, namely those of Wistow and Lubenham in Leicestershire, and is to be delivered at Michaelmas into the common chamber of the cathedral at Lincoln. The control of parish churches was always a bone of contention between expanding monasteries and their dioceses. The diocese of Lincoln was enormous, and probably had more than a little trouble fending off such jurisdictional encroachments; or perhaps they were glad to be rid of the responsibility of these two small churches and their even smaller yearly revenues, in exchange for cash payments.

The abbey’s copy of the chirograph, with a portion of the seal of the dean and chapter of Lincoln showing the Visitation of Mary with Elizabeth and the legend: [AVE:]MARIA: GRACIA:[PLENA DOM]INVS [:TECVUM]


1514 October 10
Receipt for the annual payment

Writing acknowledging receipt by the dean and chapter of St. Mary’s, Lincoln, of 3s. 4d. from the abbot and convent of Sulby on account of the annual pension for the churches of Wiston and Lubenham, which sum is due for the term of Michaelmas last past. Given in chapter at Lincoln under the common seal. The rent was about two weeks late that year.

Portion of the same seal

152 & 153.

Christ Church, Canterbury

Christ Church was an ancient Benedictine monastery, founded in 598 as part of Pope St. Gregory the Great’s plan to convert the English to Christianity. It became the priory of Canterbury Cathedral in the tenth century and was, throughout the Middle Ages, a powerful house with many religious dependencies, and a great secular landlord as well.


1391 February 8
Agreement concerning an overdue bond

Indenture (in French) made between John son of William Doreward of the county of Essex (see No. 55) of the one part and Thomas prior of Christ Church, Canterbury, and the convent of the same, witnessing that so long as John and his heirs remain in peaceable possession of 82 acres and one rod of land, a parcel of the manor of Bocking in Essex held by him of the said prior and convent, a bond made by the prior and convent under their common seal in their chapter on 8 February, 7 Richard II (1383/4) for the payment of £100 sterling at Easter next shall be held in suspense; otherwise, the bond is to remain in force. Despite its prestige and assets, Christ Church was perpetually in debt–in this case to one of its own tenants.

Armorial seal bearing the legend: Sigillum:Iohis:Doreward


1535 May 12
Thomas Cromwell enfeoffed to uses

Confirmation by Thomas [Cranmer] archbishop of Canterbury and Thomas prior of Christ Church, Canterbury, and the convent of the same, of a grant dated 7 May 1535 by Edmund Cranmer, archdeacon of Canterbury and rector of Hackington, to Thomas Crumwell [sic], esquire, principal secretary to His Majesty Henry VIII, John Palmer, gentleman, and John Johnson alias John Antony of Canterbury, of the household of the said Thomas Crumwell, of all that messuage called the “personage of Hakynton” or “the Archideacons place.” Thomas Cromwell was executed for treason on July 28th, 1540. Thomas Cranmer, defrocked and deprived of ecclesiastical privilege and immunity, was executed for treason on March 21, 1556.

Portions of two seals pendant on cord. The first is that of the archbishop and bears a representation of the Martyrdom of St. Thomas Becket. The second, doubled-sided, is that of the prior and chapter of Christ Church, with representations of the cathedral church on both sides. Legend (obverse, shown): S[IG]ILLUM …ORS:ER... Legend (reverse): +E…I:C… ORTEM:VIVIT:HONORI


c. 1220
Enfeoffment by the Knights Templar, Dinsley

Grant by Brother Alan Martell, humble minister of the Knights of the Temple in England, with the assent of their chapter at Dinsel’ (Temple Dinsley, Hertfordshire), to Robert de Bereford of all that tenement which the said Robert held of Walter his brother in the vill of Bereford (Barford, Bedfordshire?), and which Walter gave to the Knights of the Temple in free and perpetual alms, at a rent of 13d. per year and a heriot (death-duty) “such as our other free men pay to us at the time of death” (sicut alii liberi homines nostri in obitu suo nobis faciunt). Witnessed by brothers Maurice, Peter the chaplain, Robert de Samford, Jon Flandrense, Thomas Russello, Walter Hareby, Richard “de Bello Grando” (“of the Great War”), Roger de Insula (“of the Island” or “of England”), Roger de Bulingbroke, Walter de Feriby, Warren, and Arnulf de Osanvill then preceptor of Belesal’ (and the charter’s scribe, whose signature appears below). The Order of the Knights of the Temple, one of the earliest crusading orders, was established in 1127 by decree of Pope Honorius II. They derived their “constitution” from the pamphlet In Praise of the New Chivalry (De lauda novæ militiæ) by Bernard of Clairvaux, who in the 1130’s was desperately trying to whip up enthusiasm for a Second Crusade.35 At the time when this charter was written, the Knights Templar had nearly reached the pinnacle of their influence and wealth in Europe: there were 48 houses in England by 121636 and it has been estimated that by 1260 the Order boasted a total membership of 20,000. Temple Dinsley was a small, relatively poor foundation dating from the year 1147. After the Order was abolished in 1314 by Clement V (at the behest of King Philip IV of France), the Temple Dinsley site was occupied by the Knights Hospitaller.

Broken seal of Brother Arnulf de Osanvill(?) bearing the Lamb and Flag within the legend: +SIGILLVM…E….


c. 1288
Grant with clause concerning Jews and religious

Before the promulgation of legislation disallowing subinfeudation and alienation of property to monasteries, landlords were obliged to make provision in their charters against ill-usage of their lands. This charter illustrates one way of ensuring against such practices. It is a grant by Roger Beriman to Ralph atte Ree of one acre of meadow in Little Baddow, Essex, in return for Ralph’s homage and service (per homagio et servicio suo), a payment of 2s. in hand, and a yearly rent of 2d.–with the stipulation that Ralph not alienate the land “to religious men or Jews” (Exceptis viris religiosis et Judeis). Both prohibitions are formulaic,37 but the legal basis for the second is more obscure and seems to arise from the unwillingness of Jews to swear oaths of fealty.38 Widespread anti-Semitism, which had been escalating in England and elsewhere in Europe since the First Crusade, no doubt played its part.39 This charter has been dated to the years just prior to 1290, when Edward I ordered the expulsion of all Jews from England–a mandate which reversed the policy of his forbear William the Conqueror, who had encouraged Jewish merchants to cross the Channel after 1066.40

Vesica-shaped seal bearing a crescent moon and star with the legend: +S’ROGERI BERIMAN.:


1299 August 10
Diocese of Norwich

Notification given to all parishioners in the diocese of Norwich from Ralph [de Walpole], bishop, and to any others whose bishops will ratify this indulgence (indulgentia), that anyone who, being penitent, makes a donation or legacy or who affords assistance towards the maintenance of the poor in the Hospital of St. Giles, Norwich, or to the priests continually celebrating there, or who visits the oratory of the Hospital on any of seven feast-days (namely the feasts of the saints Egidius, Dunstan, John the Baptist, John the Evangelist, Martin, and Nicholas, or any of the four feast-days honoring Blessed Mary Virgin), will be granted a release from twenty days of enjoined penance. Given at the cathedral church on the fourth day before the Ides of August, A.D. 1299. This is the earliest A.D. date on any of the deeds in this collection.

Portion of the episcopal seal, showing the mitred bishop in a standing position with his right hand raised in blessing.

Legend: ….NOR…


1532 November 18
Papal Dispensation

Peter Vamies, latin secretary (a latinis secretarius) to His Majesty Henry VIII and designated for his life Collector of Debts and Receiver General (Debitorum Collector et Receptor Generalis) to His Holiness Our Father and Universal Lord Clement VII, by virtue of a special faculty granted to him by the Lord Pope, hereby issues unto John Barneby and Jane Boswell, of the diocese of York, dispensation to marry notwithstanding the impediment of their relation within the fourth and fourth degrees of consanguinity. Signed: Petrus Vamies, Collector. Done at London on 18 November 1532, 9 Clement VII.

Seal pendant on green cord and enclosed in a metal skippet, showing the Saints Peter and Paul flanking an altar bearing books of the New Testament; behind it, a crucifix and the emblems of the evangelists; before it, the papal keys and tiara; below it, a shield bearing a dragon. Legend: …:COLLECTORIE:CAMERE…APOSTOLICE:IN:REGNO…

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  1. For an excellent overview of the development of documentary practices and ways of thinking see Michael Clanchy, From Memory to Written Record: England 1066-1307, 2nd ed. (Oxford, 1993).
  2. The equations below are intended to give a rough idea of relative values. Most of the measurements used in medieval England have no modern corollaries and are the subject of constant debate.
  3. P.D.A. Harvey, “The English Inflation of 1180-1220” in Peasants, Knights, and Heretics: Studies in Medieval English History, ed. R. H. Hilton (Cambridge, 1976): 57-84.
  4. P.H. Hilton, “Freedom and Villeinage in England,” in Peasants, Knights, and Heretics: 174-191.
  5. Joan Thirsk, “The Common Fields” in Peasants, Knights and Heretics: 10-32.
  6. Clanchy describes the charter as “untidily written in an uncouth script” (From Memory to Written Record: Plate VI).
  7. Cf. Cl;nchy, Plate VI.
  8. Eilert Ekwall, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names, 4th ed. (Oxford, 1981): 480.
  9. Clanchy, 33-34 and passim.
  10. Barbara Hanawalt, The Ties That Bound: Peasant Families in Medieval England (Oxford, 1986): 83 and passim.
  11. In general see Anne Llewellyn Barstow, Married Priests and the Reforming Papacy: The Eleventh-century Debates (Toronto, 1982). A classic but outdated study for England is C.N.L. Brooke, “Gregorian Reform in Action: Clerical Marriage in England 1050-1200,” Cambridge Historical Journal 12 (1956).
  12. Brian Kemp, “Hereditary Benefices in the Medieval English Church: A Herefordshire Example,” Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research 43 (1970): 8-10.
  13. The dedication of the church of Helston, a market town on the Lizard Peninsula of Cornwall is significant: an old myth of the Cornish people, popularized in the twelfth century by Anglo-Norman poets like Wace, made Cornwall the birthplace of Constantine the Great (c. 288-337) who was, incidentally, never canonized. Constantine did, however, spend his formative years in the Roman province of Britannia where his father Constantius was tetrarch of the Empire’s western-most province. when his father died at York in 306 the legions stationed there proclaimed Constantine as Caesar in his father’s place.
  14. Paul R. Hyams, King, Lords and Peasants in Medieval England: The Common Law of Villeinage in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries (Oxford, 1982): 17-137.
  15. Clanchy, 50-51.
  16. A statute which, as Milsom says, gave rise to “nigphpare consequences.” S.F.C. Milsom, Historical Foundations of the Common Law, 2nd ed. (London, 1981): 218V.
  17. Tractatus de legibus consuetudinibus Angiæ qui Glanvilla vocatur [Treatise on the Laws and Customs of England Commonly Called Glanvill], ed. and trans. G.D.G.Hall (selden Society, Oxford, 1965): 70-71.
  18. 17 Richard II, mem. 20d. Portions of the case are documented elsewhere in the Close Roll for 1391, from which it appears that, on 17 November 1393 (17 Richard II, mem. 28), John Rotere quitclaimed to Robert bishop of London et al. his right in the manor in which they were originally enfeoffed by John son of William Doreward. A note on membrane 18d for 17 Richard II declares furthermore that John son of William Doreward “is sole tenant in fee simple of the manor of Ledyn Rothing.” The November entry gives the particulars of the manor, which was well worth the interests of this exalted group, containing as it did 700 acres of arable, 35 of meadow, 60 of pasture, 20 of wood, and £14.5.0 in rents per annum. Calendar of the Close Rolls Preserved in the Public Records Office, Richard II vol. 5 (London, 1925): 237, 254, 258. For other business of John Doreward transacted during this same year see No. 152.
  19. For an introduction to seals of this kind see Sir Hilary Jenkinson’s Guide to Seals in the Public Records Office (London, 1954).
  20. See Hyams, pp. 221-265 for a summary of his findings on the origins of common-law of villeinage. For a discussion of the lord’s ownership of a villein’s property see pp. 17-24.
  21. “Juyl” appears to have been a common enough family name in the West Country. In 1383, for instance, a Robert Juyl from Cornwall appears as plaintiff in an action for debt brought in the Court of Common Pleas (Plea Rolls, 6 Richard II, Michealmas rot. 239r) and in the same year Robert Juyl is described as “receiver of the lord King for the countries of Cornwall and Devon” (Plea Rolls, 6 Richard II, Michaelmas rot. 260v).
  22. It is possible that the Humfrey Bevile of this charter, who is manifestly the same person as the Humfrey Devile of No. 28 and holder of the manor of Wolvenston mentioned (at a later date) in No. 111, is of the same family as SIMON DE BERNEVILE and his heirs; and possible, too, that both are the scion of John son of Laurence de Bevile whjo received his inheritance from his uncle(?) Ralph de Bevyle in No. 40. The inscription on the seal in No. 40 is difficult to make out, but it might well read BERNVILE–thus providing the orthographical connection between the names Bevile and BERNEVILE.
  23. Hanawalt, 80-104.
  24. The warren of rabbits was, until the eighteenth century, a major and lucrative industry in the flat wolds and fenlands around Essex, Norfolk, and Lincolnshire. Rabbits were bred mainly for their soft silver pelts, which were then sold to haberdashers and furriers for the making of hats, capes, and the like.
  25. Map of London based on A Sketch Map of London under Richard II, pub. no. 93 of the London Topographical Society (London, 1960). Details adapted from Mary D. Lobel, The City of London, British Atlas of Historic Towns vol. III (Oxford, 1989).
  26. Gardendon was a Cistercian abbey in Leicestershire which had a dependency the church of St. James Monkeswell in London: “… wher the abbot and convent had an house or cell called saint Iames in the wall by Cripplesgate …” J. Stow, Survey of London (1633): 312; quoted inDavid Knowles and R. Neville Hadcock, Medieval Religious Houses: England and Wales (London, 1953 etc.): 120.
  27. The geography of medieval Coventry has been faithfully reconstructed by Joan C. Lancaster in the British Atlas of Historic Towns vol. II, ed. MD. Lobel (London, 1975), from which study this map derives.
  28. This ditch probably represents the remains of the ditch or moat surrounding the old (twelfth century) city wall. For a discussion of the importance and dangerous prevalence of drainage and sewage ditches in medieval communities see Hanawalt, 17-64.
  29. For a full account see David Knowles, Bare Ruined Choirs: The Dissolution of the English Monasteries (Cambridge, 1976).
  30. By 1189 (the year Of St. Gilbert’s death) there were sixteen Gilbertine houses in England. The order did not spread to the Continent and was thus completely wiped out in 1536-40. See Knowles and Hadcock, pp. 171-175. There is no recent treatment of the Gilbertine Order, but for an introduction see Rose Graham, St. Gilbert of Sempringham and the Gilbertines (London, 1901).
  31. A contemporary vita is that of Ralph the Sacristan: The Book of St. Gilbert, ed. and trans. R. Foreville and G. Keir (Oxford, 1987).
  32. Graham, p. 212. According to Knowles and Hadcock (p. 214) Watton had the largest number of religious of any Gilbertine foundation. Such a prosperous and populous convent could not be without is problems: in 1155 a novice of Watton became pregnant of her lover, one of the lay brothers, was attacked and savagely tortured by the outraged nuns. The girl’s pregnancy was aborted under strange circumstances and Gilbert called in Ælred abbot of Rievaulx in Yorkshire to conduct an investigation. For an account of the sepisode as it comes down to us in the letters of Ælred see John Boswell, The Kindness of Strangers: The Abandonment of Children in Western Europe (New York, 1988): 432-458. Giles Constable has treated the incident in his article “Ælred of Rievaulx and the Nun of Watton: An Episode in the Early History of the Gilbertine Order” in Medieval Women, ed. D. Baker (Oxford, 1987).
  33. Knowles and Hadcock, 110.
  34. Knowles and Hadcock, 162-170.
  35. In general, see M. H. Keen, Chivalry (new Haven, 1984): 44-63.
  36. Knowles and Hadcock, 365.
  37. Theodore F. T. Plucknett, Legislation of Edward I (Oxford, 1962): 98.
  38. The legal status of the Jews in Engand was very peculiar and here I follow entirely the information given by F.W. Maitland in Pollock and Maitland, The History of English Law, 2nd ed. S.F.C. Milsom (Cambridge, 1968): I 468 V. Jews were wards of the king and, in the words of Bracton, “[t]he Jew can have nothing of his own, for whatever he acquires, he acquires not for himself, but for the king…” Maitland continues: “this servility is a relative servility; in relation to all men, save the king, the Jew is free” (p. 468). But while “no law prevented him [the Jew] from holding lands” and while “[m]any lands were gaged to him … though we do not fully understand the nature of these gages, it seem sot us that the Hebrew creditor seldom too, or at all evens kept, possession of the lands, and that his gage was not conceived of as giving him any place in the scale of lords and tenants. However, late in Henry III’s reign it became apparent that the Jews were holding lands in free and had military tenants below them; they were claiming the wardships and marriage of infant heirs, and were even daring to present Christians clerks to Christian bishops for induction into Christian churches. This was not to be borne. In 1271 the edict went forth that they were no longer to hold free tenement …” (p. 473). See also T.F.T. Plucknett, A Concise History of the Common Law, 5th ed. (Boston, 1956): 405-406.
  39. The forms anti-Semitism took in England were partially fuelled by powerful and insidious rumors which began circulating in the mid-twelfth century. See in particular Gavin Langmuir, “Thomas of Monmouth: Detector of Ritual Murder,” Speculum 59 (1984).
  40. Part of the prejudice against Jews could be traced to their economic success in England. James Campbell notes that “the best documented businessmen of early medieval Norwich are the Jews” and that by 1140 they form the second richest Jewish enclave in England (after London and before Winchester). See “Norwich” in British Atlas of Historic Towns vol. II: 10. The industrious activity of Jews in Norfolk would have had some effect on all the neighboring countries. Indeed, Edward’s main motive for the Expulsion was economic: he owed them too much money. For an outline of the general picture see Paul Hyams, “The Jewish Minority in Medieval England, 1066-1290,” Journal of Jewish Studies 25 (1974).

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Select Bibiography

Clanchy, Michael. From Memory to Written Record: England 1066-1307. Second edition. Oxford University Press, 1982.

Hanawalt, Barbara A. The Ties That Bound: Peasant Families in Medieval England. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.

Hilton, R. H., ed. Peasants, Knights, and Heretics: Studies in Medieval English History. Past and Present Publications, 1982.

Holt, J. C. Magna Carta and Medieval Government. Second edition. Cambridge Unviersity Press, 1992.

Hyams, Paul. King, Lords and Peasants in Medieval England: The Common Law of Villeinage in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982.

Keene, Derek. A Survey of Medieval Winchester. Oxford University Press, 1985.

Knowles, David. The Religious Orders in England. Cambridge University Press, 1959.

Milsom, S. F. C. Historical Foundations of the Common Law. London: Butterworth’s, 1981.

Plucknett, Theodore F. T. A Concise History of the Common Law. Fifth edition. new York: Little, Brown and Company, 1956.

_______________. Legislation of Edward I. Oxford Clarendon Press, 1962.

Warren, W. L. The Governance of Norman and Angevin England, 1086-1272. London: Edward Arnold, 1987.

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